Reporting Scott T. Sterling
While a large swatch of native Oklahoma music celebrities including Toby Keith and Carrie Underwood have voiced their concern and support for those affected by this week’s devastating tornado that killed at least 24 people (including seven children) in their home state, Jeremy Dawson of electro-rock band Shiny Toy Guns might be the only one who genuinely wishes he’d been there when it happened.
“Chad [Petree, guitarist/vocalist] and I have been chasing storms since we were 16,” Dawson told Radio.com today (May 21) in an interview. “With my birthday falling on May 19, normally what I do every year is fly home and spend two or three weeks out in ‘Tornado Alley’ chasing storms and working with local emergency management people. But we got hired on to work on The Voice, so I was not able to go this year.”
Instead, he was in Los Angeles on the morning of his birthday when he received a call from his father in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to let him know that something was brewing in the atmosphere back home.
“I looked online to check the upper air readings, and they were extremely bad,” Dawson explained. “My day was done. All I did for the rest of the day was sit in the studio and watch radar. The tornado did this thing called a hook echo, where it begins to wrap inside itself. I ran a scan on it, and the trajectory point was right towards the city of Shawnee, a little tiny town where my dad is sitting in a wheel chair and Chad and I grew up. Sure enough, an EF-4 class tornado drops down, five minutes later a twin tornado drops down behind it, both heading straight for Shawnee.”
(The National Weather Service would go on to elevate the twister’s status to category EF-5, which is the most severe of all tornadoes with winds of at least 200 mph.)
Dawson’s experience in chasing storms is so extensive that he owns a reinforced van, known as “The Phantom,” which is specially-outfitted for the purpose. Shiny Toy Guns used it last summer to drive across the country over 26 days, shooting the epic music video for song “Waiting Alone” (from the band’s latest full-length release, III), in the process.
In 2010, Dawson was with a crew of storm-chasers in Kansas and Colorado, during which time they encountered two tornadoes, and found themselves caught in an epic hailstorm which destroyed the windshield of the “The Phantom” van.
“We had to move my dad and all the neighbors into a safe room we had built in my parents’ house; it has 17-inch concrete walls all the way around the inside of it,” Dawson said of this week’s tornado. “Once everyone was secure, we just waited. It hit about nine tenths of a mile from my parents’ house and just bulldozed through the town.”
“Everyone is staying everybody else’s house in sleeping bags,” he said in regards to the storm’s aftermath. “A friend of mine is a promoter who puts on a lot of the rock shows in Oklahoma. I called him, and he said that while his house was OK, everyone that works for the clubs are living in the venues right now, families and all. The need is overwhelming.”
Dawson is adamant about using the band’s public profile to help those in the affected areas, and urges fans to contact the Red Cross in Oklahoma to find out how they can really help support the cause.
“I’m contacting the Red Cross now to see what exactly they need down there,” Dawson emphasized. “We can use the band’s social media to help drive those pinpoint needs to certain areas. I’m probably going back in a couple of days just to help. I can do something, even work in a soup kitchen. Nothing else matters right now.”
Donate to those affected by the Oklahoma tornadoes via the Red Cross.