What Makes the Chase so Dangerous

Tornadoes are such a fascinating aspect of weather, one that just about everyone can be in awe of. While awe inspiring, these destructive forces of nature tear up property, chew through dollars with damage, and kill innocent people in its path. So what would make someone want to chase after these destructive beasts as they form around the country?

While I have never chased a tornado myself, as a meteorology student and now as a forecaster, my friends and I have always wondered what it would be like to drive out into Tornado Alley and find some strong thunderstorms. However, what never seems to come up in conversation is the inherent risk that comes along with it. For so long, death and tornado chasing were not so clearly hand in hand until the high profile deaths of a number of storm chasers, including Tim and Paul Samaras in the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado in 2013. But now, death and tornado chasing are in the headlines, and for good reason.

The Washington Post recently published an interview with three leading members of the meteorology community, each with experience in storm chasing. What stuck out to me the most in this piece was the admission by all three that they believe more chasers will die, and even some of them are surprised more haven’t died already. This statement certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to me anymore. After all, tornadoes are volatile and can change paths without warning, putting the chasers in harm’s way. But the admission of death being probable for some is a warning to the amateurs out there who believe that the actions of professional storm chasers should be replicated, and that they should try and get as close to a storm as they can.

The palpable risk involved with chasing tornadic storms is often offset in many minds by the beauty of Mother Nature, and the power of seeing nature’s destructive force firsthand. However, both amateurs and professionals need to respect the storm before they are able to chase it, and that often means thinking before you get too close to a tornado. It might mean missing out on the shot of a lifetime, but it may just end up saving your life.

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