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A photo of the powerful tornado that ripped through west-central Minnesota on July 8, 2020 is the feature image on posters for an upcoming Hollywood film about dangerous tornadoes. 

"13 Minutes" hits theaters Oct. 29. It's about a group of families in a town in the heartland of America who have 13 minutes – the average warning time in advance of a tornado – to take shelter "before the largest tornado on record ravages the town, leaving them searching for their loved ones and fighting for their lives." 

On the cover of the movie poster is a photo of the deadly twister that ripped through Minnesota last summer. One of the storm chasers who captured video and photos of nature's fury is Melanie Metz, better known by some in the storm chasing community as one of the "Twister Sisters." 

Metz, who lives in Champlin, followed the twister as it carved a 9-mile path from west of Ashby to east of Dalton. It was on the ground for 31 minutes and achieved EF-4 status with 170 mph winds, making it a high-end tornado capable of producing extreme damage. 

The slow-moving buzzsaw scarred fields, destroyed any property in came into contact with, and tragically killed one person and injured two others. 

How in the world did Metz's photo end up as the feature image for a Hollywood movie? Pure luck, really.

"As I always do, I posted my best images and video footage from the day on social media and my website, Fast forward to 2021, the marketing team for the movie '13 Minutes' found one of my Minnesota tornado photos on my website and purchased a digital version with licensing for commercial use. It was that simple!" Metz told Bring Me The News.

"When I received the email regarding the use of my image for the poster, I was in shock and elated, and cried many tears of joy! I never dreamed that one of my photographs would be randomly selected for a movie cover/poster!"

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The 'Light and Dark' of tornadoes

Metz said it was "most beautiful tornado" she's captured in her 20 years traveling the country chasing storms, and the fact that a movie producer wanted to use it marks "a defining moment in my career as a photographer and storm chaser."

Damage surveyors from the National Weather Service concluded that the tornado likely reached maximum EF-4 intensity after crossing Hwy. 82, where it destroyed a machine shop and yard. 

Sadly, 30-year-old Seth Nelson, of Battle Lake, was working in the machine shop when the tornado made a direct impact. The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office said the machine shed and a home on the property were "completely swept off their foundations and blown away." 

Two other people were taken to hospitals and released with minor injuries. 

It's what Metz called the "Light and Dark of tornadoes." 

"While I never want to see destruction or injuries, as a chaser I help relay reports to the National Weather Service real-time from the field. On this day in particular, the storm was in a 'radar hole' so it was hard for the NWS to determine what was happening in lower levels of the storm simply based on the radar image," said Metz. 

A radar hole is where the edge of a radar's power meets the edge of a corresponding radar's power. In this case, the storm was rotating and producing a tornado on the extreme ends of the National Weather Service radars in Chanhassen and Grand Forks.


What is the largest tornado ever recorded?

The largest tornado in recorded history was a 2.6-mile-wide twister in 2013 that killed nine people in the area of El Reno, Oklahoma. 

The fastest wind speeds recorded in a tornado was 302 mph. It happened during the 1999 F5 tornado that devastate Bridge Creek and Moore in the Oklahoma City metro area.

There have been three tornadoes reaching the F5 status in Minnesota history (since the ratings system was established in 1950). 

  • June 20, 1957: Fargo-Moorhead tornado
  • June 13, 1968: Tracy tornado
  • June 16, 1992: Chandler-Lake Wilson tornado

All of those F5 tornadoes had wind speeds of at least 200 mph. The Chandler-Lake Wilson twister produced an estimated maximum wind speed of 260 mph. 

Originally from Arizona, Metz's family moved to Minnesota while she was in high school, which allowed her to graduate from common dust devils in the Desert Southwest to tornadoes in the Upper Midwest. 

"I'll never forget hiding in my basement that first summer, as the tornado sirens blared. All I wanted to do was watch it! As soon as I got my drivers license, I started driving to see any storms moving through my hometown of St. Cloud," she said. 

She hasn't stopped since, and now her work will live forever in Hollywood. 

"I hope '13 Minutes' is a blockbuster, as Twister was many years ago," she said. 

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