Tornado injures Weather Channel meteorologist

NEW YORK — The next time meteorologist Mike Bettes talks about the power of tornadoes on The Weather Channel, he can speak from personal experience.

Bettes was nursing minor injuries Saturday, including stitches in his hand, a day after the SUV that he and two photographers were riding in was thrown 200 yards by a twister in Oklahoma. The Weather Channel said all the occupants were wearing safety belts and walked away from the banged-up vehicle.

It’s the first time one of the network’s personalities has been injured while covering violent weather, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said.

“That was the scariest moment of my life,” Bettes said. “I had never been through anything like it before, and my life passed before my eyes.”

He and the photographers were trying to outrun a tornado they spotted in El Reno, Okla., and failed.

Bettes said it felt like the vehicle tumbled over several times and was floating in the air before crashing to the ground.

The Weather Channel quickly posted video of the experience since the team kept cameras rolling throughout. The tape largely showed a black screen with audio of crashes until it came to rest with the picture sideways.

It was perhaps a warning sign of the dangers inherent in the trend of tornado chasers. Storm hunters driving specially equipped cars and racing to get video of tornadoes touching down have become an expected byproduct of severe weather outbreaks, and some have even gotten their own TV shows.

Earlier this week, a storm chaser video got wide exposure because an armor-plated vehicle didn’t bother trying to outrun the storm. It came back with pictures from inside the tornado itself.

It’s the fourth year that The Weather Channel has sent crews out actively hunting tornadoes, Powell said. Last year, one of the network’s crews was among the first on the scene after a devastating twister hit Joplin, Mo., bringing back gripping video.

For the first two years, The Weather Channel was embedded with a government research team. But in the past two years, the network has sent its own crews out. Bettes’ white vehicle is emblazoned with the phrase “tornado hunt” and the network’s logo.

Powell said it is too early to tell how the close call will affect the network’s tornado coverage, but it will be under review.

“Tornadoes are violent and unpredictable, but covering them keeps the public at large informed and, as a result, safer,” she said.

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