CANCER WITHIN

by Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards

In the many years since some of the longtime storm chasers started in the '70s (including Al Moller, Chuck Doswell, Gene Moore, Howie Bluestein, etc.), and in the several decades since the early pioneers first chased (such as David Hoadley and Neil Ward), storm chasing has evolved from an obscure scientific hobby to a full- blown media spectacle. If you don't know what we mean, spend one active May storm day in the vicinity of Oklahoma City! Heated debates have raged in the classrooms, in Storm Track, and over the Weather Talk computer news on who should and shouldn't be "allowed" to chase. Since this is a free country, we choose instead to focus on the changing motivations we observe in many chasers, and the real threats posed to the future of storm chasing as we know it.

The primary threats to storm chasing, in our opinion, are greed and recklessness. Much attention has been directed to "storm chaser etiquette" and "storm chaser safety," and rightfully so. We fear, along with many others, severe injury or death to a chaser could force the various law enforcement agencies to adopt a no-tolerance policy toward suspected chasers. Additionally, we see common greed destroying the foundation that real chasing was built upon -- a respect for the power of atmospheric processes and a desire to learn more through direct observations. You do not have to be a "degreed" meteorologist to fit in this category. You do need to be willing to give something of yourself, though, by sharing pictures and video, storm observations, severe weather reports, forecast methodology, etc.

In the past 6-8 years the situation seems to have taken many turns for the worse. The proliferation of video cameras has allowed many individuals to record interesting severe storm phenomena, and it has also made many chasers see dollar "$$$" signs while shooting such video! For example, the evening of 5 May 1993 included a tremendous supercell that moved from the Texas panhandle to southwest Kansas. The storm produced several significant tornadoes, and brought up many interesting meteorological and chase-related questions. Instead of discussing the day's forecast and intercept logistics after the chase, many individuals engaged in a video "land rush" of sorts. Kansas police not only had to worry about a violent tornado, but about reckless chasers. One innocent chaser was even arrested (but later released without charge) after a different chaser was observed speeding and trespassing. Problems with traffic congestion ruined the later part of the storm for others. A spectacular storm with tornadoes of many shapes and sizes was reduced to nothing more than $50 for 30 seconds of video on the 10 pm news.

We have each sold some video in the past, and we don't necessarily condemn those who do so today. However, we have both made changes to the way we chase. Video and still photography now serve only to document our observations and preserve the memory of the chase, not to fatten our bank accounts. Those who insist on chasing as a for- profit venture threaten the integirty of storm chasing as a whole, and overshadow scientific contributions made by many chasers. Now that we have the Weather Channel, the Internet, TV "chase teams," and frequent media specials on chasing, we feel it is imperative that all chasers re-evaluate their motivation. Just like most other things these days, chasing needs to be protected if it is to survive as an enjoyable hobby and productive contributor to the science of meteorology. That protection is up to us chasers.

You can take some simple steps to slow the cancer's spread:

First, do not publicly glamorize chasing. The truth -- which you should tell all those who want to know about chasing -- is that it consists mostly of long drives, non-tornadic storms, and unsuccessful forecasts.

Second, share your video and photography with those who appreciate your efforts and can benefit from your experiences -- especially NWS offices, spotters, and educational programs.

Third, unless you can't pay the bills any other way, don't get into the bad habit of selling storm footage. Selling your "catch" just brings more and more unnecessary attention to chasing.

Fourth, we've also heard of chasers demanding money for "services rendered." Along with several others who share a deep love of authentic storm chasing, we have absolutely no respect for these individuals.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, practice storm chase safety and courtesy as mentioned in many earlier issues of Storm Track. Your behavior in the field, especially at NWS offices and near storms, is how chasers are judged.

When the road is clogged with "yahoos" out imitating their favorite TV chase team or a character from the upcoming (sigh) Twister movie, we chasers as a whole will have no one to blame but ourselves. As a well known meteorologist/chaser often says, "If you ruin it for me, I'm going to come looking for you!"