Arkansas Baptist Hero: Meet the Jonesboro Meteorologist who Helped Save Lives in Recent Tornado

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By Travis McCormick

JONESBORO – “Ryan Vaughan saved our lives.” These words were echoed by many as ABSC Disaster Relief teams ministered to those impacted by the March 28 EF3 tornado.

Vaughan, a member of Central Baptist Church-Paragould Campus, works as the Chief Meteorologist at KAIT-8 in Jonesboro. On the afternoon of March 28, he and his weather team began tracking a potentially deadly storm as a tornado warning was issued for the area. In 19 years on the job, he had seen many such warnings pass without incident. This time however, as he tracked the path of the developing tornado, Ryan knew in his gut that this one would be different.

Usually he would cover a severe weather event from his office, but like many others these days, he found himself working from home due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19. For the first time in his career, he was able to see the storm from the audience’s perspective. He was not only reporting the weather, he was living it in real time with his viewers. As the tornado drew closer, Vaughan was hit with the realization that this was not happening in a neighboring city or state. This dangerous storm was heading straight for the community he loved, and it would hit in only a matter of moments. In spite of his own fear and roller coaster of emotions, Ryan kept calm and urged thousands to head to their safe place immediately, even as he moved to get his own family to safety. As the tornado touched down and the power in his home flashed on and off, he huddled with his family, silently wondering what God was doing and why.

Vaughan and his family escaped the full wrath of the tornado as it passed around Paragould. Once he realized that everyone in the immediate area was ok, he quickly got into his car and headed to Jonesboro to survey the damage. Debris and cars were scattered everywhere as businesses and hundreds of homes were either damaged or destroyed. He eventually learned that 22 people suffered injuries, most of these minor. Miraculously there were no casualties, which helps to explain why many see him as a hero. The last thing they remember before the storm hit was Ryan Vaughan telling them to take cover, “now”. And they listened.

So how does it feel to be a hero? He just shrugs and says, “We’re not heroes. We were just doing our job.” He says it’s a blessing to be in a position to inform people and that he tries not to take that lightly. “We forecast this one well. We could just as easily next week forecast one wrong.” He acknowledges that disasters will happen again, but the key is to be ready to respond. He points to the men and women of the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief Teams as examples of those ready to respond in a time of crisis. He says it’s great to have an organization that plans ahead of time. He notes the importance of having a group that’s ready to pick up a chainsaw immediately, serve meals to first responders immediately and immediately has a plan in place. “We’ve all seen the videos of the folks going out in the yellow shirts. I don’t know what was going on from the Baptist response, but I know when I looked up, ABSC Disaster Relief was there.”

As he reflects on all that’s happened, Vaughan is asked to consider what God is teaching us through this devastating event. He says that God may be using this storm to show us that life is fragile. “Through this virus and through this tornado, He’s showing us what really matters. God took something bad and used it for something good.”

When asked what good he sees coming from this storm, Vaughan says “See how many people have come to help? It’s almost overwhelming. Just look around and see. There’s the good in this, there’s us coming back together.”

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