Christopher M. Curtis II, the manager of the West Concord 5&10 who was never happier than when he was chasing tornadoes, died in his sleep early Tuesday morning in a hotel room in Texas, family members said.
Curtis was traveling with a group tracking tornadoes in Oklahoma, his ninth annual tour, and had written a column for Boston.com's Your Town Concord site about the fatal storm in Moore, Ok., shortly before he died.
"Sunday afternoon I was looking at a very short-lived tornado out of my van window touch down perhaps 50 feet from me near Viola, Kansas,'' Curtis wrote. "It was thrilling, and as always profoundly affecting.''
Referring to the Moore, Ok. storm Monday, Curtis continued: "Nature humbles us, in ways both beautiful, and horrific. Today has been about horrific.''
Curtis, who graduated from Brookline High School and went to Cornell University, began working at the 5&10 in 1989. The store has been in the family of his stepfather, Maynard Getchell-Forbes, since 1951. Curtis had managed the store since the mid-1990s.
Even before he began chasing tornados nine years ago, he was fascinated by the weather.
“A thunderstorm was a big occasion for Chris,” Getchell-Forbes said. “If you wanted a weather forecast, you didn’t go to weather.com, you went to Chris because he could tell you for several different zip codes what the weather forecast would be.”
Friday, before Curtis left for Oklahoma, he stopped by Concord Outfitters to say goodbye to his friends.
"He saw that the weather was turning and he was really excited to get out there," said Andy Bonzagni, the store's owner. "You never know if you're going to intersect that storm. "
Some of Curtis's photos from previous storm-chasing trips are still for sale at the noa gallery on Commonwealth Avenue, down the street from the 5&10. One small photo from Medicine Lodge, Kansas is dated May 12, 2004. A stuffed version of Wally the Green Monster, the official Red Sox mascot, sits on a fence post with a funnel cloud in the distance.
“The first tornado I ever saw,” Curtis wrote. “Wally enjoyed the view.”
Another picture shows a brilliant orange sky against a rocky bluff. Curtis and his group were in south Texas and had chased a storm nearly to Mexico. As they returned north, they saw they sun set over an empty valley, and Curtis took some photos.
“This is Big Bend National Park, and the air was sweet from wildflowers,” he wrote. “Nature doesn’t need to be roiled up to be beautiful.”
After Curtis died, friends who knew him from chasing storms began posting messages about him on facebook. It brought comfort to his friends and family at home.
“In hindsight, it’s nice for me to think that he had this whole community,” said Miles McCloy, a good friend, and the fishing manager at Concord Outfitters. “He talked about it all the time.”