Weather team's car thrown 180 metres by tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma

Storm-chasers escape with minor injuries after failing to outrun a tornado in Oklahoma

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 4:53am


The next time meteorologist Mike Bettes talks about the power of tornadoes on The Weather Channel, he can speak from personal experience.

Bettes is nursing minor injuries, including stitches in his hand, after the SUV that he and two photographers were in was thrown 180 metres by a twister in Oklahoma. The Weather Channel said all the occupants were wearing safety belts and walked away from the vehicle.

"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, Oklahoma. Bettes said it felt like the vehicle tumbled over several times and was floating in the air before crashing to the ground.

It's the first time one of the US cable television network's personalities has been injured while covering violent weather, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said.

The channel quickly posted video of the experience because the team kept cameras rolling throughout. The tape largely showed a black screen with audio of crashes until it came to rest with the picture sideways.

Storm-hunters driving specially equipped cars and racing to get video of tornadoes touching down have become an expected byproduct of severe weather outbreaks. Some even have their own TV shows.

Earlier last week, a storm-chaser video received wide exposure because an armour-plated vehicle did not bother trying to outrun the storm. It came back with pictures from inside the tornado itself.

Last year, one of the network's crews was among the first on the scene after a devastating twister hit Joplin, Missouri, bringing back gripping video.

Powell said it is too early to tell how the close call will affect the network's tornado coverage, 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.

Nine people were killed in tornadoes that swept through central Oklahoma on Friday, part of a storm system that caused widespread flooding in Oklahoma City and its suburbs.