On Sunday, March 12th, a series of violent thunderstorms spawning tornadoes and severe weather rolled across Missouri, killing at least 10 people and injuring 91 others. The storms were not unexpected by many weather predictors, including Richard Thompson, the lead forecaster for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Although Thompson had the day off from his regular job, he took a “bus man’s holiday” as he drove to Southern and Western Missouri to follow the tracks of these storms, hoping to get some first-hand observation of what he had earler predicted. Thompson says a slight miscalculation put him about one hour behind when the first storms popped up, and he spent the rest of the day trying to get ahead of the storms. He had limited success, as he was reached within about 10 miles of the storm that ravaged the Sedalia area. He says the storms were moving at about 60 miles an hour on a northeast track while the vehicle he was in had to move north and then east, making for a longer, slower route for him than the tornadoes. Just as he had a storm cornered near Nevada in Western Missouri, the sun set, and he was not able to see the storm that formed in Eastern Kansas and eventually made its way across Missouri in the dark. Thompson says he does this to get a better idea of what these storms that he predicts are actually capable of doing. And he believes it makes his forecasting skills stronger when he can see first-hand the fruits of his labor.
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