Kathryn stands as both witness and proof that the worst in nature can bring out the best in humanity.
The Dark Side of Mother Nature
Nothing could prepare Kathryn for what she was about to witness in April of 1998. Kat joined Jeff Piotrowski to document the effects of an F-5 tornado that had raked over the communities of Oak Grove, Pleasant Grove and Birmingham, Alabama. Kathryn’s account “The first thing I saw, plays back in slow motion through my mind. We’re on the outskirts of the devastation and rounding a bend heading into Pleasant Grove. There it was…a small church cemetery in the process of digging several fresh graves. It was such a sad and agonizing sight. We rounded the next bend and it looked like a giant 1/2 mile wide lawnmower had scoured up and down the hillsides of the Alabama landscape. Entire communities were gone. In a way I am glad this was my first introduction into the world of documenting severe weather. I began this process with a healthy respect for what Mother Nature can do in just a few short seconds. I also knew in that instant that I had to do something to also help the victims affected by these extreme events.”
Kathryn Piotrowski and Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover Home Edition Joplin, Missouri
In 2001 she started a Not for Profit Corp and called it Project Storm Relief. Kathryn began carrying new toys with her in the chase vehicle. She started with crayons/coloring books and small stuffed animals to leave at the command posts. Over the years she began taking containers packed with toys /children’s blankets and delivering those as well. In 2006 she designed a calendar to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Funds from the sale of the calendar went to Oprah’s Angel Network Katrina rebuild, Global Green and The American Red Cross.
In 2011 Joplin, MO was devastated by the deadliest tornado in modern history. Kathryn created a DVD entitled “Storm Chasing The Joplin EF-5, Miraculous Stories or Survival and Selfless Courage. The DVD was initially picked up by Walgreens and then by Wal-Mart on a regional level. The Joplin DVD documented their journey from storm chasing the monster tornado to stopping and helping survivors of this tragic event. Also the survivors stories. Portions of the proceeds from the sale of the Joplin DVD went to many restoration projects helping to rebuild Joplin.
Kathryn’s passions are many and varied. She attributes her drive and pursuit of ambitions to strong women having influenced her life and her faith. Not only was her mother, a hard working professional and a great influence but also her Great Grandmother, Hettie. Hettie encouraged Kathryn from a very young age to work hard, save your money and to not limit yourself because “you can do anything, be anything you want to be.” So in 1977, when Kathryn decided to follow in her father’s footsteps in the Aviation field she really had no misgivings of charging full steam into a male dominated environment. She enrolled in Spartan School of Aeronautics Non Destructive Testing and Inspection Technician program and was the 2nd women to complete that course.
McDonnell Douglas Aviation out of St. Louis hired her on the spot and so she began what would become 27 years in the Aviation Industry. She also studied hard to obtain her A & P (Airframe/Powerplant) Mechanic License and was employed with American Airlines in Tulsa, OK for 22 years. In 2018 Kathryn received her UAS Certification and now includes drone pilot among her many roles as she now devotes her time, fully, to documenting severe weather. Learn more about Kathryn at TwisterChasers.com, and don’t miss her Nov 8, 2019 talk at TEDxLaSierraUniversity!