If I could sum up how I feel about storm chasing these days, it's that I've discovered I can't have a true passion for something that doesn't make my life better nor improve/make a difference in the lives of others. I love storms and being out on the road - and I'll always go out on storm chasing trips when I can comfortably afford it. But it can't be a "passion" for me any longer - that is, something that I make sacrifices for. I can't be passionate about something where I'm the only one who benefits. Ironically, now that the weather video market is gone, continued intensive chasing could actually do me more harm than good - by eating up my time, finances, career, health and energy. Sure, seeing a great storm will always make me happy - but not if it means coming home to adverse consequences for nothing more than personal enjoyment. Chasing has been a 'way of life' for me for the past several years, and it's been difficult to have to put the brakes on this lifestyle. But that's just reality.
Storm chasing has reached such a mainstream status that any one participant today is not going to have an appreciable impact in the way that chasers 20 years ago, or even 5 years ago, had. Traveling to the Plains to go storm chasing with the partial motivation/expense justification that one can have an impact in either research or saving lives (via the warning process) has become a fallacy. When I see hundreds of chasers surrounding a supercell in Oklahoma - including 50 licensed HAMs with tricked-out 2-meter rigs, 5 TV station live trucks and two TV helicopters hovering overhead, I realize that my presence there has absolutely no impact in research or public safety. I'm little more than a spectator.
Owensboro, KY - October 18, 2007
In this day and age, if a chaser is passionate about storms and truly wants to make a difference in data collection, storm documentation and the warning process (and attendant saving of lives), I believe the answer is to begin exploring new chasing frontiers. These new frontiers are the non-traditional times and places that severe weather regularly occurs - places that few experienced chasers desire to pay attention to, and places where many local spotters are fewer in number and less experienced in storm observation. Places like the deep South in the middle of winter and early spring. The Midwest in the spring, summer and fall. Even the eastern seaboard (Carolinas and Virginia) in late fall. These are places and times where tornadoes and severe weather happen on a frequency and severity to pose an appreciable risk to life and property, and places where an experienced chaser could make a real difference by himself/herself alone. There a fewer wide-open views of photogenic tornadoes outside of the Plains and more logistical challenges, but there are plenty of tornadoes nonetheless.
If any aspect of my motivation to spend money and make sacrifices to be a storm chaser is to make some type of difference by my involvement (and not just for thrill and personal enjoyment alone), then making trips to Ohio and Kentucky seem more worthy ventures than going to Kansas and Oklahoma at this point. Most times I've intercepted supercells (and one tornado so far) east of the Mississippi River, I've been the only one there. Occasionally I'll see a lone spotter, but most of the time I have these storms all to myself! It's not only an opportunity to make a difference, but it's a way to experience storm chasing the way that many of the veterans did in the 'old days' of the hobby - free of the crowds and attendant issues of chasing today.
Mount Sterling, KY - April 10, 2009
Now I'm not being critical of Plains chasers who don't travel outside of their domains. It's expensive and impractical for most. Nor am I trying to demonize chasing for fun (few people would be a chaser if it wasn't fun). I'm just suggesting that let's "get real" about why we chase. If the Super Outbreak of April 1974 were to happen again (and it will, someday - we've already had several events that have come close), most stalwarts of chasing in the Plains will be nowhere to be found - and it will be those on the 'fringes' of mainstream chasing - the "pioneers on the new frontier" - that will be there in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee making a real difference that they would never see in traditional 'Tornado Alley'. That's something for Plains 'outsiders', and those Plains-based chasers with deep pockets and true passion for storms, to think about.
The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:
Very good essay. I think that can apply to more than just chasing. I know plenty of people who sacrifice too much playing golf or similar activities. Chasers should chase within their means (financially and family responsibilities). I also agree that for those who want to "make a difference", chasing the non-traditional regions provides the best opportunities. I personally make no pretense that what I am doing is valuable other than I enjoy it. As for your chasing, I have always been impressed with your ice and flood videos. I think about your sliding car footage everytime I am driving when there is an ice risk. Maybe I drive a bit more cautiously. - Posted by Bill Hark from Richmond
Thanks for the comments Bill. Maybe someday down the road I'll have the means to get back into frequent cross-country chasing. At the very least I can't think of a better way to spend a vacation! - Posted by Dan R. from Charleston, WV
That was very eye-opening Dan. As a chaser in Middle Tennessee, I have been questioning the practicality of chasing here. I do make an annual foray out into the Plains but my heart is here in the hills, trees, and low cloud bases of Middle Tennessee. - Posted by Wes Carter from Morrison, TN