A tight-knit community of weather lovers and storm chasers is grieving after the deaths of three University of Oklahoma meteorology students in a car crash late Friday while returning to Norman from storm chasing in Kansas.
The loss of the students, Nicholas Nair, 20, of Denton, Texas; Gavin Short, 19, of Grayslake, Illinois; and Drake Brooks, 22, of Evansville, Indiana, prompted many to express their grief, but also to remember why they loved them.
Leigh O'Neil, a geographic information science major at OU, said the three students were the "kindest, smartest people" she'd ever met. O'Neil said a selfie of the three mugging for the camera that they sent to their friends Friday is a perfect representation of how funny they were.
"You couldn't be around them without laughing your ass off," she said.
"They truly would do anything to help others out, even before their own well being," O'Neil added. "They are already missed greatly. Their loss is insanely painful for us all."
Fatal collision occurred during rainstorm in northern Oklahoma
Nair, Short and Brooks were driving southbound on a wet Interstate 35 near Tonkawa when their SUV hydroplaned, left the roadway to the right and then came back onto the highway and stopped. The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan was struck by a semi traveling in the same direction, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
The three were pronounced dead at the scene about 85 miles north of Oklahoma City. Tonkawa Fire Department officials and paramedics worked nearly five and a half hours to remove them from the wreckage. The semi truck driver was transported to a hospital in Blackwell but has since been released.
The accident took place around 11:23 p.m. Friday night, just three hours after the students witnessed a small tornado north of Herrington, Kansas, according to their Twitter accounts.
Evan Short, 17, Gavin Short's younger brother, said Gavin "lived more in his 1.5 years at OU than in his first 18 years of life."
"I can find solace in the idea that now he can live among the clouds which he loved so much," Evan Short said.
OU's College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences issued a statement saying that as finals weeks approaches, counseling was available "as we all grieve this unthinkable heartbreak."
"Our community in Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences is close-knit, and our School of Meteorology is very much a family. Now, more than ever, we must come together in kindness and heartfelt support for one another. Please join us in offering thoughts and prayers for those most impacted, and providing them with privacy," the statement said.
Meteorological community mourns OU students' death on social media
Those in the weather and meteorology community took to Twitter Saturday to express their condolences over the news.
Chris Dixon, a fellow OU meteorology student, was part of a separate group of students storm chasing Friday. He saw his first tornado over Andover, Kansas, but woke up Saturday to hear that three peers had died.
"Words cannot describe this rollercoaster of emotions from one of the highest points of my life to one of the most close-to-home serious ones," Dixon wrote on Twitter Saturday.
A well known storm chaser and OU meteorology alum Reed Timmer called the students friends and said they are close to his heart.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to their families and friends," Timmer said.
A gofundme campaign has been established to provide for the travel and memorial service expenses of the students' families. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fund had raised more than $60,000.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Three OU Meteorology students die on I-35 after Kansas storm chasing