The Regina-based host of the CMT show Tornado Hunters had a front-row seat, within 100 metres, of the twister. For about 20 minutes, he watched as the tornado thundered through fields just north of Pierson, a small community in the southwest corner of Manitoba.
The twister was constantly shifting, morphing into different formations in an impressive display, Johnson said.
"At one point it was a perfect stovepipe-type tornado. At one point it was a kilometer-wide wedge tornado. And then there were a number of times where we could see upwards of five, six, maybe even seven little fingers dropping out of the bottom of it," he said.
"If you can imagine braiding someone's hair and those braids all intertwining with each other, that's what was happening with this multi-vortex stage of the tornado. It was incredible [and] the part that's so amazing is that no one was seriously injured. To me it's a bit of a shock."
Witnessed 3 tornadoes
That tornado was actually the third one Johnson and his group saw. The first two were fairly short-lived, lasting only a few seconds "then this monster touched down," he said.
"The wind intensity was so strong that there were parts of Highway 256, in the southwest part of the province, that literally had the asphalt stripped off the road's surface," he said. "I'm still on an adrenalin kick right now, I'm not gonna lie."
After chasing it for a while, the tornado became rain wrapped — a storm chaser term for "no more visuals," Johnson said.
"It's sort of trapped in the rain [and] it got dark. That's a pretty nasty combination and not one that I'm interested in, so we broke off our chase at that point and decided that we had enough."
The tornado has yet to be categorized by Environment Canada officials, who are heading to southwest Manitoba Tuesday to survey the damage and give it a ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale — or EF-Scale — but Johnson ranks it highly on his own list.
"I mean we were in Joplin, Mo., an F5. We were at El Reno, Okla., in 2013 — the largest tornado ever recorded on earth. And we witnessed the first-time-ever, twin mile-wide tornadoes on the ground beside each other in Nebraska," he said.
"It's hard to top those events, [but] we were talking about it on our drive last night that this probably No. 4 on the list. And the fact that it happened on the Canadian side of the border, it was pretty special for us."