I am not now, nor have I ever been, a storm chaser. Forsooth, this is entirely because I have never had the time and the money to be one, and I don’t expect those conditions to ever change. But I love weather and I love storms. When I was a kid, the neighbors could guess the forecast by simply watching for me in the back yard. But even today, the weather has to come to me; I can’t chase it.
Once again, the web comes to the rescue, for storm chasing has become something of a popular avocation (and sometimes a profession) here in the States, especially in the Great Plains. By watching chasers’ live streams on the web, you can travel through much of the country, places I’m not likely to ever have the opportunity to visit in person. With patience, you will see some amazing sights. With the better chasers, you can learn some basic meteorology in the process.
For many parts of the United States, the weather has an existential quality. It can hurt you; it’s worth your attention. Thus for storm chasing to become something of a popular hobby, it didn’t take much. My guess is that a good bit of it was fanned by a “reality TV” program, “Storm Chasers”, that focused on the VORTEX tornado research project and a few other competing / complimentary research crews. After several seasons, the program was cancelled by the Discovery Channel. Since then, the hobby has declined somewhat. I suspect that some of the decline was the sobering consequence of the 2013 El Reno (Oklahoma) tornado that killed or injured several chasers, including the well-respected researcher Tim Samaras and his crew. Samaras was not known for taking unnecessary risks. Another well known chaser, Kelly Williamson, was killed with other chasers in an auto accident a few years later, making obvious the two major dangers in chasing: the automobiles and the weather. This activity is not for the casual.
So storm chasing can be a sort of vulgar, prurient entertainment (putting it in its worst light) or it can be an exercise in science or it can be art. I ran across two recent videos that illustrate it as an art.
The first is Mike Oblinski’s latest video, Monsoon IV.
The second is not by a storm chaser. As a pilot, Juan Browne probably would be more aptly described as being chased by storms, but his video is a celebration of rain after a dry season.
Incidentally, Browne has done excellent work as a citizen journalist in covering the civil engineering aspects of the emergency reconstruction of the Oroville Dam (California) spillway. Did that sentence send you to sleep? Wake up and visit his blancolirio channel; it’s far more interesting than you can imagine.
Photo at top by Roman.