Three enthusiastic young “storm chasers” have been killed after racing to keep up with a devastating tornado as it tore across Kansas.
Nicholas Nair, 20, Gavin Short, 19, and Drake Brooks, 22 have been identified as the three people killed in a car crash in neighboring Oklahoma on Friday night.
The meteorology students at the University of Oklahoma had earlier in the day been posting videos on Twitter showing the twister passing over the highway as they drove, and even sent a selfie from their car to pals just hours before the crash.
They were part of a larger group of students who had all travelled to Kansas to chase the storm, which tore off roofs, upended trees and overturned cars in its path of destruction.
Drake Brooks (left), Nicholas Nair and Gavin Short took this selfie hours before they were killed
As the storm chasers headed back to campus in Norman, Oklahoma they noticed that Mr Nair, Mr Short and Mr Brooks’ GPS location hadn’t moved in some time, and called the Highway Patrol to report an accident.
Tragically the trio’s car had hydroplaned and blocked the outside lane where a truck smashed into it, pinning it for more than five hours before emergency services were able to get the young men out.
All three were pronounced dead at the scene, while the truck driver was taken to hospital and later released.
Heavy rain had followed the dramatic storm, a common dangerous scenario for tornado enthusiasts.
“Sometimes you may have thousands of storm chasers trying to follow one storm so that traffic just gets very congested, so accidents happen,” lieutenant Phillip Ludwyck told the New York Times. The tornado caused widespread destruction as it moved through Kansas
The University of Oklahoma’s School of Meteorology confirmed the deaths in a statement on Saturday, saying: “We are deeply saddened and our sincerest condolences go out to all affected families and friends.”
Fellow student Leigh O’Neil told The Oklahoman the three young men had sent a selfie of themselves in the car to their friends just hours before the fatal crash.
“They are already missed greatly,” she said. “Their loss is insanely painful for us all.”
The tornado in question caused widespread damage through residential Kansas on Friday evening, with several cars smashed into the walls of the YMCA building in Andover.
One Twitter user wrote: “There’s quite a bit of storm damage in a neighborhood east of Harry and Andover Road.
“Trees uprooted, roofs gone, walls collapsed. Lots of first responders in the area. Neighbors are checking on each other.”
Several other tornadoes also touched down across Nebraska and Kansas as a large storm system swept eastward from the central Rockies into the Midwest.
“A tornado is on the ground. TAKE COVER NOW!” wrote the US National Weather Service (NWS) Topeka office on its website.