Over the past 6 years, there has been a flurry of criticism from news media, certain officials and even some storm chasers that allege that storm chaser traffic has reached critical mass and is increasingly causing massive problems for local responders. While rare events can indeed cause real traffic jams (caused in no small part by locals and the police/fire vehicles themselves (click for video)) - and of course there are some bad apples in the chase community - this issue is being blown massively out of proportion.
Above: a typical storm chaser convergence at Bennington, Kansas on May 28, 2013
PSA: Chasers have video of everything
A word of caution to would-be critics: today's storm chasers have cameras rolling - and lots of them. Documenting what we see on our expeditions via video and stills has always been a staple of storm chasing. In addition to handheld and tripoded cameras, many chasers have mounted full-time cameras that either save the video to memory cards or stream it live to Youtube, where it is then archived. Action cameras like GoPros are also commonly employed to capture the entire chase from additional angles.
As for me, in addition to my main cameras, I operate four full-time dashcams that, after a memory card upgrade last year, each hold 9 hours of video. The cameras point in all directions, and are wide enough that their views overlap. The result is a full 360-degree view record of my entire day. In the past, I have archived my dashcam videos only from my Plains chases in which I see tornadoes. As a result of the negative news articles, however, I will now be archiving and posting publicly the video from my cameras on EVERY chase I embark on in the Great Plains. Many other chasers have and will be doing the same.
View actual storm chases for yourself!
In light of the negative publicity, I thought it would be helpful to post dashcam videos of chases in their entirety (recorded by me and other chasers). That way, viewers can judge for themselves whether the claims are overblown.
I invite any reporter, official, legislator or resident to view these videos from me and other chasers and explain to me where you see problems that justify outrage against storm chasers, or even legislation to outlaw/restrict chasing. To the critics, please provide video evidence to support your claims. And not just of isolated incidents - those are easy to capture and compile into a misleading piece. No, I want video of widespread problems as are being alleged.
In addition, I would like officials and critics to explain how any isolated storm chaser traffic incidents compare to the following in frequency and severity:
Links to dashcam, dome cam & GoPro videos of Great Plains/Midwest storm chase events
53 videos and counting! For the critics' and undecided observers' consideration, the following video links show ENTIRE storm chasing events. These constitute irrefutable evidence of actual storm chasing conditions. Critics, please point out where the widespread problems of storm chasers are that warrant outrage or legislation.
Storm chasers, your video is needed! If you have a video not linked here, please contact me to have it added to this list. We need all the examples we can get! If you have GoPro or dascham archives you've never posted because they were boring, now's the time to dust them off and render a timelapse! That video is now valuable evidence, we need everything we can get to defend the integrity of our activities in the face of the negative publicity.
NOTE: Examples that show heavy traffic are shaded in red. To be fair and balanced, I am posting EVERY timelapse available. I will not hold back on posting any bad examples. Please note that I will not post short videos that show a bad traffic incident. The ENTIRE chase (or at least the bulk of it) must be included for proper context. The reason you don't see widespread traffic problems here isn't because negative evidence is being withheld, it's because it is a rare event!
To be fair and balanced, I'm including examples of what congested storm chaser traffic looks like when it happens about once every 2 years. Judge for yourself if this is really something to get upset about:
Videos concerning specific negative media coverage pieces
April 2015 Wichita, Kansas articles
There have been a few developments concerning the event on April 8, 2015 in which a Barber County, Kansas Sheriff yelled at chasers over a loudspeaker, then complained to the media about storm chasers. The articles ran in Wichita news media. Here are a couple of items pertinent to that incident:
Nick Slone brought this video to my attention of the Barber County Sheriff yelling at chasers to pull farther off of the road along Highway 160. It has been confirmed to me that this was what triggered at least one anti-chaser story from Wichita media where officials alleged major storm chaser problems and "chasers clogging roads".
No research was done for the article. For example, this page is listed first in Google under "storm chaser traffic", yet none of it is referenced.
Bookmark this page, as I will update it with relevant information should future negative news coverage occur.
There are a few points I feel are worth bringing up:
In nearly every case, the author or reporter of a negative news piece on storm chasers is an individual who does not directly observe what is happening in the field. I have yet to see a piece written by someone who has actually been out in the field with chasers in recent years. In other words, their pieces are based on secondhand information and perceptions gleaned from social media/television, instead of the journalist actually witnessing storm chases themselves. Some of the authors cite themselves having some chasing experience in the distant past, but again, they are not currently in the field to witness actual conditions firsthand.
A common location for traffic issues to develop are on secondary (unpaved) roads, where locals, chasers and EMS/police/fire vehicles commonly park to watch a storm. While the rare congestion can occur on main roads, there are are rarely, if ever, main roads or highways blocked by chasers. There have been many documented cases, however, of police/fire/EM vehicles blocking a main road.
Highway overpasses are frequently choke points where the driving public scrambles to get their vehicles under cover from hail. It's not uncommon for interstates to be completely blocked by panicking drivers trying to save their vehicles from damage. You will rarely find a single chaser in these jams, unless they are unfortunate to come up on one after it has already started.
The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:
I have seen very few cases where chasers have caused traffic problems in 5 years of chasing. In those cases I believe the guilty parties were actually locals "playing storm chaser". Any real storm chaser will risk getting stuck to get completely off the road. I value my old truck enough to not want it sideswiped by someone looking at the storm and not the vehicles parked off the shoulder of the road. As a group we are pretty good at policing ourselves and have no problem telling someone to get off the road further to not obstruct traffic. - Posted by Charles Hamilton from Kansas City, MO. area
i have yet to see a traffic jam created by legit storm chasers. - Posted by lon from illinois
A lot of chaser cars stick out like sore thumbs, with decals and hazard lights. I think its a good way to stick out from the average rubbernecker. You can get magnetic signs made cheaply that dont blow away. Throw them on. - Posted by Dale Barnhart
I was a passenger in the red car that was shot in Barber County. The deputy was very rude and threatening. There was no need for him to be an ass. Now the media needs to also police themselves when their people are out chasing cause they are just as guilty. Plus the fire trucks were blocking more of the road than we were. Were they told to get off the road? Of course not. - Posted by Stewart Haddad from Wichita, Ks
Regardless of what the video evidence shows to support our beliefs, the fact is that some states (and most notably Kansas) definitely have a bias against chasers in general. As Dale Barnhart has already stated, many chasers stand out like sore thumbs and no matter what their intent, the flashing lights and supposed "Skywarn" "Or 'I'm a chaser!'" decals make them an easier target. LEO's feel the law is on their side and the overzealous ones will exercise their muscle given the chance. The bottom line is (1) watch your speed (2) park well off the right-of-way (3) keep off private property (4) obey LEO commands, when given. While we may be right in many cases, by the time we get a lawyer (if we can afford one) and bond out, the storms will long be gone. - Posted by Joel Genung from Tulsa, OK
I would prefer to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns. I'm pro-chaser, but only when it's done safely & respectfully. While I agree that there are some biased stories out there, there are also two sides to every story. I personally witnessed a situation in SCKS where emergency vehicles could not get through to render much-needed aid to victims due to chase vehicles blocking the roads, & sheriff officers were called to help clear the area so fire trucks could get through (this was several years ago). I heard the frustration & sense of urgency in the radio transmissions between emergency responders, officials & dispatch. I'm not defending the BA Co sheriff because I wasn't there during that particular situation, but I can tell you that there have been legitimate reasons authorities have been frustrated with chasers in this area in the past. No comment on the specific media coverage referenced above, because it was a different time-frame, but when the issue happened in our county it was definitely a problem/hazard and that was newsworthy. No doubt it also affects future reactions to similar situations. - Posted by Smalltown Girl from Kansas