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                   Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 2:23PM

The myth of the 'money' storm chaser

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Maybe Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) is to blame for this.

He's Hollywood's portrayal (in Twister) of a phantom phenomenon: the storm chaser who goes out chasing only to seek fame and fortune. The implication being, that he's the guy who doesn't really care about nor appreciate storms - he just sees dollar signs instead of beauty in the skies. That if it weren't for the money, he wouldn't be out there at all.

Surprise, in 16 years, I've never met a real Jonas Miller. But then again, maybe I'm not paying enough attention. More than likely though, my hunch is right that he doesn't exist. I've met and become friends with some who have notorious 'Jonas Miller' reputations in chasing circles, but guess what - they're just as passionate about storms as the rest of us are, maybe even more so.

Storm chasing is like that old saying about farming: How do you make a million doing it? Start with 2 million. No one is into storm chasing for the money. Anyone who ever starts that way quickly learns reality. At that point, unless they get bitten by 'the chasing bug', they're gone from the hobby for good.

A guy who is after money isn't going to be a storm chaser, he's going to go to law school. He's going to play the stock market or buy real estate. Any sane businessperson who does any shred of research is going to look at the costs of chasing, look at the potential revenue sources, and decide in five seconds that he'd be better off putting his investments in Florida swampland.

A chaser who stays in the hobby for more than two days does so because he/she has passion. But passion is not enough to be able to chase with consistency - because gasoline, plane tickets, hotel rooms, Allsups burritos and oil changes aren't free. There's no passion/dedication card reader at the pump or the check-in desk. At least I haven't had a gas station in Kansas offer me a free tank yet because I'm a chaser.

So, the average lower-to-middle-class dedicated chaser who wants to keep chasing must find a way to help defray his costs, otherwise he can't continue doing it. This means that the potential trips that a chaser considers often entail assessing the monetary value of any footage or photography captured. Otherwise, there is no way to pay off the trip. No way to pay off the trip means simply, debt. I think this is something that the more wealthy demographic of chasers have not been able to (or tried to) understand.

But the myth persists: those who choose not to chase a hurricane or tornado outbreak for financial reasons are the 'money chasers', and those that do embark have the 'true passion'. But here's the truth: Those that do consistently chase the events that have little recourse for cost recovery do so in either two ways: One, they have vast reserves of disposable income (derived from non-chasing income sources) to throw away, or two, they go into debt. No exceptions there.

There are those of us who have worked hard to try to monetize whatever we can to maximize our chasing opportunities. I'm one of them! Without the revenue I've been able to scrape together over the years, I might have missed more than 80 percent of the events I've been priveleged to see due to simply not being able to pay for it. I would humbly suggest that our kind, the so-called 'money chasers', in many cases might have more dedication than most in the hobby.

So the next time you hear someone say a chaser is just 'in it for the money', to quote Paul Harvey, now you know the rest of the story.

The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

To know there are chasers who are avoiding the very basics in life; like a solid roof over their head, health and auto insurance, a job appropriate to support his/her family, maxing out credit cards, etc. in order to pursue this hobby; well, it upsets me. Hobbies are for extra time and $. Chasing is a hobby. A handful of people make a living off it and they aren’t selling to media, they are selling tours. As you said, you would be better off investing in Florida swampland than trying to make money chasing. I respect the “passion” some of the new folks have and REALLY respect the passion those living day to day have. I still have to question the sanity of putting everything on the line for little to no monetary benefit; only bragging rights. Even bragging rights have gone by the wayside with 700 cameras pointed at every meso and no relief in sight (thanks Discovery!).
- Posted by Steve Miller OK from Moore, OK
Steve, great points. I admit I've made the mistake in the past of financing some chases on credit, but I quickly learned that I get no real satisfaction from taking that type of personal financial risk. It used to be that I could count on future footage sales to pay it off later, but those days are long over. Like you I fear that many new chasers might make the same mistake and not have any way to pay the bill later. It's as if the prospect of losing the distinction of being a 'true chaser' (as opposed to a 'money chaser') compels some to embark on trips against their better judgement. In the end, those memories and pictures of tornadoes would seem trivial when they have to get a job at McDonald's for the next 2 years to pay for them.
- Posted by Dan R. from Charleston, WV

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