A woman among four weather experts out storm chasing in wind-battered southwestern Minnesota died in a crash on the interstate, the car's driver said Thursday from his hospital bed.
The wreck occurred late Wednesday afternoon on Interstate 90 just east of Worthington as springtime storms swept across southern Minnesota, according to the State Patrol.
"We were doing some storm chasing," Chilean meteorologist Diego Campos said, when his car hit a downed electrical power line. "The storm was really bad, and we were trying to get out of there."
Campos, 37, said that while the car was stopped on eastbound I-90, a semitrailer truck hit his vehicle from behind.
Martha L. Llanos Rodriguez, 30, of Mexico City did not survive the crash, the patrol said. Campos said Rodriguez was sitting behind him, and "that's where the truck hit us, in the left back."
"The entire accident is kind of blocked in my mind," said Campos, who added that he has many bruises and is struggling with chest pains as he recovers at Sanford Worthington Medical Center.
Hospitalized in Worthington with life-threatening injuries was Bradford S. Barrett, 42, of Annapolis, Md., according to the patrol. Barrett's background includes a position with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research after a long stint as an instructor in the Oceanography Department of the U.S. Naval Academy, specializing in many areas of climate and weather all around the world.
Aldo Alberto Viscarra-Avilez, 33, also from Chile, was recovering in the same hospital room with Campos, who said his fellow Chilean meteorologist has some broken bones.
Campos said he, Viscarra-Avilez and Barrett met up in Dallas and then picked up Rodriguez at the airport in Omaha. He said they all had come to know each other through professional conferences and courses.
Campos, who is based in the Chilean capital of Santiago, said this was the second time storm chasing for him and Viscarra-Avilez and Barrett "has a lot of experience" behind him.
"Martha," Campos said, pausing a moment, "it was her first time."
Along with preparing weather forecasts for the metropolitan Mexico City area, Rodriguez also contributed to the creation and operation of the severe weather early-warning system for the 21 million people who live in or near Mexico City.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, soon after arriving in Omaha, she wrote, "We continue on our way north in search of some formation. Now in Iowa, heading to Minnesota."
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help the survivors and others with expenses related to the crash. "Colleagues are organizing this GoFundMe to help our four colleagues and their family during this difficult time," the fundraising organizer explained. "The funds from here will go towards helping cover medical bills and associated costs with the accident."
John Wetter said he and Barrett have crossed paths over the years as veteran storm chasers, and he believes Barrett and the others "were doing the right thing, stopping with a power line on the freeway. Who expects to see that? Obviously, they were put in an impossible situation."
Wetter, 43, who lives in Maple Grove and has been storm chasing for about 25 years, understands that this passion for getting as close to the most volatile of weather has its risks, but there are precautions that can minimize becoming a casualty.
"You have to know enough about the storm to know what it is doing and stay as safe as possible," said Wetter, who has lived in many parts of Minnesota and said the state's changes of seasons make it especially attractive for storm chasers.
"Unfortunately, we've seen people perish doing this as their work or their hobby," Wetter said. "When your adrenaline is rushing, you forget some things … such as not just stopping the car and jumping out and taking a picture. You are still in a lane of traffic."
Philip Schumacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., said Thursday that winds from a cluster of thunderstorms were gusting at more than 60 miles per hour in the Worthington area about the time the power lines went down onto the interstate.
Schumacher said the area was under a severe thunderstorm warning, which means the agency is telling people "to seek shelter in an interior room on the floor. Get into a sturdy building if you can."
"Being in a vehicle does entail risk" during such turbulent weather, he said. "A vehicle is a less safe place," he said. "You're moving, and things can fly at you."
Schumacher, a 29-year veteran of the weather service, said, "I don't storm chase. … I know people who do. When you're in this profession, you do hear about them."
The semi driver who ran into the storm-chasing car, Jaskaran Singh, 26, of Ottawa, Ontario, was not hurt in the crash, the patrol said.
Another car hit the wires at the scene of the crash but avoided colliding with any vehicles. The patrol said that driver, 23-year-old Tyler S. Gilbery, of Tea, S.D., suffered minor injuries and also was hospitalized in Worthington.