In 1996 the movie “Twister” hit theaters. You’re probably familiar with it but if not I’ll give you the details. A bunch of meteorologists caravan through Tornado Alley during a major outbreak trying to be the first to drop their tornado measuring probe in the path of a twister. Led by Helen Hunt (she was better in “Castaway”) and Bill Paxton (better as the wimp in “Aliens”) are the good guys, the fun loving rag-tag bunch reunited for one last “Hurrah”. And led by Cary Elwes (should have got an Oscar for “Robin Hood Men in Tights”) are the bad guys, the corporate sponsored, black SUV driving, only in it for the money team of meteorologists. SPOILER ALERT, the bad guys die in an F5 tornado but the good guys survive by belting themselves to a pipe and are somehow not torn to shreds by debris flying at +200 mph.
After “Twister” we started seeing more than just meteorologists chasing down storms. Tornado chasing became a sport to some, though a very dangerous sport. Now in 2012 technology including the availability to track a storm on radar through a smart phone is tempting curious regulars to hop in their cars and speed towards one of nature’s most powerful and unpredictable displays. This not only has meteorologists worried but emergency responders cringing over the new problems created by the flood of rookie chasers.
On April 14, 2012 a well forecasted outbreak of tornadoes ripped through the Great Plains. A few days later the Kansas City Star published a story about the traffic jams and reckless driving as a result of too many adrenaline rushed drivers. CLICK HERE for a link to the story. The director of emergency services for one county blasted the public chasers (not the trained spotters) for, among other things, clogging an interstate exit as a tornado passed near Solomon, Kansas. Other drivers flew through city streets at 60 mph, passing fire trucks and driving over downed power lines near a damaged and leaking natural gas facility! Imagine the job of an emergency responder at the scene. Not only do you have to navigate safely through a tornado ravaged area, now you also have to dodge reckless drivers who may be blocking the off ramp you need to take. I am not strictly pointing the finger at the amateurs, but an experienced and educated storm chaser knows where to go in the first place and doesn’t need to drive like an angry teenager to get in position.
Chasing severe weather is dangerous enough, even when you know what you’re doing. I’ve chased many times in my life and have witnessed a few very small and brief tornadoes. Even knowing the details of the forecast, storm structure, average storm movement, time of sunset, etc. there are a number of factors that can get an experienced spotter in trouble. In fact 2 meteorologists slipped up and found themselves IN A TORNADO earlier this month. Fortunately they were alright. CLICK HERE for that story and video.
Storm spotters provide an invaluable service by delivering live reports on life threatening weather. They are a key part to severe weather coverage. But untrained storm gawkers flooding and even blocking roads create a nuisance even in the best case scenario. In a worst case scenario we may hear one day about a number people losing their lives because they don’t know the dangers of what they’re driving towards.