The Life of a Storm Chaser

If you joined us tonight for KEZI 9 News at 6:30, you probably caught a story about meteorologist Reed Timmer’s description of his diet.  He mentions that you just have to grab and go, and for him he reaches for beef jerky, orange juice, and energy drinks.

The latest season of the show in which Reed Timmer stars, Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers,” just premiered last Sunday.  About this time each year, I get a lot of viewers asking questions about the life of storm chasing. Growing up in the Midwest, I’m no stranger to severe weather.  As I have developed my skill in meteorology, I have also joined in a few chases.  However, the adventure is no longer what it used to be.  Thanks to television and movies, storm chasing has been portrayed as an exciting, action-packed life-style where adrenaline runs high.  However, the real life of a storm chaser, isn’t what you’d expect.

So let’s break down what storm chasing actually is.  You wake up in the early morning hours, grab a quick breakfast (as it may be your only meal), and check out the forecast.  For those of us who are trained meteorologists, we have been watching the forecast models very closely and do our own analysis to decide on a starting point.  You load up, you drive possibly up to several hours and find a place to park.  Then you wait.  And you wait.  If you’re lucky, you won’t have to wait longer, but you mostly likely will.  I’ve actually spent 8 hours in a Wal-mart parking lot in Texas, waiting for storm cells to fire.  Once the initiation point shows up on radar, you may have to adjust your position, which means more driving.  If you’re in a good spot, you have more waiting to do.  If you are lucky enough to get a storm in your area, with good roads and no traffic, you’ll have an exciting day like the one you see on television.  However, more often than not, the storm falls apart, you run out of roads, one of your members has to stop, you get stuck behind trees and can’t see anything, your car breaks down, you run into debris and either have a blocked road or have to stop to help people, or you hit heavy traffic for the hundreds of “storm chasers” trying to catch the same storm.  Not as exciting as you might have thought.  I’ve been on chases with extremely proficient forecasters to only see blue sky and a Starbucks.  Still want to be a storm chaser?

From my few trips out into the field, I have developed a strong opinion that many do not share.  Many, many people on the road are meteorologist, emergency personnel, or people who are trained to spot storms and call them in.  However, most are not.  Most people are out looking for a thrill, endangering lives as they fly down crowded highways doing 100+ miles per hour.  They don’t know what they are doing, and only escape death because they are not skilled enough to actually catch a storm.  Meanwhile, the responsible spotters and meteorologists trying to learn more from field research are blocked, ran off roads, and prevented from doing what many considered a job. (Some, such as Mr. Reed Timmer, make a living from this).  The best thing for the science and safety of people who are in the path of these storms (in my opinion) is for people who are not trained to just stay home.  So, if you like the excitement of Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” or the movie “Twister” and really want a chance to get out and learn in the field about these storms, do it the right way.  Get yourself trained and find professionals to guide to.  It will ensure the safety of the scientists and observers on the road, as well as yourself.  I’ll step off my soap box now.

 

 

For more information on how to become a trained storm spotter in your area (you can spot more than just tornadoes as well!), click this link.

 

For more information on Reed Timmer and Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers,” click here.

 

— Meteorologist Megan Taylor

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