A STORM chaser from Kendal has spoken of his sadness at seeing the devastation caused by a string of deadly tornadoes in the US.
Tom Lynch witnessed first hand the carnage which left scores dead and flattened homes after 200mph winds and tennis ball-sized hail stones battered the state of Oklahoma this week.
Mr Lynch, a repair operations manager with South Lakes Housing, arrived in Texas on Saturday for the first of two ten-day ‘storm chasing’ trips with netweather.tv
Although 60 miles clear of the two-mile twister which killed 24 people in the town of Moore, including nine schoolchildren when their primary school was levelled, he saw it unfold in the back of his 11-strong party’s truck.
Mr Lynch, 60, said: “We could see on our radar that what we were looking at was going to be mean and cause fatalities. We were all devastated for what was going on. They have just rebuilt the town after 1999 when it was hit. We just felt sad.”
Concerned relatives in Kendal woke to headline news of the disaster on Tuesday and feared Mr Lynch was caught up in the tragedy.
It would be 13 hours before he managed to contact wife Janette, of Stainbank Road, and children Katie and Thomas.
He explained: “I had a lot of family worried about me because we were in that area the day before. My last message to them was ‘we are in Oklahoma City’.
The day before, Mr Lynch’s group was a lot closer to the badly-hit region and saw the aftermath of a previous storm which touched down in the nearby city of Shawnee, killing three. By then, Oklahoma had already been hit by around five tornadoes.
“There were homes obliterated, power lines down, houses left like matchsticks and cars littered on the interstate (highway)”, he explained.
“There are people who have got no homes. Their belongings are gone. An area bigger than Kendal has been flattened.”
The storm-chasing group left Oklahoma City, four miles from the major disaster zone, just hours before the storm struck on Monday.
But they face coming close to the tragic scenes being beamed across the world as their route back to Texas is through the affected area.
Mr Lynch added: “They asked everybody to keep away.
“They had a no-fly zone in the area so they could have complete silence to search for people trapped.”
The severe weather enthusiast has been storm chasing for 13 years, making an annual trip to America’s ‘Tornado Alley’.
His group travels up to 500 miles a day to catch Mother Nature at her most powerful but he is well aware of the risks.
“It’s difficult to keep a safe distance when you’re storm chasing,” he said. “You’re always going to get a bit close.”
US President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Oklahoma.