TULSA - Wednesday night we held our annual gathering of KJRH storm chasers.
It's an impressive and very diverse group of individuals and teams who spend a lot of time, money, and energy to keep our viewers informed on all types of storms.
Many people have the wrong idea about what chasers do and why they are out.
Much of that confusion stems from the movie, "Twister" and more recent reality cable television shows about pursuing tornadoes.
The reality is that most storm chases are not done in armored vehicles, and you often do not see nine tornadoes in 30 minutes. The reality is, if you chase with someone who knows what they are doing, you might go out six or seven times before you see one.
None of our chasers do this full time. In fact, only a handful of full-time chasers exist in the entire country.
They roll on their own expense, and with gasoline now selling for $4 a gallon most will spend much more this season than ever before.
Some will take a day off work or leave early to be in the right place at the right time.
Most now have wireless Internet access and can view data from the field. The technology explosion has allowed chasers to have much more information than was available back when I was a chaser.
Chasing is dangerous and in recent years has become more so. Now the roads are much more congested with other chasers. It is not uncommon now to see a half mile of trucks, SUV’s, and cars lining both sides of a two-lane road near a developing tornado.
I've seen a mile-long armada of various pursuit vehicles all attempting to relocate to the next hot spot.
Now, chasers’ biggest threat will not be the storm. The bigger concern will be the dangers of each other. I always discourage newbies from going out. But if you feel this is something you absolutely must do, then consider these steps:
- Get proper training. Attend free spotter training classes offered by the National Weather Service. This is the very bare minimum, but a good place to begin.
- Volunteer at your local county Emergency Management Office. Most are underfunded and understaffed and can use volunteers to help out. Shadow there until you find out how you can contribute.
- Network with other spotters. Talk and learn from more experienced chasers on gear, technique, and how to do safe observation of a storm.
- Find a good veteran chaser and become his/her apprentice. Offer to pay half the gas or their dinner. Explain how you want to learn how to chase safely and effectively.
- Read basic meteorology material such as books and articles on storm chasing. There are numerous online sites dedicated to meteorology and storm chasing.
- Be out there for the right reason. Pass your information on to the National Weather Service, county emergency management office, or the media. What you observe may help the National Weather Service and ultimately the public know of the hazard.
Our chasers have been instructed to remain calm, especially when on the air explaining a storm, so as to not frighten viewers.
Our meteorologists attempt to do the same when we are tracking a tornado. My thoughts have always been that storms can be scary enough for some viewers. We are not there to make it scarier.
Do not chase tornadoes unless you are properly trained and know that it is extremely dangerous.