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News 8 storm chase finds tornadoes, aftermath

Clean-up was underway in northern Texas, Monday, after more than a dozen tornadoes struck there last week.

News Eight’s Megan Noe and photographer Anthony Panicucci got a firsthand look at the dangers of severe weather as they joined a storm-chasing crew to track the tornadoes through the South.

“It never gets old. It’s always a challenge, and it’s always different,” said chaser and meteorologist JR Hehnly.

For News Eight, the chase started on Wednesday, May 15 — six days and 2,500 miles ago. As they analyzed models from Norman, Oklahoma, meteorologists from Weather Decision Technologies were initially doubtful the group would intercept any powerful storms.

“It doesn’t look that intense at this particular run,” said chaser Kenneth McCallister.

From Norman, the chase dropped down to Wichita Falls, Texas, and several hours of waiting began.

“As of last night, we thought there was nothing going to happen, and now it looks very, very good, almost for sure we’ll see a strong storm or probably see severe weather. Whether we see a tornado or not, we don’t know,” said Mike Eilts, WDT President.

“We’re in the right spot, just have to wait for it to happen,” explained Hehnly.

As the chase began again, the crew barely missed rain and baseball-sized hail. Near Mineral Wells, Texas, though, a first tornado was spotted.

“They’re on the radio talking about debris in the air, I mean, it’s gotta be in there, it’s gotta be,” said Hehnly.

And the night wasn’t over. In all, 16 tornadoes struck north Texas Wednesday night. The News Eight crew also caught a glimpse of a massive wedge tornado near Cleburne.

“This one, unfortunately, when we see power flashes, it means it hit something important, so we’re hoping that’s not houses or where people are,” said Hehnly.

The tornado’s aftermath, though, was sobering. Crews from the National Weather Service arrived in Granbury, Texas, Thursday to survey the damage.

“There were walls that were bolted to the foundation, and even some of those bolts were torn out of the concrete, so the damage was pretty exceptional,” said meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh.

Reports showed EF-4 damage in Granbury — smashed cars, roofs torn off houses, and six people killed.

“The fatalities that we’re aware of, they happened in mobile homes. People were in the mobile homes when the mobile homes were lofted well over 100 yards, and then the mobile home was completely destroyed,” said Cavanaugh.

Thursday, state police blocked off the hardest-hit areas while search-and-rescue crews combed through the damage.

For storm chasers, scenes like that are a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s power as recovery begins.

“It’s kind of a bad part of storm chasing that you have to witness that, but it also makes you feel good that you can maybe help somebody else out that’s in a bad situation,” said Hehnly.