Storm chaser killed and four injured in Minnesota crash

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The Minnesota State Patrol reported that a woman was killed in a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 90 during inclement weather Wednesday night. The crash happened in Lorain Township, near Worthington, in southwestern Minnesota. Three other passengers in the vehicle were injured, as well as another in another car.

Four of the crash victims were storm chasers who pulled over to avoid downed power lines before being hit by a tractor-trailer. The incident is the latest example of the perils of storm chasing; not the tornadoes themselves, but the travel necessary to pursue them, which often requires navigating through extremely dangerous conditions.

The fatal accident comes less than two weeks after three University of Oklahoma meteorology students were killed in an accident also involving a tractor-trailer on a highway in bad weather. They were returning home after chasing the storm.

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

Another passenger, Bradford Barrett, 42, suffered life-threatening injuries. Barrett, a physicist with the Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research, was previously a professor in the department of oceanography at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is known to frequent the plains to chase storms and had recently been stationed in Chile for his work.

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 met through professional networks and conferences.

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

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A report of the accident surfaced around 5:54 p.m. central time on Wednesday. Weather radar at the time showed torrential rains and thunderstorms in the area. A severe thunderstorm warning was indeed just north of Interstate 90, as intense and widespread storms swept through the area.

Downed utility poles and lines crossed the highway at the scene. The poles reportedly snapped in strong stormy winds, gusting over 60mph.

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

Earlier today, Rodriguez tweeted about joining the band’s adventures, as it was his first day. She was a forecaster for Mexico City, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, and helped create an early warning system there.

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

Social media posts men on the trip said they were chasing the storm for several days before Rodriguez arrived on Wednesday. The men picked her up in the morning in Nebraska before heading northeast. A Level 3 out of 5 storm hazard blanketed the area, where the National Weather Service received reports of tornadoes and high winds late in the evening.

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

Although storm chaser deaths are infrequent, this is the second tragedy involving chasers 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 a chase. Their accident also happened in torrential rain.

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

According to a study of US Department of Transportation data, 70% of weather-related crashes occurred on wet pavement, as did 76% of weather-related fatalities. “On average, more than 5,000 people are killed and more than 418,000 people are injured each year in weather-related crashes,” he writes.

Oklahoma student deaths underscore risk of chasing storms: Conduct

A community still reeling from the death of the storm chasers in late April is reeling again with news of yet another crash.

“Stunned and horrified to learn that one of my frequent graduate school hunting partners and fellow meteorology professors @bsbarret was seriously injured in an accident last night in Minnesota,” tweeted Robin Tanamachi, professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University. “I think deeply of him and the other victims of this accident today.”

A lot others in the scientific and the wider weather world also responded in disbelief.

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

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