The Weather Channel Tornado Hunt Team is safe, but shaken up after their chase vehicles took a direct hit by a violent tornado west of Oklahoma City.
Meteorologist Mike Bettes was chasing the monster rain-wrapped tornado near El Reno, Okla. when he says the storm picked up the heavy chase SUV and threw it an estimated 200 yards.
"We were ahead of the storm. We stopped to broadcast and I saw a large violent wedge tornado," Bettes said in a live phone interview after he established phone connection after the incident.
"What we were trying to do was just get away from it and get to the south side of it," Bettes said. "But what ended up happening was all three of our vehicles that we chase with were all hit by it."
He remembers being thrown into the air.
"It was like we were floating. We were tumbling. We were airborne at least one point and we were floating. Then we weren't tumbling anymore and we came down hard."
Bettes was nursing minor injuries Saturday, including stitches in his hand. All the occupants were wearing safety belts and walked away from the banged-up vehicle.
"My life flashed before my eyes."
It's the first time one of the network's personalities has been injured while covering violent weather, spokeswoman Shirley Powell said.
Bettes reported seeing other vehicles that had also been thrown by the storm.
It's the fourth year that The Weather Channel has sent crews out actively hunting tornadoes, Powell said. Two years ago, one of the network's crews was among the first on the scene after a devastating twister hit Joplin, Mo., bringing back gripping video.
For the first two years, The Weather Channel was embedded with a government research team. But in the past two years, the network has sent its own crews out. Bettes' white vehicle is emblazoned with the phrase "Tornado Hunt" and the network's logo.
Powell said it is too early to tell how the close call will affect the network's tornado coverage, but it will be under review. "Tornadoes are violent and unpredictable, but covering them keeps the public at large informed and, as a result, safer," she said.
Bettes thanked friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter Saturday morning for the kind thoughts. "Hopefully our mishap will teach us all to respect the weather and be responsible and safe at all costs," he posted on Facebook. "I thought I was doing the right thing, but obviously I wasn't. Lesson learned the hard way. Someone was watching over us. Very blessed to be headed home tomorrow to see my family."