WHY CHASE TORNADOES?
by David Hoadley
March 31, 1982
© Copyright 1982 David Hoadley
Why chase tornadoes? This is a question frequently asked of chasers. It is not something that can be answered while waiting for the elevator or in small conversation at a cocktail party. It touches many levels and requires a measured response to fully answer. If my experience is characteristic of most chasers, there are at least five levels at which we relate to the big storm.
First is the sheer, raw experience of confronting an elemental force of nature -uncontrolled and unpredictable- which is at once awesome, magnificent, dangerous and picturesque. Few life experiences can compare with the anticipation of a chaser while standing in the path of a big storm, in the gusty inflow of warm, moist gulf wind -sweeping up into a lowering, darkening cloud base, grumbling with thunder as a great engine begins to turn.
Second is the challenge to forecast accurately and consistently where these deadly storms will occur. In a field that is still very much state of the art, each chaser must draw upon science, experience and intuition. Every day is a new puzzle of atmospheric ingredients, different from the day before, or last week, or last year. There is no textbook for what we do, that works every time. Even the National Severe Storms Forecast Center misses some big ones (ergo Grand Island, June 3, 1980, etc.).
Third is the sense of participation in a great event that comes with knowledge of the dynamics and structure of those storms. Knowing the turbulent mosaic of wind streams that weave over, around and through the towering thunderheads -and understanding their sources in the great rivers of air that sweep the continent- makes the observer almost bocome a part of that which he observes; as if - by force of will- he could detach himself from earth and ride the wind up into the storm's core.
Fourth is an experience of something infinite, a sense of powers at work and scales of movement that so transcend a single man and overwhelms the senses that one feels intuitively (without really seeking) something eternal -but ephemerial- almost a conscious thought, but just below the surface. As when a vertical 50,000' wall of clouds glides silently away to the east (intermittent, distant thunder) and goes golden in a setting sun against a deep, rich azure sky, one can only pause and look and wonder.
Fifth is an associative value with each spring and each chase -bringing back memories of other storms and places, recalling the alchemy or exhileration at your first twister -as if you had not changed or aged at all but were again young and free as the winds you followed. There is the imagination and, looking out the car window as you chase, the Arapaho, Comanche and Sioux ride again, wild and free across fenceless, endless prairie. There are memories of family and friends and good times, all in a land whose only hallmark on an otherwise featureless plain are the cloud towers that march across its face. A pool of memories, reflecting the great storms and the shaping of young lives, inextricably intertwined, the one and the other.