Three Meteorology Students Killed in Car Crash in Oklahoma
Three University of Oklahoma meteorology students died in a car crash in Oklahoma on Friday night on a return trip from Kansas, where they had been storm chasing, according to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.
The students were identified as Nicholas Nair, 20; Gavin Short, 19; and Drake Brooks, 22.
The three were traveling southbound on Interstate 35 in Tonkawa, Okla., near the Kansas border, when their Volkswagen Tiguan hydroplaned and became disabled, blocking the outside lane, according to the department of public safety. A truck struck the students’ car, pinning it for over five hours before their bodies were extricated by emergency responders. The students were pronounced dead at the scene. The truck driver was treated at a nearby hospital and released.
The students were part of a larger group of University of Oklahoma students who had traveled to Kansas to chase the storms, according to Phillip Ludwyck, a lieutenant with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol who helped recover the students from the vehicle. As the other carloads of students made their way back to Norman, Okla., they saw that Mr. Nair, Mr. Short, and Mr. Brooks’s GPS location had frozen and called the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to report a possible accident, Mr. Ludwyck said.
“It was raining very heavy at the time,” he said.
Hazardous road conditions can often lead to accidents when storm chasers are heading to or away from a storm, he added.
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“Sometimes you may have thousands of storm chasers trying to follow one storm so that traffic just gets very congested, so accidents happen,” Mr. Ludwyck said. But he said there had been little traffic at the time of the accident.
In 2017, three storm chasers were killed in a crash outside Spur, Texas, about 70 miles east of Lubbock, while pursuing a tornado. Two of the men, Kelley Williamson and Randall Yarnall, were known for their appearances on “Storm Wranglers,” a show on the Weather Channel.
Sara Raffel, a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma who was friends with the three who died, said by phone that friends in their group had gathered on Saturday night to comfort one another as they processed the news.
She had formed a storm chasing group with the three that they called “Metcrew Chasers,” a name that occurred to them one cold, snowy night during their freshman year. They made stickers of the name emblazoned with a hook-shaped weather radar that was red, orange and green — symbols that they would proudly show off on their computers or cars.
Mara Davis, a meteorology major at the University of Oklahoma who was also friends with the students, said by phone on Saturday night that those in the meteorology cohort were all close and had formed a “20-person best friend group.” On Saturday, she texted friends to come to her apartment so they could be together.
For much of the evening, Ms. Raffel and Ms. Davis reminisced about their friends: how Mr. Nair, who was described as hilarious and outgoing, would sing a little song with his great voice, one he had hoped to use as a broadcaster someday — a good choice, since he had been a lousy cook, his friends joked.
How Mr. Short, whose latest research project was about hurricanes, was “the most intelligent person” Ms. Raffel said she had met, and someone who wanted his friends to succeed.
And how Mr. Brooks, a latecomer to the friend group, had quickly won everyone over with his quick wit and his love for all things meteorology, especially forecasting.
“Their passion for weather and just the safety for everybody and love for the whole world — they were just loved so much,” Ms. Raffel said.
Daniel Carter, a friend in the group who also studies meteorology at the university, said via Facebook on Saturday that they were planning a candlelight vigil in the coming week.
The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma said in a statement on Saturday that its community “is very much a family,” and that its members were “deeply saddened.”
“Our leadership and faculty stand ready to support each of our community members in the days, weeks and months ahead as we all grieve this unthinkable heartbreak,” the college said.
On Saturday evening, the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., posted a video on Twitter showing a weather balloon with the students’ names written on it.
“On this very sad day in the Norman weather community,” the Weather Service said, “our evening weather balloon launch is dedicated to Nic, Drake and Gavin.”