MU storm-chasers seek out severe weather around Midwest

Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 13, 2013
The Mizzou Storm Chase team completes a 26-hour round trip storm chase. Seven members of the team, left Columbia at 5 a.m., April 17, to track reports of tornadoes in the Lawton area in southwest Oklahoma. The team headed first to Oklahoma City, and then down through small towns and to Lawton, chasing two storms that occurred one after the other. The team drove through the night and returned to campus at 7 a.m. the next day.

COLUMBIA — Trevor Rice looked at the neon shape moving across the screen of his cellphone.

"It's beautiful," he said.

The radar showed a storm bearing down on the plains of Oklahoma, near enough to encourage members of the Mizzou Storm Chase Team to pursue it.

Seven members of the team, two cars and a case of Red Bull had left Columbia at 5 a.m. April 17 to track reports of storms that had a high capability of producing tornadoes in the Lawton area in southwest Oklahoma.

The team headed first to Oklahoma City and then down two-lane highways through small towns to Lawton, chasing two storms, which occurred one after the other.

Back in Columbia, the base team kept an eye out for the best roads to take and continued monitoring the storms from the basement of the MU Agriculture Building.

According to The Associated Press, tornado warnings were issued that day for 55 of Oklahoma's 77 counties. Police reported that two apparent tornadoes did hit Lawton, damaging a Goodyear tire plant but causing no injuries.

The Mizzou Storm Chase Team didn’t spot a tornado, but they observed other severe weather phenomena and cloud formations. Had the team made its trip just a month later, on May 20, it could have observed the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, Okla., according to The Associated Press. An EF5 is the most severe category with winds more than 200 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Another EF5 tornado hit El Reno ,Okla., on May 31. That tornado was the widest on record at 2.6 miles, according to The Associated Press

The team drove through the night in April and returned to campus at 7 a.m. the next day — a 26-hour round trip.

“You reach a point when you down a Red Bull, and it has no effect on you,” said Brian Crow, a senior.

Crow has been on several chases before, but this was his first as a driver. That meant greater responsibility and less time to watch the cloud formations and check radar.

“You have to be really attentive, especially in bad weather,” he said.

For Rice, it was his first chase.

He was scared of severe weather as a child, but that changed when he saw his first tornado near Albany in 2004. When the siren sounded, his family drove to a church that had a basement for protection since they didn't have one.

As his family loaded into the car, the sky turned green and the wind stopped blowing, Rice said.

When he turned around, he saw the tornado. Although he and his family made it to safety, the tornado caused what a weather report called “considerable damage” near his hometown.

As a freshman majoring in meteorology at MU in 2012, Rice joined the Meteorology Club and participated in the Mizzou Storm Chase Team.

“Most people run from storms,” he said, laughing. "I run into them."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott .

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