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CSI Tornado: Decoding – and chasing – supercells with the experts

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By midnight, grandchildren were asleep in the Lord home here, and the adults were getting ready to follow. Chad Lord, a storm-savvy contractor up from Florida to visit his parents, made one last check for tornado warnings. Nothing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio. Nothing on TV.

As Chad was about to turn in, warning sirens began to wail. The squall line had broken into supercells; a tornado was bearing down.

As he recalls it, about two minutes passed as he rallied three generations of Lords to run across the street to the neighbors' basement. His father, Paul, was halfway across the road, and Chad was in the front yard beckoning others to follow when the rising locomotive-like roar and clatter of debris hitting homes stopped them in their tracks. The tornado was perhaps 100 yards away, and closing.

Both men turned to sprint back into their house as Chad shouted for the rest of the family to take shelter in an interior room.

Paul tripped, but nearly caught up as Chad reached the front door. Chad turned and gripped his father's hand to pull him into the house just as the twister hit. Winds yanked Paul out of Chad's grasp and into the night and blew Chad back down a hall, where he came to a stop near a bathroom. He opened the door, he recalls, hoping to find shelter in a tub, only to find nothing on the other side of the door.

Then a fireplace collapsed, covering him in debris.

In 10 seconds, he says, it was over.

Survivor awe and science

"It makes you wonder how people survive these things," says National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist James LaDue, with a gentle shake of his head, as he stands the next afternoon amid the shattered wood, shards of glass, and tufts of fiberglass insulation that once made up the Lord family's high-ceilinged two-story home.

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