News 9 Storm Trackers Reflect On 2019 Storm Season

Thursday, March 12th 2020, 10:17 pm
By: News 9

As we're preparing for the upcoming severe weather season, it's important to take a look at last year's most memorable storms.

It's like a family reunion when you get the News 9 stormtrackers in the same room. We brought them together to discuss the biggest storms of 2019.



The first was April 17 in Shattuck.

"I actually drove right up to the tornado. It was probably about a mile away from me," Bobby Payne said.  "Every five or ten minutes I'd do a 360 to make sure everything was clear, and I looked out my passenger window and there was another tornado to my northeast"

Luckily the early spring storm didn't cause major damage like the May 7 tornadoes near Hobart and Rocky.

"There was a storm that was just incredible," Amy Castor said.

"I'll never forget this. We were watching this wall cloud. She panned the camera up and I could see this distinctive white funnel. We started seeing power flashes after that. That's when it touched down,” Val Castor said.

"It was after midnight and we had probably been on the road since noon, so it was 12 hours into the chase. The viewers were probably tired. There was so much weather coverage,” Hank Brown said.

"I remember as it went north, it clipped Rocky. Big power flashes going through the north side of Rocky. Then at one point it was still moving northeast and then it began to wrap up. That's when it was going to Cordell. I thought it was going to go. I mean the meso went right over Cordell. Cordell lucked out," David Payne added.

The storms last season continued to strengthen as we entered the final days of the month.

On May 20, we had two tornadoes at the same time near Crescent. Bob Mills Sky News 9 pilot Jim Gardner was there.

"What I thought was really cool your picture popped up and you were standing there talking about twin tornadoes and you were on the green screen standing right between them. It was just a remarkable shot," Jim said.

The storm gained strength as it went to Mangum.

"Just as we got there that tornado it literally touched down in front of us. It eventually became a pretty violent tornado," Tom Pastrano said. "We did catch up to it again right in the middle of town. We went to downtown Mangum and had a fairly significant shot of this big tornado as it was winding down west of Mangum. It destroyed a few houses on the west side of town but it could have been a lot worse than it was."

We had several more storms in the following days. None of them as bad or as destructive as the late-night storm that hit El Reno on May 25.

"We were coming down I-40. That tornado actually formed just on the south side of 40 and knocked down a billboard. It just KO'ed that Ford dealership. They had a big shop that was destroyed and then it went on to hit the motel and trailer park and all of that, " Val said.

News 9's Aaron Brilbeck was caught in the storm where our storm trackers ended up. All of them would end up telling the victim's stories.

"We talked with the owner of the motel and got an interview with him. Other people would come around. We were set up at the store looking across at the trailer park," Marty said.

"I put my headphones on this guy, and you came to me. When it was all said and done there was a trailer on top of his trailer. His trailer was caved in, the trailer was upside down and was on top of his. Their son, which we also had right there on the air, came from a couple of miles away and actually pulled everyone out of the trailer. You talk about heroes like that. That's what that guy did and probably saved some lives," Val said.

As this storm season approaches, the nation's largest team of trackers are ready. The team is only getting bigger with the additions of Brandon Pennel and his chasing buddy Sammy Brence.

"Once you experience it, it’s either in you or its not and it’s an adrenaline rush," Brandon said.

He said to be on the News 9 tracker team is truly a dream come true.

"It is a childhood dream. When I got married in 2002, I used to joke around with my wife, and we would be watching severe weather. I'd say, 'One day that's going to be me, and our kids will be pointing at the TV and then here it is 18 years later living the dream," Brandon added.

But it's a dream that comes with a heavy dose of reality.

"Seeing the aftermath of the Moore tornado in 2013 and the loss of life, the way it changed family and dynamics forever, that's with me every time I chase," Brandon said.

And tracking storms to save lives is the only thing that matters to this group of chasers.

"For probably all of us here, it's not just a job, it's a calling. We live here, we have family here, we have friends here and when we go out our number one priority is to keep people safe," Val said.

Be sure to see more with the storm trackers on March 24 as we air "The Storm Chasers." You will see what our weather team and weather trackers do like you've never seen it before.