Chasing storms comes with the territory of working in news at Springfield radio affiliate KTTS. Nancy Simpson has been with the station for twenty years and has done her fair share of storm spotting.
“They said, ‘By the way, we chase storms,’” said Simpson. “I thought ‘Well that sounds scary but okay because I want to do news on the radio.’”
Simpson did not chasing storms during the tragic Joplin tornado in 2011. She ran KTTS’s wall to wall coverage that day at the station. However, Simpson has seen Mother Nature’s wrath devastate many southwest Missouri communities.
“This isn’t for everybody by any means,” said Simpson. “A lot of people think it’s just looking at some storms, at some clouds and reporting back. Sometimes it’s so much more than that.”
In 2006, during severe weather storm spotting, Simpson said something didn’t feel right. While traveling on the western edge of Billings, she let the station’s news team know her location, just in case danger headed her way.
“We’re trained to watch for transformers blowing, wires and all the debris. It just really wasn’t happening. It was so dark that I couldn’t see,” said Simpson. “I remember some people peeking through the blinds in Billings and I thought ‘Well, either this is going to go really bad, I could get sucked up by a tornado, or it could be really amazing.’ Thank goodness it was amazing.”
Ken Henry opened his door and let Simpson report about the storm from his basement. Henry’s son, who lived nearby, lost everything in that tornado.
In 2003 while out chasing storms in the Clever area, Simpson was listening to a Missouri State Highway Patrol dispatcher calling for emergency response units to help in the southwest Missouri towns of Marionville, Stockton and Pierce City. Tornadoes blasted through all three cities.
Simpson was traveling down P highway in a valley where she couldn’t see the storm system. A tornado blew through the area quickly. Again, Simpson’s gut was telling her something wasn’t right.
“The tin in the trees and a house in pieces and splinters, it’s not right. I couldn’t cross over P highway because of the debris,” said Simpson. “A man comes running up to my truck and he’s beating on the windows. He said ‘She’s dead. She’s dead. We need help. We need help.’”
The twister blew a woman out of her house. She was found dead in a ditch.
Then, Simpson saw how a community pulls together in trying times. She exited her vehicle and began walking. She followed some locals walking over a hill and asked where they were going. A resident’s farm and horse arena were damaged by the tornado and members of the community rushed to help.
Simpson reported about ways the community could help with the man’s property damage. People showed up with fences, flood lights, trailers, veterinarians, etc.
About three weeks later, the resident called Simpson and thanked her getting the word out.
“So many are so kind. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that meeting somebody in their darkest hour, people still open their doors to you and they’re still very kind to you.”