Storm Chasing

Storm chasing is broadly defined as the intentional pursuit of any severe weather condition, regardless of motive. A person who chases storms is known as a storm chaser, or simply a chaser. While witnessing a tornado is the biggest objective for many chasers, many chase thunderstorms and delight in seeing cumulonimbus structure, watching a barrage of hail and lightning, and seeing what skyscapes unfold. There are also a smaller number of storm chasers who chase hurricanes.

Storm chasing is chiefly a recreational endeavor, with motives usually given toward photographing the storm for personal reasons. Though scientific work is sometimes cited as a goal, such work is almost always impractical except for those participating in a university or government project. Many chasers also are storm spotters, reporting their observations of hazardous weather to the authorities. Storm chasers are not paid to chase, with the exception of television media crews in certain television markets, video stringers and photographers, and a handful of graduate meteorologists and professors. A few entrepreneurs, however, manage to sell storm video and pictures or operate "chase tour" services. Financial returns are relatively meager given the expenses with most chasers spending more than they take in.

The very first storm chaser is generally agreed to be Roger Jensen (1933–2001), a Fargo, North Dakota native who pursued western Minnesota storms from Lake Park around 1951. David Hoadley (1938– ) began chasing North Dakota storms in 1956, systematically using data from area weather offices. Bringing research chasing to the forefront was Neil Ward (1913–1972) who in the 1950s and 1960s enlisted the help of Oklahoma state police to study storms. His work pioneered modern storm spotting and made institutional chasing a reality.

In 1972 the University of Oklahoma in cooperation with the National Severe Storms Laboratory began the Tornado Intercept Project. This was the first large-scale chase activity sponsored by an institution. It culminated in a brilliant success in 1973, with the Union City, Oklahoma tornado providing a foundation for tornado morphology. The project produced the first legion of veteran storm chasers, with Hoadley's Stormtrack magazine bringing the community together in 1977. Storm chasing then reached popular culture in three major spurts: in 1978 with the broadcast of a segment on the television program In Search Of; in 1985 with a documentary on the PBS series Nova; and in May 1996 with the theatrical release of Twister which provided an action-packed but comically distorted glimpse at the hobby. Further early exposure to storm chasing encouraging some in the weather community resulted from several articles beginning in the late 1970s in Weatherwise magazine. Various television programs, increased coverage of severe weather by the media, and the Internet have also contributed to a significant growth of storm chasing since the mid-late 1990s. A sharp increase in the general public impulsively wandering in their local area searching for tornadoes is likewise largely attributable to these factors.

Chasing often involves driving thousands of miles in order to witness the relatively short window of time of active severe thunderstorms. It is not uncommon for a storm chaser to end up empty handed on any particular day. Storm chaser degree of involvement, philosophies, and techniques vary widely, but many chasers spend a significant amount of time forecasting both before going on the road as well as during the chase using a variety of sources for weather data. Most storm chasers are not meteorologists, and many chasers expend significant time and effort in learning meteorology and the intricacies of severe convective storm prediction through both study and experience.

There are inherent dangers involved in storm chasing, among these are: lightning; tornadoes; large hail; flooding; hazardous road conditions from such things as rain and hail slicked roadways, animals on the roadway, and visibility reducing heavy rain (often wind blown) and hail fog; as well as driving in general. Most directly weather related hazards such as from a tornado are minimal if the storm chaser is knowledgeable and cautious. Lightning, however, is an unavoidable hazard. The most significant hazard actually is driving, which in itself is a statistically dangerous activity that is exacerbated by the poor conditions around severe weather. Adding still more to this hazard is the copious distractions that can be vying for a chasers' attention; such as driving, communicating to chase partners and to others the phone or radio, navigating, watching the sky, checking weather data, and shooting photos or video. Again here, caution is paramount in minimizing the risk; and chasers try to avoid the driver from multi-tasking either with chase partners covering other aspects or the driver pulling over to do these other things if he is chasing alone.

Storm chasers are most active in May and June across the Great Plains of the United States (and Canada), with perhaps a couple hundred individuals active on any given day. Some organized chasing efforts have also begun in southeast Australia, with the biggest successes in November and December. A handful of individuals are also known to be chasing in other countries, including Israel, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland; though many people trek to the Great Plains of North America from these and other countries around the world (especially the United Kingdom).Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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