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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

When the deadly tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City area yesterday, among those watching was Chris McBee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORNADO VIDEO)

CHRIS MCBEE: Elephant Trunk Tornado on the ground, looking west-northwest from 60th and Franklin.

BLOCK: Chris McBee is a storm chaser from nearby Norman, Okla. He recorded this video as the charcoal-gray funnel cloud churned its way across the horizon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TORNADO VIDEO)

MCBEE: Oh, you can hear it. The debris is in the air. Oh, my gosh...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You've got to watch for the debris...

MCBEE: ...terrible situation for the metro...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You've got to watch for the debris...

MCBEE: ...yeah. Watch for debris falling out of the sky.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Wow, it's hitting all sorts of...

MCBEE: Oh, I know. It's awful. Oh, so much structural damage. I hope people heard the warnings. Oh, my gosh.

BLOCK: And Chris McBee joins us now. Chris, welcome to the program.

MCBEE: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Why don't you tell us where you were yesterday, when this tornado started forming, and what you did when you heard about it.

MCBEE: Well, we were just southwest of the city of Moore. We watched the tornado form several miles to the west. It was fairly small to begin with, but it intensified very quickly and became over a mile wide as it was heading into town. And we were about a half-mile south of it. As it crossed into the city of Moore, there was debris raining out of the air on top of us - nothing very large, but you know, pieces of paper and cardboard, and parts of trees and things like that, just falling out of the sky. And it just gave us a sick feeling 'cause we knew that it was hitting a lot of structures and really affecting a lot of lives.

BLOCK: What's really striking, when you watch the video, is to realize that you - as a storm chaser - are following the tornado. You're driving toward it - or at least tracking it, rather than driving away from it. I mean, how do you know that you are anywhere near a safe place?

MCBEE: Well, we've been doing this for a long time. We know how storms behave. You ccould really judge where a tornado's going to go, both on radar and visually. And we got ourselves into a spot where we knew that we were not in danger ourselves, but where we could watch it very, you know, from a very close range. When you're experienced, as we are, on storm chasing, you - you understand how the storm's going to behave, and you know how to get yourself in a safe place.

BLOCK: And we heard you there talking about an elephant trunk tornado.

MCBEE: Yes. There are several different types of tornados that storm chasers will frequently refer to, just based on the tornado visually. There's elephant trunk and stovepipe, and cone and wedge, and just things like that; that just give the National Weather Service a better idea of exactly what we're looking at, and can be done very quickly that way.

BLOCK: So you were actually on the phone - somebody in your car was on the phone with the National Weather Service, phoning in what you were seeing?

MCBEE: Yes, as soon as we saw the tornado touch down. That's really a priority among storm chasers because when you get that ground truth report to the National Weather Service, they can warn people that are in the path.

BLOCK: So you see that as part of what your role is. It's not just thrill-seeking, the thrill of chasing a tornado.

MCBEE: Well, it certainly is a thrill to be out there. You know, we're shooting footage, you know, we're trying to warn people that are in the path as well. And having a direct line to the National Weather Service is definitely important.

BLOCK: You live in Norman, Okla.; grew up in Norman, Okla. Do you ever get used to the things like you saw yesterday?

MCBEE: You really don't. Severe weather's a way of life, here in Oklahoma. But yesterday's destruction was the worst that I've ever seen as a storm chaser. We're used to seeing, you know, a small tornado tear up a cornfield, you know, and not hurt anybody. Most tornados we see are in very rural areas. And yesterday just happened to be one of those that was in a populated area. It's happened a lot. But no, there's no way to get used to the destruction we saw yesterday.

BLOCK: Chris McBee is a storm chaser in Norman, Okla. Mr. McBee, thanks for being with us.

MCBEE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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