Here is a great article written by my very good friend Mike Wilhelm concerning the issue that has arisen since the outbreak last weekend. Mike and I have discussed in the past of this becoming an issue and now it has for the entire country to see. To many chasers in one place gives rise to the bad apples coming to light, local authorities getting involved and the whole chaser community being broad brushed as yahoos, idiots, morons or whatever the favorite term of the day is. Can I blame them for their anger? Yes and no and I will voice my two cents in on another blog but for now, please enjoy the read.
To some, that title is an oxymoron. But it doesn’t have to be that
way. News reports from the Plains since Saturday’s tornado outbreak
indicate that in some areas at least, storm chasing has gotten out of
hand. In an article in the Salina Ks Journal Dickenson County, Kansas EMA Director Chancy Smith said that chasers
were clogging roads, failing to yield to emergency vehicles, and driving
over downed power lines. Over the past twenty years or so, storm
chasing has evolved from a relatively small tight-knit group of
scientists and spotters to a virtual free-for-all which includes
thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, publicity hounds, and people wanting
to make a quick buck. A “perfect-storm” of events has contributed to
this phenomenon. I think the movie “Twister” started the ball rolling.
Then, with the proliferation of home video cameras, smart phones, and
social media, over time the face of “storm chasing” has changed. Sadly,
the change has been for the worse in many ways. This is not to question the motives of all storm chasers by any
means. I have friends in the chaser community who seem to be in it for
the right reasons, such as to serve the interests of public safety and
science. There is certainly nothing wrong with chasing for the
opportunity to learn about and witness nature or to shoot amazing photos
or videos to document storms. Few will ever make money by chasing.
The expenses outweigh the earning potential. I don’t even have a
problem with someone trying to make a few dollars to help defray costs.
I think the problems arise when the motive of 15 minutes of
“fame” outweighs the interest of serving the public and doing so in a
There is an inherent risk involved in storm “chasing”. There is no
way around that fact. Driving carries its own risks, even under ideal
conditions. Throw in wet roads and high wind and it becomes more
dangerous. Obviously the safest scenario is to be as far away from
tornadoes, thunderstorms, and flooding as possible. Frankly, I am more
concerned about the possibility of being struck by lightning than by a
tornado. These risks can certainly be minimized by following some basic rules. Chuck Doswell has authored the best paper I have read on chaser safety, courtesy and responsibility. He outlines three primary risks to chasers: driving, lightning, and the
actual storm itself. I have read this at least once a year for the
past few years and I wish everyone who considers chasing in any way
would do likewise. He talks about the importance of driving safely,
having a partner, looking out for standing water in the road, pulling
far enough off the road, avoiding cities, and many other factors related
to driving. He also talks about lightning safety which is the second
greatest threat. Finally he talks about the storm itself; tornadoes,
high winds, hail, and flooding. For those who are trained storm
spotters, the storm should be the least dangerous aspect of chasing. Safe chasing means you are well prepared, you have an escape route,
you do not take unnecessary chances, and you drive carefully. Pull off
main roads or at least off the shoulder if the terrain allows or in a
parking lot. Learn all you can about storms before you begin chasing.
Avoid core-punching! It is better not to chase alone.
If you are new to storm spotting and chasing I highly recommend that
you start with storm spotter training with the National Weather
Service. I also recommend that you find an experienced chaser to ride
along with before you consider going out on your own. Remember, even
those of us who have done this for many years can, and have made
mistakes. Even though I have attended NWS storm spotter training and
numerous other weather conferences, along with a great deal of reading, I
still am not above going back to basic training every year. This
February I attended NWS storm spotter training provided by the NWS
Huntsville. There is always more to learn and be reminded about every
time I attend.
If you have any questions about storm spotting or chasing, feel free
to contact me! I like to talk to people who are interested in the
weather and share my experience with them!