When chasing the storm goes wrong

Tornado Hunt Wreck (Via Twitter)

It’s usually nice when The Weather Channel is the center of attention, but not when it’s because one of our meteorologists almost died.

Storm chasing is a scary business. Tornadoes are unpredictable — any small wobble along the track can put a lot of skilled people in danger. Invincibility has been growing for years as chasers drive into the storm to get as close as they possibly can.

That simply isn’t the case for Mike Bettes and the Tornado Hunt. He’s not the kind of guy who would lead a team into the funnel on purpose.

However, when a large tornado took an unexpected right-turn on Friday night, the team’s cars were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of the vans, carrying Bettes and three other guys, was flipped and tossed as far as 200 yards. If you’d like to see it, you can watch the video here.

Of course, conclusions will be jumped to. People assumed Bettes was one of those screaming storm chasers who ordered the driver to go directly into the tornado so they could get the best possible video. Twitter tough guys said it was reckless and a result of sensationalization and overhype.

I’ve been in that car with that team before. That simply doesn’t happen.

They’ll be second-guessed for weeks, sure. Maybe it’s deserved; maybe it isn’t. But if the video of their car being tossed off the road gives one person enough reason to never get into a car during a tornadic storm again, it’s a step in the right direction.

A meteorologist in Oklahoma City actually instructed the city’s residents, on live tv, to get in their cars and drive south of the city if they could. It led to a traffic jam in a large city as a supercell barreled toward them. If there had been a large tornado on the ground, it could have killed hundreds of people on the highway alone.

Oh, and the tornado went southeast, so his logic was flawed:

That man should definitely be second-guessed for his message. The safest place to be during a tornado remains underground in a shelter, but if you don’t have one, you should put as many walls as possible between you and the outside world to maximize your chance of survival.

As for Bettes and his team, I’m really happy they’re all going to be OK. Bumps and bruises and a few broken bones are minimal for the situation they were in. I’ll be happy to see him back in Atlanta and out of Tornado Alley.

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