Storm chasers killed in crash near Lubbock

Fatal crash in Dickens County on March 28, 2017. (KLBK)
Fatal crash in Dickens County on March 28, 2017. (KLBK)

DICKENS COUNTY, Texas (KLBK/KXAN) — Three storm chasers, including two Weather Channel contractors, were killed in a crash near Lubbock Tuesday afternoon.

The two-vehicle crash happened around 3:30 p.m. on Farm to Market Road 2794 and County Road 419 near Spur, which is about 70 miles east of Lubbock. The location of the crash was either in or very close to an area under a tornado warning.

DPS says a black suburban carrying two storm chasers was going northbound on FM 1081 when the driver, identified as Kelley Gene Williamson, 57, of Cassville, Missouri, disregarded a stop sign and collided with a black Jeep, being driven by another storm chaser, Corbin Lee Jaeger, 25, of Peoria, Arizona.

Williamson, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle, according to the Department of Public Safety. The passenger in the Suburban was identified as Randall Deland Yarnall, 55, also of Cassville. Yarnall and Jaegar were wearing a seat belt.

All three storm chasers died at the scene.

The Weather Channel released the following statement:

This afternoon we learned that three people died in a car accident in Texas, including two contractors for the Weather Channel, Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall. Kelley and Randy were beloved members of the weather community. We are saddened by this loss and our deepest sympathies go out to the families and loved ones of all involved.”

“It just hits so close to home,” said Austin-area Storm Chaser Austin Anderson. “It’s just awful news.”

Severe weather can turn quickly, he said. Anderson nearly died while tracking one of the largest tornadoes on record in May of 2013.

He and his crew were chasing the El Reno tornado for the Weather Channel, when high winds swept their car up and threw it 160 yards.

They all survived.

Anderson says not far from them, three National Geographic scientists who were following the same storm died when the tornado picked up their vehicle and slammed it yards away. He says the severe weather industry may need to rethink its policies.

“I think they’re going to take a long hard look at what they need to do to keep their teams out in the field safe,” Anderson said.

After the accident, Anderson had a broken neck, a damaged sternum and he lives with screws in his back. He says in recent years, he is seeing more and more inexperienced people who want to capture the same dangerous weather systems with their smart phones and the slightest wrong turn can become deadly.

“This debate has arisen,” Anderson said. “What can authorities do to keep people safe who are out chasing around to get video of a tornado on their cell phone? Regulations need to be put in place.”

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