Three meteorology students at the University of Oklahoma died in a car accident in Oklahoma Friday night on a return trip from Kansas where they had been storm hunting, according to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.
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 water plane and was disabled, blocking the outside lane, according to the Department of Public Safety. A truck hit the students’ car and held it for over five hours before their bodies were released by emergency personnel. 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 from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol who helped get students back from the vehicle. When the other carloads of students headed back to Norman, Oklahoma, they saw that Mr. Nair, Mr. Short and Mr. Brooks’ GPS position was frozen and called the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to report a possible accident, Mr. Ludwyck said.
“It was raining very heavily at that time,” he said.
Dangerous road conditions can often lead to accidents when stormtroopers are on their way to or away from a storm, he added.
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“Sometimes you can have thousands of stormtroopers trying to follow a storm, so the traffic just gets very congested, so accidents happen,” said Mr. Ludwyck. But he said there had been some traffic at the time of the accident.
In 2017, three stormtroopers 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 over the phone that friends in their group gathered Saturday night to comfort each other while they covered the news.
She had formed a storm-hunting group with the three, which they called “Metcrew Chasers,” a name that struck them up one cold, snow-covered night during their first year. They made stickers with the name adorned with a hook-shaped weather radar that was red, orange and green – symbols that they would proudly display on their computers or cars.
Mara Davis, a meteorology student at the University of Oklahoma who was also friends with the students, said Saturday night over the phone 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 most of the evening, Mrs. Raffel and Mrs. Davis reminded their friends: how Mr. Nair, described as funny and outgoing, would sing a little song with his big voice, a song he had hoped to use as a broadcaster. one day – 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,” said Raffel, she had met and one who wanted his friends to succeed.
And how Mr. Brooks, a latecomer to the group of friends, had quickly won everyone over with his quick wit and his love of everything to do with meteorology, especially forecasts.
“Their passion for the weather and only the safety of all and love for the whole world – they were just loved so much,” said Mrs Raffel.
Daniel Carter, a friend of the group who is also studying meteorology at the university, said via Facebook on Saturday that they were planning a candle in the coming week.
The College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma said in a announcement Saturday that its community “is largely a family,” and that its members were “deeply saddened.”
“Our management and faculty are ready to support each and every one of our community members in the coming days, weeks and months, while we all mourn this unimaginable heartache,” the college said.
Saturday night, the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., Issued a video on Twitter showing a weather balloon with 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.”