AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a tornado outbreak Monday evening in Central Texas, officials estimate the storm caused millions in damages to Williamson County neighborhoods.
Jeff Mangum was our eyes and ears on the ground there as tornadoes materialized. He said he’s been chasing storms for about 30 years — since he was 17 years old.
While Mangum has chased storms in places like Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi, Mangum told KXAN Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans this was the closest they’ve ever been to a tornado.
“What we try to do is make sure that we’re south of the tornado, because the tornado is going to be moving east or northeast, and so if you stay south of it, you’re staying clear of the direction of the tornado,” Mangum explained.
WATCH BELOW: Tornado Trackers video of a tornado that crossed Highway 95 north of Taylor, Texas.
While the team was in a “safe” place, they were still impacted by what’s called rear flank downdraft, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines as a region of dry air on the backside of and wrapping around a mesocyclone.
“And those winds can be 80 to 100 miles an hour, and we were experiencing a full force of that,” Mangum said.
He described the moment the tornado crossed the road about 100 yards in front of them. There were still cars with headlights driving through the winds.
“When you are in a situation like that, you’re seeing the storm motion move that fast, it’s pretty mind boggling,” Mangum said.
While chasing the storm, Mangum and his team came across a home and farming equipment that was destroyed. Tornado Trackers took the time to check on the family living there.
“The first thing we wanted to check was were they OK? Was everyone yelling out that they were OK? We got confirmations from the entire family that everyone was healthy and OK, but they were definitely in shock,” he recalled. They helped direct the family to law enforcement who responded to the area.
Yeomans asked Mangum why he’d want to do something like this professionally. Mangum said it all started when he saw a tornado documentary at 10 years old that “stole [his] heart.”
“There’s something miraculous and bizarre and wonderful all at the same time,” Mangum told Yeomans. “There’s a reason why people always have their cameras up, looking for these storms, because there’s something mesmerizing about them.”