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WOWT partners with local storm chasers

Published: Apr. 10, 2021 at 3:00 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Severe weather season in the plains can bring giant hail, heavy rain, lightning, and tornadoes. The 6 News First Alert Weather Team is dedicated to tracking these storms for you in every way possible. That’s why we’ve teamed up with local storm chasers to help us see beyond the radar beam.

Severe Thunderstorm
Severe Thunderstorm(Severe Thunderstorm)

“The storm might eventually explode because the environment is very unstable out here,” said Freddy McKinney.

McKinney just graduated high school but he’s been chasing storms for years alongside is dad, John McKinney.

“Scud forming and rising and going up into the potentially a supercell here,” he John McKinney pointing to the sky.

Freddy’s interest in the weather started out of fear when he was just five years old.

“Just from being a being afraid of storms just kind of developed a passion from it,” said Freddy.

“That got me into trying to help him get out and see some of the storms and so the passion grew for myself as well,” said John.

Now when the skies turn dark they set out helping meteorologists all over the country see what they can’t always see from the studio and that information saves lives.

“Being able to identify what’s happening on the ground and give that report to the National Weather Service there’s been a few instances in the past where I’ve sent in reports and tornado warnings have followed,” said McKinney.

On the day I rode along with them, we were in Kansas just south of Topeka.

“Well we’re kind of in the beginning stages we have some cumulus going up right now,” said McKinney.

Towering cumulus clouds are the beginnings of a thunderstorm. It means the atmosphere is becoming unstable and over the next hour storms did in fact blow up and the chase was on.

We saw dime to occasional quarter-sized hail hit the car as we drove right into the first severe thunderstorm warning of the day but that storm fell apart as another gained strength to our south.

“We’re looking at potentially a wall cloud forming,” said McKinney.

A wall cloud is a lowering from the base of a storm that rotates and it’s this cloud that can lead to tornadoes. While this storm was reaching very close towards the ground, it never did produce a tornado.

As night fell, another storm to our south was gaining strength fast, but there are added dangers to chasing at night. Less than 10 miles to our south that storm did produce a brief tornado but we couldn’t move fast enough to get there.

We were stuck in an area of very intense winds called the rear flank downdraft and we couldn’t see anything outside of the car. At points radar was seeing winds over 90 miles per hour where we were but all we could do is slowly make our way out.

As the storm let up, we quickly realized we were lucky. We saw several snap trees and power lines and other chasers blown off the road by the powerful winds. It may seem a bit reckless at times but we were all safe and the information these chasers provide might be dangerous to get but they take that risk to help meteorologists save more lives.

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