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WKU students had been tracking storm that spawned deadly Missouri tornado

Members of a WKU meteorology class had been chasing the deadly storm that struck Joplin, Mo., on Sunday evening. (Note: Additional updates/photos are being posted on the WKU Meteorology Blog.)

WKU's Josh Durkee provided this image just west of Sunday's severe storm, moments before the tornado developed and headed toward Joplin, Mo..

Students in the WKU Field Methods in Weather Analysis class spent the day in southeast Kansas near the city of Parsons because of potential tornadic storm development and were tracking the storm that hit southwestern Missouri, according to Dr. Josh Durkee, assistant professor in WKU’s meteorology program in the Department of Geography and Geology.

Dr. Durkee provided the following account:

“The storm developed around 5 p.m. and we followed the storm through the somewhat hilly terrain that was has many obstructed views due to hills and trees. The storm itself was rotating nicely throughout the day, but it was struggling to produce a tornado much of the time. As the storm got near the Kansas/Missouri border, we decided not to continue on with the storm simply due to dangerous viewing and road conditions, especially heading into sundown.

“We decided to pull over and watch the storm head east, when we felt a rush of warm, descending air from the backside of the storm (known as a rear-flank downdraft). This descending air is often associated with tornado genesis. It was about 10 minutes later that we noticed the radar had a signature not only associated with a potentially strong tornado, but also that part of the radar reflectivity had debris in it. In short, we quit on the storm right when the tornado formed, crossed the interstate and went into Joplin.”

Traffic on Interstate 44 was backed up Sunday evening after a deadly tornado hit Joplin, Mo.

The massive tornado cut a 6-mile swath through Joplin, killing more than 80 and destroying a hospital, schools, buildings and homes.

On Monday morning, the members of the WKU class were on their way to western Oklahoma where severe storms are expected to form. The WKU Field Methods in Weather Analysis class will be forecasting, spotting, verifying, and reporting severe convective storms until June 1. Last year a WKU group spotted 17 tornado touchdowns.

The class, which began its trip on May 18, is providing updates on the WKU Meteorology Blog.

The group is led by Dr. Durkee and Dr. Grady Dixon, assistant professor of meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University. This year’s students are: Kyle Berry of Mount Washington, Mitchell Gaines of Bowling Green, Nathaniel Shearer of Berea, Lee Campbell of Paducah, Kate Wilson of Bowling Green, Dustin Jordan of Seymour, Tenn., Olivia Payne of Owensboro, Lindsay Rice of Delmont, Pa.

Contact: Josh Durkee, joshua.durkee@wku.edu

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