Since the outbreak of severe weather that ravaged the Midwest this past weekend, storm chasers and storm chasing has come into the spotlight again and not so much in a positive way. Go ahead and insert any Midwest town add a "high risk day" and tornadoes to the recipe. You are going to get the same result every time. That being a huge amount of chasers in one small area on a storm. Roads clogged with traffic during a intense event like this draws the attention and ire of local authorities. With the vast number being chasers in one form or another its easy for them to say "stay out and go away." I watched the events unfold here on my computer, watching various live streams and local television networks. I also knew that this was going to be ground zero for almost every chaser in the country. The National Weather Service stated 24 hours in advance that a major outbreak was about to happen, only the second time in history this has occurred. The call of the chaser went out.
I say as a professional photographer and storm chaser of 25 years that I would have loved to have seen the storms, structure, the countryside everything beautiful about the Plains that day. I had several friends chasing that day and a couple of close friends as well and yes I envied all of them. I also say as an EMT-I that it was going to be a nightmare for all local, state authorities and residence in the path of these storms. So I have a little insight on both sides of the subject. That also puts me in the middle of the subject. I know what its like to be on the side of the road, letting emergency vehicles by to get to people hit by storms that i just shot video of. I also know what its like to be in an ambulance trying to respond to those victims. In EMS we see rubberneckers, gawkers show up at accident scenes and sometimes get in the way. I feel the public might one day view us chasers the same way, regardless of our actions or intentions due to the actions of a few.
Most all storm chasers are courteous and obey the traffic laws. We know that public perception is EVERYTHING and how we conduct ourselves is paramount as everyone is watching these days. The rest are basically people that have watched one to many storm stories or bought the Cliff Notes for storm chasing. Having not a clue about what they are doing they want video, or a picture so they can claim their 5 minutes of fame and be the 5pm News hero. As chasers we have read about those that have nearly gotten killed by chasing with a cell phone or doing something crazy to draw the ire of everyone. Yet we all have a part in this in one way or another. Chasing once was a small community. We did it for the love of weather, photography or what the case may be on a personal basis. Years went by and then it became an item of interest and the public became aware. Our numbers grew. Then the Media became involved and a way to get your pictures/video out to the world came into view as well as money. Our numbers grew more. But with this much exposure and the media and news networks telling people to send those video of severe weather in came those that had no idea what they were doing, but they had a vehicle, a cell phone and video camera..Tada!! "Instant Storm Chaser"..uh no. Flying debris, victim is a better description. Lately it seems that for those who cant chase but still wanted attention it seems that creating your own Photoshopped storms are in style as there has been many people caught and called out on social media sites for doing this. We have a term for this..Loser.
The bottom line is having to many people, in one spot, at one time during an emergency situation. Regardless that you are a person who has chased for along time or not and do everything by the book you are going to get lumped into the whole bag of craziness. This link is to what started the whole debate. There is no way of getting around the issue of great numbers, small area. This might one day lead to chase legislation, with the local government telling who can and cant chase. Time will tell. The only thing we can do as chasers is to do what we have always done. Be courteous, obey the laws and help when and if needed. I don't care why you chase other than if its just for a thrill. If so please stay far away from me and mine. A article written by Chuck Doswell covering storm chasing is one of the best if not the best article on the subject of how to conduct yourself when chasing. Written back in 2001 its still rings loud and true today. Having been a victim of mistaken identity and have the hammer of the authorities fall on you I can attest its not pleasant. It took a few years to repair what one idiot had done in a few minutes. Luckily the person was caught and identified and now resides far away. Put this on a much, much larger scale with more people after one storm and you see where the potential for trouble is and it could come again with the next storm. We can endeavor to do it safely as we can but the question is will that be enough. There is a storm brewing and its one we are not going to like...