CHASE THOUGHTS FOR 1997

by David Hoadley, Storm Track founder

from Storm Track Online (Revised March 1998)

© Copyright 1996 David Hoadley

As Storm Track Online begins a new life in the wider world of the Internet, new readers should appreciate the positive contributions of storm chasers. This is at variance with the thrill-seeking, self serving, fictional image of them in the movie "Twister."

In stark contrast to the movie, an experienced chaser often drives thousands of boring, hot, and expensive miles before finding one photographable tornado, even at the peak of the season. He or she must make a good forecast (sometimes with very little data); contend with traffic and highway construction delays; choose between rapidly developing distant storms; make decisions based on "public" reports of wall clouds (really know what they're looking at?); and contend with fading light as they travel back and forth, undecided, between promising cells. And some are willing to do even more.

Those who can afford it carry cellular phones and report severe storms to Weather Service staff, allowing earlier public warnings that save lives. This is especially important to small towns and farmers in remote rural areas, where chasers may be the only experienced observers around. They also submit written "after-action" reports to research scientist, who use this data to plot and analyze storm distribution profiles and climatology.

Chasers also volunteer (without compensation) hundreds of slides and video tapes to the National Weather Service to make training programs that help storm spotters recognize severe weather. Chasers have voluntarily given numerous slide/video shows to thousands of children and adults in public schools and colleges, civic associatons, scout groups, fraternal lodges, churches, neighborhood social gatherings, and for fellow office workers. In addition to dramatic scenes, they also discuss storm dynamics, structure, and safety measures to be taken if caught in the path. Their slides have also been used in public pamphlets by the Weather Service and local broadcast media to familiarize people with storm hazards. Prints have been donated to fund raisers for schools and local music groups.

Chasers write articles for scientific journals about unusual storm phenomena and share their forecast insights at professional meetings, increasing knowledge about these storms. They also try to influence media coverage of chasing to be sure damage and safety measures are emphasized.

Storm chasing will inevitably attract its share of ill-prepared thrill-seekers and "Twister" clones, who may cause accidents and give chasing a black eye. However, this will be no different than for surfing, hang gliding, or mountain climbing. Each activity has its core of veterans who do it right and a large following of "Wannabies" who rush in to have the fun but don't take time to do it safely. Whatever future image evolves as chasing becomes more popular, new readers to ST Online should appreciate that it is possible to do it right -- as some of us still try.

David Hoadley, the founder of Storm Track magazine, has over 30 years of storm chasing experience on the Great Plains. He continues to contribute to Storm Track, and currently resides in Virginia.