Storm chasing has been in my blood since I was a young boy. I remember very well when I was seven years old growing up in Clinton, Oklahoma the evening that would forever set in stone my love for stormy weather. I was at home with my family as storms moved in from the west and we were inside watching Gary England tell us that Custer County was under a tornado warning and residents should be seeking shelter. Sirens began wailing and we rushed outside to the cellar, and along the way out I happened to look up and I was mesmerized by this new thing the sky was doing, turning green and spinning as if the world were coming to and end. We rushed down into the cellar, full of musty smells and spider webs and Mom took us kids down into it while Dad and his best friend stayed outside to watch the sky (which is what you do in Oklahoma to this day). I tried to make my way up the steps to get outside to take a look and caught glimpses of the sky but Dad would tell me to get back down into the cellar and of course, my mother wasn't going to let me go out into the elements, so I sat there with everyone else until the storm had passed. A tornado ended up hitting the east side of town that night, and a seed was planted in a young boy that would drive him the rest of his life.
So, what is life like for a storm chaser? First, you have to answer the question of why they do it.
I imagine my story is similar to many others, something happened as a child or teen where a storm was involved and it ended up making such an impression that they carried it with them the rest of their life. Others who were born in the mid to late '80's may have seen the movie Twister, which told a fictional story of a group of storm chasers and it made its mark on them. Those who were born in the mid 90's may have been influenced by both the Twister movie and a reality series named Storm Chasers that made its debut in 2007 that documented the real life world of storm chasing, at least in its early years. Regardless, somewhere along the way a fascination was developed, and each person will have a different reason for chasing.
For me, chasing drives a lot of positive and deep feelings. It takes me back to that time as a boy where I was so entranced in the moment. It also is a way for me to get closer to God and stay in touch with my spiritual side because I tie that with nature and the world untouched by man. The photos I capture is driven by my vision of how I see things and that's why my photography turns out the way it does. The beauty, the inspiration, the power and the movement of feelings all come into play when you see these things in real life. Also, for me of course, weather is one of the few wild things left in the world that is untamed by man and there is something about stepping out and being a part of something much bigger than you are, seeing things in motion in real life that most only see through their television sets. Others chase because they are fascinated by the science of it all, working hard to possibly solving the mystery of why tornadoes form and forecasting when and where they will form. Some chase for glory, recognition and attention, and some chase for the thrill of it. The reasons chasers chase is abundant and none of them are either right or wrong, because it's what drives each unique individual.
Now that we've talked about why, what is life as a storm chaser like?
Contrary to what you see on TV, in movies, or read about in books, storm chasing is not all glamour and storms. Chasing is about preparation. Looking at weather models days and even weeks ahead looking for the next trough, low pressure system or dryline, waiting for moisture to return from the Gulf of Mexico and which way the wind is blowing and at what level of the atmosphere. It is reading skew-t charts and forecasting. Chasing is figuring out what equipment will work best in some of the most remote places in the lower 48 states.
It's scheduling. Weather doesn't work to a schedule, so you have to be flexible. If you work or go to school (which most do), you have to predict what days you need off and take a gamble on if it's worth it or not depending on the setup. It's about getting up early and staying out late and sometimes getting home well after midnight.
It's being away from your family, and the excitement when you return. It's meeting new friends while you impatiently wait for the first signs of initiation.
Once you figure out something might happen, and I say "might" because there is no guarantee that the weather to do anything at all, there is the driving. Sometimes getting up at 5 a.m. to get to an area where storms may fire by 4 p.m. then driving to the storms and staying with them, then driving either to a hotel or driving home. An average day of driving for a storm chaser could easily be 8 to 16 hours and even more on some days depending on how far.
It's watching the sky do what it does. Does the storm have inflow, outflow, is it stationary or is it moving fast? It's about looking at radar and looking at velocities, echo tops and looking for signs of a hook. For some it's about getting readings, for some it's about how destructive is it being, for me it's about how it looks.
All of this work for a couple of hours of sheer enjoyment, for three months of the year, for 10-15 days within those months. Again, see the list of reasons why. This is life as a storm chaser and the definition of passion.
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