Storm chasers killed in Minnesota crash, four injured

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The Minnesota State Patrol reported that a woman was killed in a multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 90 during poor weather Wednesday night. The crash occurred in Lorain Township near Worthington in southwest Minnesota. Three other people in the vehicle were injured, as was one in another car.

Four of the crash victims were storm chasers who stopped to avoid fallen power lines before being hit by a tractor-trailer. The incident is the latest example of the dangers of storm chasing; not from tornadoes themselves, but from the journeys involved in pursuing them, which often requires navigating in extremely hazardous conditions.

The fatal accident came less than two weeks after three University of Oklahoma meteorology students were killed in an accident that also involved a semi-trailer truck in inclement weather on a freeway. They were returning home from a storm chase.

Martha Llanos Rodriguez, 30, a Mexico City meteorologist, was killed. She was a passenger in the vehicle.

Another passenger, Bradford Barrett, 42, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Barrett, a physicist with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, was previously a professor in the Oceanography Department at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is known for visiting the plains to chase storms and was recently stationed in Chile for his job.

Diego Alvaro Campos, 37, the driver of the car, and Aldo Alberto Viscarra-Avilez, 33, another passenger, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Both are meteorologists from Chile.

The four got to know each other through professional networking and conferences.

Truck driver Jaskaran Singh, 26, was not injured. Tyler Scott Gilbery, the driver of a third vehicle involved, suffered non-life threatening injuries.

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A report of the crash surfaced around 5:54 p.m. Central Time Wednesday. weather radar back then showed torrential rain and thunderstorms in the area. A Severe thunderstorm warning was in effect just north of Interstate 90 as widespread violent storms swept across the region.

Fallen power poles and wires crossed the highway at the scene. The poles reportedly broke in strong thunderstorm winds with gusts in excess of 60 miles per hour.

A Chevrolet hatchback carrying the storm chasers appeared to have been stopped to avoid contact with power lines when Singh’s truck struck the vehicle.

Earlier in the day, Rodriguez tweeted about joining the group’s adventures as it was their first day. She was a forecaster for Mexico City, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, and helped set up an early warning system there.

She shared the Tweet below showing the group moving through storms and heavy rain about 20 minutes before the accident.

Social Media Posts of the men on the trip said they storm-chased for several days before Rodriguez arrived on Wednesday. The men picked them up in Nebraska in the morning and headed northeast. A Level 3 out of 5 storm risk covered the area, where the National Weather Service received reports of tornadoes and violent winds late in the evening.

“We did some storm chasing,” Campos told the Star Tribune Thursday morning. “The storm was really bad and we were trying to get out of there.”

Though storm chaser fatalities are rare, this is the second tragedy involving hunters in as many weeks. On April 29, University of Oklahoma meteorology students Drake Brooks, Nicholas Nair, and Gavin Short were killed while returning home from hunting. Her accident happened in the pouring rain.

Driving itself is considered the main risk of storm chasing. Vehicle accidents are arguably far more likely than being hit by a tornado.

According to a US Department of Transportation data study, 70 percent of weather-related accidents occurred on wet roads, as did 76 percent of weather-related fatalities. “On average, over 5,000 people are killed and over 418,000 injured in weather-related accidents each year,” she wrote.

Oklahoma college student deaths underscore risk of storm chasing: driving

A community still in shock from the deaths of storm chasers in late April is shaken once again by news of yet another accident.

“I am stunned and appalled by the news that one of my frequent graduate school partners and other meteorology professors is hunting @bsbarret was badly injured in an accident in MN last night,” he tweeted Robin Tanamachi, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue University. “I am thinking deeply of him and the other victims of this accident today.”

Many Other in which scientific and the wider weather world also reacted in disbelief.

Severe weather is again expected in the region on Thursday, with a Level 4 out of 5 risk for dangerous storms.

About Mike Crayton

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