ROGER JENSEN'S PHOTOGRAPHY
a storm chasing pioneer
by Tim Marshall
The early years
Roger was glad, however, when the family decided to return to Fargo, North Dakota. He began chasing storms during the summer of 1953. He and/or his father occasionally took the family DeSoto and headed out to storms within about 50 miles of their home. On June 20, 1957, a violent supercell produced a series of tornadoes from Fargo, ND to Detroit Lakes, MN. Roger witnessed the storm from the farm, eventhough, he was too busy to chase it. The third tornado in the series struck Fargo, about 32 miles west of their farm. The tornado cut a swath of destruction that was five city blocks wide and 20 blocks long damaging or destroying about 1300 homes. Roger witnessed F5 damage for the first time. He was amazed at the power of a tornado.
In 1960, Roger bought a single lens reflex, 35mm Miranda "S" with wide angle and telephoto lenses which he used from then on. He read books on photography and learned how to compose a picture and use the F-stop on the camera. He bought a polarized filter to deepen blue tones and bring out the crisp, cauliflower appearance of a thunderstorm updraft. Roger used Kodachrome 64 slide film religiously. His dad died in 1963 but Roger and his mom continued to work on the farm. One of Rogerís best chases occurred on June 31, 1967 when a derecho moved through central Minnesota. Roger followed the storm to Minneapolis where he took a fantastic series of pictures of a tiered shelf cloud approaching the city.
the roaring 1970s
Rogerís big tornado day was on June 28, 1975 when he photographed a large barrel-shaped tornado near Felton, MN that moved slowly north-northeast. The tornado traveled only six miles in 25 minutes! Roger filmed the tornado from the south. The tornado only destroyed a barn and was rated F-2. That same evening, Roger photographed the most brilliant, orange-colored mammatus at sunset and sent his stunning photographs to Weatherwise Magazine where they were put on the cover of the October 1976 issue.
Roger corresponded with famous meteorologists like David Ludlam, Alan Pearson, Tom Skilling, Bernard Vonnegut, Joe Witte, as well as the office of Dr. Ted Fujita. He became a local celebrity when the Becker County Record newspaper did a nice story about him on January 22, 1979. Roger expanded his photography by traveling around the country. He visited several National Parks including Yosemite and photographed many of the waterfalls there. Upon returning back to Minnesota, Roger photographed four inch diameter hail, the largest hail recorded in Minnesota up to that time.
the 1980s: a run of bad luck
In February 1985, Roger left Swift and Company as the company closed down. Two months later, Roger fell gravely ill again and was admitted to the Ebenezer Caroline Center, a hospital in Minneapolis. Doctors discovered a bone disease and tried to treat it with antibiotics to no effect. A staph infection complicated matters and Roger became bedridden in May 1985, and lost a lot of weight. His recovery was slow and he remained in the hospital for five months! Roger returned to his apartment in September 1985, but not for long.
On January 30, 1986, Roger returned to the hospital with an infection in his left foot. His diabetes was out of control and Roger needed assisted care with nurses who could take blood tests twice daily to monitor his condition. Thus, Roger entered St. Maryís Nursing Home on February 3, 1986 where he remained until May 5, 1986. He seemed to be doing better and he moved to a new apartment in Detroit Lakes, MN in May of 1986. However, an infection again developed in the left ankle and foot and he was hospitalized on August 21, 1986, then transfered to St. Maryís nursing home on September 4, 1986. Roger would remain in a nursing home the rest of his life.
In January 1988, the infection in his left leg worsened and it had to be amputated below the knee. It took Roger several months to learn how to use the prosthesis, but he was walking around well by August 1988. His health steadily improved and he resumed photographing the fall foliage in open areas around the nursing home. Roger learned that David Hoadley had turned over STORMTRACK to me, and Roger and I began corresponding. It was clear to me from the beginning that this man loved storms. We exchanged photographs and talked to each other many times by telephone. David Hoadley visited Roger and was equally impressed with him.
the 1990s: rebound and big moves
Roger made the big move to Texas in 1996 and loved it. He saw more storms than ever before and he was a lot closer to other storm chasers. In November 1996, I met Roger for the first time. Gene Rhoden, Bruce Haynie, Carson Eads and myself took Roger out to dinner and we had a great time talking for hours about storms. I interviewed Roger and wrote an article that appeared in the November 1996 issue of STORMTRACK (see Vol. 20, No. 1) entitled: "An evening with Roger Jensen". Roger said he would like to attend the storm chaser picnics each May and we arranged for him to get a day pass. Roger loved to meet other chasers, show photographs, and tell stories.
In April 1999, Roger left the nursing home in Sherman to move closer to Dallas. A large church and apartment complex were constructed in the open spaces around the home that completely blocked Rogerís view of the horizon. He spent three months at another nursing home in Ennis (just south of Dallas), but didnít like it there as there were too many obstructions. So, Roger moved to a nursing home in Terrell (just east of Dallas), where there were open fields all around. Roger loved the place and the home gave him the freedom to take pictures of storms in the adjacent fields. Roger was a big hit at our 2000 picnic. He loved being interviewed by the media and was glad that Dave Hoadley attended. It was a happy time for Roger. He shot hundreds of slides of storms, more than any previous year.
a peaceful ending