"Why do you storm chase??"
"Why do you storm chase??" This is a question I am asked all too often, and rightfully so. Weather is a majestic mystery to the vast majority of the public. This encapsulates people to want to learn more, and for similar reasons, I take the risks involved with chasing more often than not. The average Joe's view on storm chasers, as I'm often told, is questionable in the sense of "You know you could die, right?" or another one of my favorites... "Are you scared?" My answers to these questions are "Yes, I could risk death, but I do so everyday by walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in a chair," and "No, I have never taken a scared approach to chasing. You can't be timid, you must remain focused."
Unlike Biologist and Chemist, we Meteorologist do not have an accessible lab capable of producing real-life situations we face regarding hurricanes, tornadoes, supercells and other weather phenomena. I find storm chasing as an opportunity that stretches well beyond the chance to take "cool pictures and video." It gives me a chance to exercise my skills I've worked on for several years. A good forecaster will often take the extra step, at least once, to come face-to-face with the monster known as weather that they are trying to understand. Not everyone does it, and this is what separates those of us who do to those who do not. Many Meteorologist do not chase, and that's fine. Whether it be too much stress, the risks involved, or simply a balance of pros vs cons, everyone has their reasoning. Chasing does not make a distinguished forecaster, however, it does give you an edge when trying to comprehend the full magnitude of what's occurring.
Gilstrap, KY Convective Thunderstorm
If no one is out in the field, we have no idea of what is taking place on the ground. A radar image and other model data can give us a good handle of what is occurring. But, with that being said, if we don't have a trained eye on the ground, many things can go wrong, such as false reports that lead to pandemics. I've witnessed this far too many times. If you ever take a look at my photos, you'll notice I'm always at a safe distance from the phenomena I'm after. I position myself to assessable roadways, well away from the storm (often 1-2+ miles). Many people don't take the time to comprehend that I, along with other chasers, dedicate our lives to studying the science, and if it's anything a great chaser puts first, it's safety.
Campo, Colorado EF2 - 5.31.10
I've had the privilege of witnessing over 20 tornadoes in my lifetime, and thanks to fantastic mentors and experience, I've learned to always respect the storm. The destruction I've witnessed in person makes you think twice about questionable moves while setting up for an afternoon of chasing. So many people will react to an actual photo than a radar image, and this has been proven through conversations I've had with many individuals. In other words, if I happen to be on a tornado and post a photo of it, people will react. If I post a radar screenshot, they do not.
So, back to the original question...why do I chase?? To put it simply, I care about others. Aside from that, chasing puts things into perspective, and helps me understand how the storm is behaving. In turn, I'm a better forecaster for doing so, which makes me more capable to serve those in need. Radar images roll in every 5 minutes. 5 minutes is a LOT of time in the weather world. In that time frame, a tornado could touch down, causing damage and ruining the lives of individuals in the process. That's why when I'm in the field, aside from updating my personal outlets with information, I also keep in close contact with the National Weather Service. Lending a helping hand to the real professionals can only be a benefit to everyone, and they have the best platform to get information out to the public.
Quality, KY Squall Line
I hope this helps you understand where I and other respectable chasers (chasers who do it for the right reasons) come from. If you're not a Meteorologist or an experienced, trained weather spotter, DO NOT CHASE. The dangers for not only you but others rises exponentially if you do so. When chasing, the number one safety hazard is not the storm itself, but rather the traffic that's on the roadways. I'm a Meteorologist, and I happen to be one that chasing comes naturally to. I strongly feel that it's my duty to exercise my skills to notify those who are in the path of the storm. So, the next time you see me in my white Nissian Altima prowling around your neck of the woods, take a second and look at the sky...
Story and photos by Landon Hampton, Beech Tree News/WLBQ