The Thunder Games

Lauren Roberts

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Lauren Roberts | Photographer

Senior storm chaser relishes in the unpredictable Texas weather

Keith Terrell, Senior in Kinesiology with Teachers Certification sits inside the truck he goes storm chasing in.

Keith Terrell, a senior in kinesiology, spends his time driving toward storms instead running away from them.

Terrell said he grew up with his father being a storm spotter and trained with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency that warns of dangerous weather.

When he was 12-years-old, his father, who no longer chases storms, asked him if he wanted to chase with him.

“I was like sure, why not.  I was a little kid and storms are exciting,” Terrell said.

He said that first time he went out into a storm was something he never expected.

“A pure adrenaline rush, it really gave me a lot of respect for mother nature,” Terrell said.

When Terrell was 16-years-old, he went chasing tornadoes alone in Oklahoma City.

During the day, the tornadoes that day were not a threat, but he also went out blind, which is without any radar.  The only way he knew where to go was listening to his friend Reed Timmer, who starred in the reality television show Storm Chasers.

Without radar he said he would not know where the storm is going to drop a tornado or which way the storm is heading.

“That was the closest I’ve ever gotten to a tornado and that’s the closest I ever want to get to a tornado,” Terrell said. “I was like, what the hell I am doing?  You know.  It’s something I hope no one or at least few people have to experience because it’s not fun at all.”

After that first solo experience, it would take Terrell a year before he could bring himself to go out storm chasing again.

“It took me a while to get over that,” he said.

According to Terrell, the second time storm chasing solo was a different experience.

He had storm chasing gear, including weather defender software, which allowed him to see radar of the storm.

He also did not see a tornado that second time chasing storms.

Terrell would not see another tornado for a year.

“For a young storm chaser, when you are trying to learn about tornadoes it’s really hard to put everything together,” he said.

A storm chaser needs to know what’s the storm going to do, how it will develop and which direction it is going to move to, Terrell said.

“There are so many elements that go into a storm that if one element is missing then a tornado is not going to drop,” he said.  “Everything has to be perfect.”

Much of what he has learned he found on the Internet and on YouTube.  He also watched his friend Reed Timmer’s  reality show Storm Chasers. Terrell met Reed at the MPEC in Wichita Falls during a storm convention.

The last time Terrell saw a tornado was last year in Frederick, OK.  It wasn’t on the ground long and had multiple vertices, which is at least two funnels.  He reported the tornado to News Channel 7 in Lawton, OK.

As a storm enthusiast, Terrell tries to help as much as he can after a tornado hits.  In 2009, Keith and some of his friends packed up and went to Greensburg, Kansas the day after a tornado hit to assist with the cleanup.

“When we got there it looked like a war zone.  Everything gone and total destruction” Terrell said. One of the experiences on the trip that  remembered is helping an elder Kansas woman out of her bathroom after all of the walls of her house had fallen on top of her.

“It still brings tears to my eyes with what I saw there,” he said. “You see bodies lying on the ground, it makes you not take life for granted that’s for sure.”

For Terrell, being recognized on TV is not the goal and that is also his biggest pet peeve. His career goal is to be a meteorologist or work aside job as a professional storm chaser.

“Most people think I do this and post to Facebook to scare people or to try to get attention,” he said.  “The whole point of storm chasing is to do research and to find why tornadoes develop and where.  There is still a lot we do not know about tornadoes and it’s to get the warning time higher every year and alert people,” Terrell said.

In a few years, Terrell said he plans on attending the University of Oklahoma to get his meteorology degree in hopes of pursuing his dreams of helping others by protecting them from the harshness of Mother Nature.

“The Wichita Falls area has a history of strong tornadoes and that the city is due for another one,” he said. “That is why I do what I do. It’s to prevent bad stuff from happening.”

 

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