Why We Chase Storms

Driving thousands of miles every spring to see severe weather firsthand must require a lot of motivation. For some it is thrill seeking. Others do it for breathtaking photographs and video. Some do it for a job, selling video and photos to media outlets around the world. Still others do it for civil defense, reporting hazardous weather to storm spotter networks and the National Weather Service. And a few even do it for legitimate field research projects. Most "Storm Chasers" have a combination of some or all of the above motivations.

When asked why I chase storms, I can sum up my response with the following 3 reasons, in order of importance:
  • Personal Fascination
  • Educational Experience
  • Public Safety / Event Documentation

Lets move on to a deeper explanation of these three basic motivations:

Personal Fascination:

It is quite obvious that someone wouldn't go through all of this effort to see storms in person if there wasn't some sort of basic interest there to begin with. I will not deny the fact that I love weather, and that the power and beauty it can display both humbles and fascinates me. You can love meteorology and want to learn all about it, but that educational motivation just won't push you to driving thousands of miles and spend way too much money just to get a better view. Plain and simple, the number one motivation for all of this effort is my love of storms.

It feels almost like I have made the game-winning touchdown every time I see convective towers exploding in my forecast target area. I get a peaceful, relaxed feeling every time I have a tripod and camera set up for late-night lightning pictures. I feel an indescribable urge to get up close to tornadoes. I feel like a kid again every time I hold a hailstone as big as my hand. And I have renewed interest in my field of study EVERY TIME I watch a storm.

Okay, so the draw to storms and their related phenomena gets me out there, but what makes me different than a local resident, with a new camcorder and a car, wanting to get that "Good Morning America" spot? That is an easy answer...I'm in it for the science, I am credible, I am educated in the subject, and (most importantly) I am responsible.

Educational Experience:

Being a Meteorologist, and considering that I am continuing my education in the graduate level, I have a vested interest in expanding my knowledge of hazardous weather events. I often relate problems in the classroom or various facets of my research to real-life experiences I have been trough while observing storms. My current research for my Masters Thesis is in the area of Hazardous Weather Detection, something I have gained HUGE amounts of knowledge in just by observing different types of storms and tracking tornadoes through their life cycles. I have experienced the low-level baroclinic zones (mini-fronts) that are represented in my early research into detection of supercells and their associated areas of rotation. I have been caught in the large hail wrapped around the mesocyclone as it occludes. I have experienced damaging straight-line winds. And all of these experiences have given me new perspectives and ideas to investigate. There is no way to reproduce this kind of education in the classroom. Seeing a rear-flank downdraft in a diagram in a book and actually feeling the 10 degree temperature drop and 70mph winds are two completely different ways of illustrating the same phenomenon, and I believe a combination of the two is the best way to learn. Therefore, the biggest motivation I have to observe storms is the learning experience that couples so well with the theory and research that I review on a day-to-day basis.

Public Safety / Event Documentation:

I never lose my respect for the power of nature when observing storms. Although it is hard to imagine the destructive power of a tornado, once you see it first-hand, you never forget. I believe that it is imperative to report observed hazardous weather to the National Weather Service or to local authorities, such as 911. Furthermore, I believe that those who find themselves in a situation where they can help those affected by the weather we are trying to observe, it is our duty to help in any way practical. I do not condone jumping into collapsed houses in search of victims, but there is a point where common sense should be telling you that you can help someone out, and that is where actions need to be realized.

I also firmly believe in documenting the events that unfold throughout the day. Firsthand observations can play important roles in event summaries created by the National Weather Service WFOs, as well as offer new perspectives in case studies. If one is interested in investigating the nature of the events they witness while observing severe weather, then keeping accurate accounts of your observations is vital when later reviewing storm reports, radar images, and other environmental data in order to come up with a clear picture of what was happening and why. This feeds directly into the previous statements of the "Educational Experience" motivation above.

These basic motivations are rooted deep enough in myself that I will travel more than 20 hours straight just to see if a setup is able to produce thunderstorms, and if so, what mode it ends up producing. I love convective storms, period. A "bust" or unsuccessful day is just another learning experience that will provide valuable knowledge when making the next forecast. Although time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes very frustrating, storm observing is a passion of mine that will never die.
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