There is No Such Thing as a Professional Chaser

   17–26 minutes to read

There are a few tours run by responsible chasers who follow the rules of the road and treat their passengers to a safe, while still rewarding, experience. Roger Hill is the shining example. There are MANY tours that are not as responsible. I sure hope they have a good lawyer who wrote their liability release form. As far as I’m concerned those people should STAY HOME.

There are — on well-advertised, bad days — literally thousands of people “chasing” who don’t even know, let alone follow, the basic rules of the road. They have seen the “reality” TV shows (which are not at all related to reality) and movies but haven’t even taken the most basic storm spotting class. Therefore they can’t tell a hail core from a shelf cloud…and they usually don’t care. They only see their 15 minutes of YouTube fame calling. Is this you? STAY HOME. PLEASE, I beg of you.

Tornado tanks: Sean Casey had the original, and I believe TIV was and still is the only one of these armored vehicles that had a place on the road. It’s an open question whether that’s still the case, as I’m not sure if TIV is involved in research since VORTEX2 or not. The rest of you…please put up the welding rods, stop wasting all the gas, and go back to chasing in a regular vehicle. You aren’t going to “Dominate” or “Assault” any tornado, and your ego self-gratification is partly responsible for the horde of lemmings who follow you on an outbreak day like the Pied Piper.

But What About the New Chaser?

Yes, we were all new at this. And the hobby needs to have fresh blood. But let me relate a story about how NOT to go about it…a follow up to my comment about hail damage because I can’t get out of the way:

Example of good info request….Had a good chat with a crop adjuster just now at the gas pump in Greensburg. He’s headed to Kinsley, then home to Harper. I was able to let him know going home through Coldwater would be a safer choice than through St. John.

Example of bad request:

Last night after driving for 30 minutes in hail and blinding rain on the tornado warned storm at Lakin, I pull up just east of the leading edge to look back and see if a tornado can be seen. Guy who has been behind me most of the way pulls up, his lights in my view to the storm (so I can’t see anything). He hops out and asks “so what are you seeing?”

Umm you’ve seen the same thing as me for the last 10 miles and you have to ask? GO HOME. You’re a danger to yourself and others.

Posted by Storm Chaser Scott Roberts on Friday, April 24, 2015

The Rest of the Story

  • We’re half a mile ahead of a storm we both know is producing quarter-size hail. He wants to stand outside and talk about radar software (“GRLevel 3, yeah I’ve heard of that”).
  • I stopped so I could do a live report with Ross in the 9pm KSCW newscast (and on KWCH, I think). This storm was still tornado-warned at the time. The young man hears me do the report, and while he is back in his car looking up my website (facing away from the storm, so he doesn’t see the hail coming), I roll up my window and drive off when the hail arrives.
  • He follows me to Deerfield, where I pull off the highway onto a side road, do a K-turn and pull up mostly off the road, kill my lights and look back at the storm. He pulls up alongside and rolls down the window, now parked facing the wrong direction in the lane of traffic (fortunately there was none, this is a side road). He asks “so, are you with some radio or TV station?” Remember, he’s followed me for the past half hour…the very next vehicle behind me…and I have a “KWCH 12 Storm Chaser” sticker on the back window.

Um, yeah…about that….

Ok, I’m not a very social guy, so I don’t try to get to know everyone I meet. I can only go on what I observe in most cases. Based on the actions of this young man, I put him in the group of “chasers” who are on the road and should be at home. I knew the chance existed of emerging from the hail and rain to find a tornado and I had a plan for my reactions if that happened. I don’t know if he knew anything more than the warning.

It scared the (curse word) out of me that he’d have been right there, too, faced with a situation for which he was mentally unprepared . . . and for which his reactions could also have put me and other drivers at risk.

Based on their actions, I observe at least 75% of the cars on the road in a chaser convergence are of similar levels of knowledge and preparedness. There’s already been a case where a person’s lack of knowledge and preparedness led to their death “chasing.” Everyone remembers Tim, Paul and Carl, but few remember “local resident Richard Henderson, who decided to follow the [El Reno] storm, lost his life in that same area. He snapped a picture of the tornado from his cellular phone before it struck him.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_El_Reno_tornado)

Everyone thinks it can’t happen to them. Until it does.

That’s the bottom line. Yes, I’d have been inconvenienced and put out if “local resident who decided to follow the storm” kept me from making a legal traffic maneuver to protect my life and/or property. But I’m more concerned about that person’s safety when faced with a situation I can about guarantee they aren’t prepared to handle.

I’m also concerned for everyone who is a storm chaser — because just like in the Wikipedia article above, everyone will lose sight of the distinction between “chasers” like Richard Henderson and actual chasers. We’re all the same in the eyes of the public. That’s too bad. But its a reality of the environment the chaser community has to live and work in, and we have to adjust our methods and processes to accommodate.

The Role of Media Hype

The quest for ratings and the attached advertising dollars *does* play a significant role in the number of people on the road who shouldn’t be. (Full disclosure: I contract with KWCH-TV for some of the video I produce and for on-air storm reports.) Mark Bogner calls out the media hype machine quite well here and I won’t repeat his points.

But I will say to the news directors and management of TV stations in tornado alley — your hype machine is also a major cause of the “chaser” hordes…and doing a few stories about how dangerous all the untrained folks on the road have made it DOES NOT ease your moral responsibility the next time a “chaser” dies because they were out in a storm . . . even if it allows you to gloss over any momentary guilt when it happens.

Encouraging viewers to send in photos and videos helps the warning process if they are handled in a timely manner. It promotes viewer loyalty and tune-in. But be honest with yourself . . . it also plays a role in driving people to make poor decisions like chasing storms they know nothing about.

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36 Comments

  1. Steve Nelson April 28, 2015
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