The next time meteorologist Mike Bettes talks about the power of tornadoes on The Weather Channel, he can speak from personal experience.
Bettes was nursing minor injuries on Saturday, a day after the “tornado hunt” SUV that he and two photographers were riding in was thrown 200 yards by a twister in Oklahoma. The Weather Channel said all of the occupants were wearing safety belts and were able to walk away from the banged-up vehicle.
It’s the first time one of the network’s personalities has been injured while covering violent weather, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said.
“That was the scariest moment of my life,” Bettes said. “I had never been through anything like it before, and my life passed before my eyes.”
He and the photographers were trying to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla., and failed.
Bettes said it felt like the vehicle tumbled over several times and was floating in air before crashing to the ground.
The Weather Channel quickly posted video of the experience, since the team kept cameras rolling throughout. The tape largely showed a black screen with audio of crashes, until coming to rest with the picture sideways.
It was perhaps a warning sign of the dangers inherent in the trend of “tornado chasers.” People in specially equipped cars racing to get video of tornadoes touching down has become an expected byproduct of severe weather outbreaks and have even spawned their own TV shows.
Earlier this week, a storm chaser video got wide exposure because an armor-plated vehicle didn’t bother trying to outrun the storm. It came back with pictures from inside the tornado itself.
It’s the fourth year that The Weather Channel has sent crews out actively hunting tornadoes, Powell said. Last year, one of the network’s crews was one of the first on the scene of after the devastating twister that hit Joplin, Mo., bringing back gripping video.
For the first two years, The Weather Channel was embedded with a government research team. But in the past two years, the network has sent its own crews out. Bettes’ white vehicle is emblazoned with the phrase “tornado hunt” and the network’s logo.
Powell said it is too early to tell how the incident will affect how the network covers tornadoes, but it will be under review.
“Tornadoes are violent and unpredictable, but covering them keeps the public at large informed and, as a result, safer,” she said.
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