Chasing Tornadoes: A Close Call with a Deadly Storm

By John Allen

Beneath the Beast

I’ve been chasing storms in the Great Plains of the United States since 2010, and before that in Australia since 2003. My interest in meteorology started from an encounter with a hailstorm in Sydney, Australia back in 1990, and since then I have had an avid interest in storms that has led me to my career path in meteorology research, particularly the environments associated with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This research has brought me to the Earth Institute’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, where I work as a postdoctoral scientist. I have been looking at the relationships between climate change and the frequency of tornadoes, hail and other events, and possible avenues for future prediction – not a simple problem by any means.

In late May, with a potent system moving through the plains, my girlfriend Rose and I took the long drive out toward Oklahoma. Things got off to a slow start for the trip, with a few disappointing days through Kansas and Texas. But impressive storms on May 30 in Oklahoma rekindled hope that the last day of the trip might yield something impressive. The Storm Prediction Center, which issues risk assessments of severe weather, forecast a Moderate risk (see risk map)—a 45 percent chance of severe thunderstorms (hail bigger than an inch, wind greater than 50 mph or tornadoes) within the risk area, with a 15 percent chance of tornadoes.