Raleigh Lackey on perhaps the nation’s first storm chaser

May 25 is engraved in Kansas tornado lore as the date Udall was obliterated by the deadliest tornado in the state’s history.

Former National Weather Service meteorologist Raleigh Lackey remembers May 25 as the date someone first earned the title of “storm chaser.” It happened in 1965, 10 years after the Udall tornado.

As Lackey tells it, David Hoadley came to the Great Plains from his home in the Washington, D.C., area in April 1965 to spot and photograph tornadoes.

“I told Dave that someone searching for tornadic activity needed a title similar to the term “Hurricane Hunter,” Lackey wrote in an e-mail to me.

He told Hoadley, “most single guys his age would probably be chasing girls, while he was out chasing tornadoes.”

He began calling Hoadley “Chaser” whenever he stopped by the Wichita branch of the weather service, where Lackey worked for more than 25 years before retiring in 1988. Coincidentally, “chasseur” is French for hunter.

Hoadley was staying at the Top Hat Motel just west of the Wichita airport, Lackey said. On May 25, 1965, the severe weather potential appeared to be west of Wichita, toward Dodge City. Hoadley reached Dodge at about 1 p.m., and later headed for Minneola and then east to Pratt.

He came back with photos of tornadoes, Lackey said, thus earning the title “storm chaser.”

According to the archives of The Tornado Project, there were tornadoes reported in several Kansas counties that day: Clark, Cheyenne, Clay, Ellsworth, Ford, Lane, Pawnee, Phillips, Pratt, Smith and Stafford.

One of the tornadoes was an F3 that struck not far from Iuka in Pratt County and injured 7 people. Another — one of two to hit Pawnee County — hit the Finger family farm as I took shelter in the basement, ducking my head and covering my ears. I was 4, and I expected the house to be torn apart any moment.

I never saw the tornado, but I heard it and felt the pressure changes as it roared past like a jet engine powering a massive beast. Memories of that day remain vivid, more than 40 years later.