Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Sunday, April 17, 2016

Evidence disproves claims in Wichita Falls Times Record News spotter/storm chaser articles

Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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Wichita Falls readers, I ask that you take note of one characteristic of these pages here versus the works of Lynn Walker. Which one is providing evidence and factual information: audio recordings, links, references and videos, and which one is posting opinions and nothing else? Some newspapers allow writers like Lynn Walker to do this because controversy brings more readers, and more readers means more advertising revenue. Responding to the smear pieces is helping the newspaper keep the controversy alive, but not responding allows the false perception about me and my colleagues to work into the public conscience. For that reason, I begrudgingly choose the lesser of two evils.

With that said, I'll move on to responding to each item in Mr. Walker's latest (third) piece published in the Times Record News on April 16. For those who are new to the controversy, you might want to read my response to the first article to get the background of the story.

A note to the public Facebook quotes shown here: I've blacked out the names in respect of privacy. If you are quoted and would like your name revealed, please let me know.

Lynn Walker wrote: The articles dealt with incidents where the local HAM radio spotter network had to ask some chasers to stay off a closed radio network and revealed the concern over a congestion of unnecessary traffic in potentially dangerous areas.

As we've established with evidence in the previous blog post, there were two non-"Wichita County Skywarn-approved" chasers that attempted to check in to the radio net this day. TWO. The one involving the "Australian intruder" (Daniel Shaw, a well-respected experienced storm chaser) lasted a little over one minute. Mr. Walker seems to forget (or just won't acknowledge) that the entire day's radio traffic was recorded and posted in the Stormtrack thread located here - anyone can listen for themselves.

I've provided links showing 20 (twenty) full-day videos of storm chases from me and from others that show actual road and traffic conditions during typical chases. Mr. Walker has not acknowledged these once, choosing to persist with the claims of common chaser traffic jams with no evidence.

Lynn Walker wrote: The storm chasing community, which has grown quite large in recent years, was outraged, claiming they serve the purpose of public safety by chasing storms and reporting dangerous conditions. Or serving a scientific purpose by taking pictures and videos.

Most storm chasers chase because we love to witness severe weather, not for an altruistic purpose. Few will claim to be "saving lives", that term is an eye-roller for most of us. However, our activity does frequently put us in the position to act as a critical source of information to the National Weather Service, which most of us do when it is necessary. All National Weather Service offices can attest to the quality and number of storm reports that come from chasers, either directly via phone/internet or through spotter HAM radio nets (except, of course, the few like Wichita County Skywarn that refuse to take them).

The evidence and testimony is out there to back up the contributions chasers make to the NWS, but Mr. Walker refuses to print anything that doesn't support the pre-determined narrative that he, his friends at the Wichita County Skywarn (formerly ARES) and the Times Record News has chosen.

Here is a great resource to get to know real storm chasers and why we do what we do: Stormtrack Who's Who in Storm Chasing

Lynn Walker wrote: Unfortunately, the larger number fall into the category I call "yay-hoos" and another subgenre of local "lookie-loos."

Again, I've provided links to numerous videos of actual chases to directly debunk this claim. Mr. Walker, where is the evidence to support yours? We both agree that bad apples exist, and I'm sure you can find isolated exaples of them. As I could if I accused Wichita Falls for having the worst and most unethical journalists in the world based on this one example, which would be unfair to everyone else working in the city's media. The claim that is being made in the aforementioned articles is that the majority of us are "bad apples" - a claim that is not supported by the evidence.

Lynn Walker wrote: Add them all up and you can quickly have several hundred people gathered on a field of danger. The truth is, most of these "chasers" just get their jollies off it.

"Danger" - sensationalist journalists love that word. The fact is that storms are not really that dangerous to chasers, particularly chasers with experience. On rare occasion, yes - but before you go and play the Twistex card, I have to ask - have you gone skiing? Mountain or road biking? Whitewater rafting? If you have, you've done an activity in which many people are killed every year. Storm chasing has been ongoing since the 1970s with thousands of participants, and our first storm-caused deaths were in 2013. As a chaser, I have no desire to hurt myself or even damage my car. Those things would tend to make it difficult for me to keep chasing. We do what we do to witness nature in the same way someone on a safari does - and if that's a sin in anyone's eyes, then I'll accept to be guilty of it.

Furthermore, if chasing is dangerous, spotting is also, if not more so. There have been at least two spotter deaths from tornadoes in the USA since 2007:

Lynn Walker wrote: To claim they do this for a purely altruistic reasons is ludicrous on its face. To say they do it to enhance the body of scientific knowledge is even more absurd.

How many of us have said that? I never have, and none of my experienced colleagues have either. Show us your proof, Mr. Walker.

Lynn Walker wrote: Their motive is to get some pictures they can put on YouTube or better yet get them 15 seconds of fame and maybe a little cash from the Weather Channel or CNN or (the ultimate) a shot on the Today show.

Another falsehood. Where is the evidence to support this statement? It is true chasers sometimes make a video sale. However, TV revenue rarely covers the cost of a chase - at most, it pays for gas money. Sales are infrequent and unreliable, and any chaser who gets into the hobby for money will quickly learn it's not a realistic "career path". My career is IT and web development. Look at my web site - if chasing was a true moneymaker, why would I be doing anything else but chasing?

Lynn Walker wrote: The bigger the tornado the better. The ultimate is to capture a big EF-5 wedgie you know, the kind that killed people, injured hundreds, and inflicted millions of dollars of property damage on Wichita Falls in 1979. That's the kind that can be accompanied by a play-by-play description that always includes, "Wow! Look at the size of that thing!"

Mr. Walker, show us your sources for this statement. Nearly every chaser I know wants a nice, high-contrast tornado out in open fields. Wedges are actually the worst type of tornado in most chasers' opinions - they are low-contrast, hard to see in most cases, difficult to approach safely. I've seen two F5s - they are hardly my favorites. Both are events I'd hope that never are duplicated, and I've never said anything to the contrary.

Lynn Walker wrote: This is obscene. This is ghoulish at best and immoral at worst.

Again, a statement that shows you've never read a single storm chaser account. Every chase account you can find online where a tornado caused death or destruction, you'll find a somber mood and a chaser who doesn't celebrate the event. Either you haven't read storm chaser accounts and have simply chosen to fabricate such an opinion, or you have read them and are lying - either way, appalling for a professional journalist.

Lynn Walker wrote: Frankly, in a city that has had three major tornado strikes and is served by a professional NWS office, a set of emergency managers, storm-conscious media, and a trained and effective spotter network, we can take care of ourselves. Thank you.

You mean like last night (April 16), when a tornado-warned supercell passed over the southeast side of your city - and NO Wichita County spotters were present on the storm? (source: National Weather Service) Several chasers were - (source: Spotter Network). I have a nagging suspicion that this fact won't be in your next Times Record News piece.

Now that I've answered your claims - Mr. Walker, the Times Record News and the Wichita County Skywarn group (formerly Wichita County ARES), I have a few questions for you:

  • How are most spotter groups in the Great Plains able to effectively operate open nets, yet it is such a problem for Wichita County? The most striking examples include open nets in the Oklahoma City metro area, the city with the highest concentration of both storm chasers and violent tornadoes in the world.
  • Why, after receiving notice from the North Texas ARRL Section that your net must be open to all spotters and chasers making good-faith reports, you LEFT the ARES group and went rogue?
  • To the Times Record News, why do you allow a writer to produce a story centered around individuals that are his good friends? Why do you allow the continued printing of news and opinion pieces - some which go out on national feeds - to contain so many proven false statements?

I want to also take this opportunity to send a sincere thank-you to the North Texas ARRL Section, the authority which provides oversight of all ARES groups in the region. They were in support of what storm chasers do, and actually rewrote their bylaws to make spotter nets open. It's unfortunate that instead of following those directives, the Wichita County group chose to defy the authority and go rogue. That's an issue I hope that Wichita County Skywarn will address both here and with the citizens of Wichita Falls. We all deserve to know why the Wichita Falls spotter coordinators and newspaper have colluded to not only diminish their capacity for warning the community of severe storms, but do everything they can to smear storm chasers in the face of overwhelming evidence.

I will conclude this post with a link to a forum thread on StormTrack entitled "Spotter Nets: How can chasers help?". I feel that chasers and spotter nets can work together to improve the warning process for communities affected by severe weather. If that happens, everybody wins. It's my hope that something positive and constructive can emerge from this, and we'd welcome your input.

Related Posts:
Video evidence refutes claims of storm chaser traffic problems >
A derived parameter for storm chaser traffic impacts: the "Chaser Traffic Index" or CTI >
Call-out: stop exaggerating storm chaser traffic with Spotter Network screen grabs >

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

You da man Dan!!!! Thank you for all you are doing!!! Keep up the great work!!!
- Posted by Aaron from Fritch Tx
Excellent blog post Dan. You have provided a lot of evidence to support your claims, while the old boys club in Wichita Falls has provided nothing other than hearsay & baseless opinions. I too wonder what the fundamental motivation behind the Wichita Falls old boys club's out-of-proportion reactions i. Are these jokers involved in other questionable activities that require them to have complete control of a ham radio frequency? In the face of a glaring lack of real evidence from them, I can't help but wonder what is truly behind their zealous protection of their exclusive little 'sandbox' they have for play-time....
- Posted by Derek Baker
Take the Spotter/Chaser deal out of the whole argument....what's left? The dang news paper artical. That is not under the control of spotters or chasers. After the latest episode of Weather Brains we all need to shake hands and get back to work. So many miss understanding that caused back stabbing between the chasers and spotting community. We are in the same business and need to refocus on the number one goal of getting severe weather information to the public, emergency management and to the NWS.
- Posted by Fisherman from Texas
Fisherman, I agree. Chasers and spotters are many times one and the same (many chasers started out as spotters), and there is no animosity from me toward spotters in general. These blog posts are just to answer the TRN articles. Some good discussion is in progress on the Stormtrack forum link. I think in the end this whole thing may end up being constructive for both sides.
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
Thanks Dan for being a *good* journalist citing multiple sources and keeping it all out in the open for anyone else to verify. The whole incident drives me nuts. We've kept our Kane Co (IL) ARES group open and have some great spotters and chasers, and both work at learning from each other. Trained "outsiders" are most welcome as well. We'd be nuts not to welcome their reports (we're focused on helping our community, not serving ourselves or our egos). Unfortunately I've run into another ham in the DFW area who thinks using RACES to block outsiders is a good practice (I disagree). I just don't understand these "not on my lawn" types. To heck with them. We'll keep our openness, focus on helping the NWS, and learning from our often more highly trained chaser friends. :)
- Posted by Debby wx9vor (EC) from Aurora IL

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