Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Growing Sense of Revulsion

Tonight (22 May), on the 30th anniversary of a chase day that was wild and spectacular for me and my old chaser partner (Al Moller), I read with sorrow of the devastating events of yet another tornado disaster -- this time in Joplin, Missouri. 2011 already has been a terrible year for tornadoes, the like of which hasn't been seen since 1974, and we have a lot of the heart of the tornado season yet to go. Thing likely will get worse ...

Social media have revealed to me multiple videos so far this year of non-chasers caught up in these events who clearly have no clue about tornadoes, shooting video even as they come close to death. I also see videos posted from storm chasers whooping and hollering with excited joy about the spectacular things they're seeing in their videos aired on social media (a public venue, after all) -- quite evidently unconcerned about the feelings of those for whom these very same atmospheric events have turned their lives upside down.

Many of these videos are taken not by chasing hobbyists but by people who know little or nothing about storms, perhaps choosing to keep their cameras rolling in hopes of achieving fame and fortune, or for reasons of their own. They flirt with death and often have no idea what they're doing. Why? Is it the accumulated effect of of seeing videos on TV from storm chasers dancing on the edge of the precipice? How many people have died this year with video camcorders in their hands? How many will in the future? To what extent are we chasers responsible for that?

Ironically, the Discovery Channel premiered a program tonight about the 27 April tornadoes, showing (among other things) Reed Timmer seemingly just beginning to comprehend that what he has built his fame upon has the capacity to inflict death and disaster upon people caught in the track. The very phenomenon that excites storm chasers has a very dark side -- a side I saw with my own eyes within the second year of my storm chasing career (1973) -- see item #32 here for this little piece of my chasing history. Reed (and/or the Discovery Channel) seems still to believe that his calling in tornado reports was a significant contribution to the saving of lives on 27 April. Wrong! I have serious doubts that any chaser reports made any significant difference to the outcome on 27 April. That day's tornado outbreak is not the kind of event where chaser reports are going to make much of a difference in terms of saving lives -- see here for a discussion. How much science (of the sort associated with peer-reviewed scientific journal papers) has Reed actually contributed to the problem of tornadoes? Precisely ... zip! He may have the degrees to call himself a meteorologist, but he's not yet demonstrated by his publications that he's a scientist.

The fact of the situation is that tornado disasters are virtually inevitable when powerful tornadoes pass through populated areas; 27 April included several long, track violent tornadoes in a part of the world where the human vulnerability was large. You don't need exotic, poorly-researched explanations to understand the death toll on 27 April. Some of us have expected this sort of event to happen and, unfortunately, our predictions were accurate -- although we couldn't predict which year, which month, which days would fulfill that prediction. It doesn't make me happy to be right about this. In fact, it's awful to know that such events are coming and there's nothing I seem to be able to do to prevent them from happening. People seem immune to the message of our science until a tornado has left their lives shattered.

In this year's events, I repeatedly hear people in videos saying "I've never seen anything like this before!" Well, perhaps that's true in in the limited sense of having it happen in front of your eyes, but I guarantee that almost all of these folks have seen videos of tornado disasters on TV. Did you think you were somehow immune? What people find so astonishing is that it actually happened to them!! Well, I've got some news for you, folks -- it can happen to you, and if you don't think so, you're gambling your life and the lives of your loved ones that it won't. If you do nothing to prepare, then you have only yourself to blame for the outcome. It's time to take personal responsibility for your own safety, folks!!

I find the public celebrations of storm chasers more disturbing and repulsive every year, when the outcome of these events can be so devastating to so many people. Chasing is a hobby -- it's not about contributing to society for most chasers -- for many of the "new breed" of chasers, it's about personal success, fame, and fortune. As time passes, it's increasingly abhorrent to me to be associated with most chasers, whose egocentricity and superficiality are disgusting to me. They give little or nothing of value in return for their experiences but somehow have convinced themselves that they're saving lives. Obviously, there are responsible storm chasers, but their fraction of the chase "community" seems to be decreasing as storm chasing rapidly becomes a "trash sport".


Corey said...

If you intend to change anything, you're going about it the wrong way. Posts like these will certainly draw a limited amount of attention to the issue—from people who have already made up their minds. I made a similar post a couple years ago, but apparently it didn't strike a chord.

Chuck Doswell said...

And just what do you propose is the "right way"? I take it you have no alternative.

James Aydelott said...

Excellent thoughts as usual.

Here is another symptom to help diagnose the idiocracy in which we live.

My tv station (KOKI-Tulsa) was flooded with calls and emails from angry viewers this evening, fuming and irate that we didn't show the season finale of "The Simpsons", and had the nerve to track thunderstorms with (fortunately mostly small) tornadoes instead.

People would rather watch a cartoon than have potentially life saving weather information broadcast to people.

I think we've passed the tipping point in our society.

Thanks for being a voice of reason and sanity.

nick said...

Someone I know was looking at the Tuscaloosa aftermath footage, and was disappointed they didn't see any bodies in the debris. This is what we've come to as a society.

I think many of the storm chasers we see out there these days are a product of our Youtube/tabloid culture - in that it doesn't matter what's happening to people, as long as you get the video.

I don't watch any of the storm chasing shows on television, because they show people chasing for all the wrong reasons, and damn few of the right ones. The chasers involved are whoring themselves out for fame and money.

It's just said.

mike said...

Chuck, As always your articles are timely and really hit home on several points. As a storm chaser for the last 22 years. It is not about witnessing natures power and beauty anymore. Its about who can get that "Money shot" while flirting with death. I hate it when I am watching the various videos on the media or social media and all you can hear is people continuously shouting tornado, or screaming with glee like some kid on Christmas Morning. I love to witness the power that nature can produce. But in the last few years, this hobby has become a dangerous, freak filled, money hungry joy ride for some. Just my two cents...

Bobby Eddins said...

Great comments and couldn't agree more. I saw one video from April 27th where the "videographer" shows you the tornado on the TV as covered by the local station, then runs through the house to the second floor and gives you the view out the window of the tornado coming very close.
So he gets warned, finds his camera, starts shooting and runs up to the second story when he should be in his safe place. I feel this behavior is much do to what he's seen on TV or the internet.

David Van Bergen said...

I was looking through the social media videos from yesterday's tornado in Joplin and thinking some of the same thoughts you have so well expressed. Like Corey I wonder if your postings will change anything, not because you aren't giving a solution, which he didn't either, but because unfortunately most of the people that need to read and understand it wont' or will say it doesn't apply to me. I am not sure there is a viable solution to the idiocy of mile long chasing caravans. I pray one of those caravans isn't inevitably caught off guard and many lives needlessly lost. As far as the warnings called in by "responsible" chasers, and there are responsible chaser, I wonder if the public agencies pay attention to them and use them. I don't know as I don't know of a good way to check the truth of what is being called in. So much more could be said, but that is enough for now.

KG4LEO said...

I could not possibly agree more. I have been dismayed for decades at the celebrations carried out by chasers & bystanders as they video other people's lives being shattered and extinguished.

Blake K said...

Well Chuck, I'm going to have to call you out on a few points here.

You open this latest post by reminiscing about a past chase that was "wild and spectacular" on 22 May, 1981. To bring the readers here up to date, there were a number of very strong tornadoes that day in Oklahoma, with 5 F2's, an F3 and the Binger F4. After finding himself out of position on a storm to his north, Chuck "roared after it, getting more excited along the way. It had a great look coming into it, with laminar flanking cloud bands feeding into tremendous convective bombs above!" By 'roared after it' I'll assume that means Chuck was driving above the speed limit towards the storm.

As they (Chuck & chase partner Al Moller) got closer to the storm, Chuck witnessed a tornado near Alfalfa, OK. This would have been the F2 that tracked from Mountain View, OK to Eakly, OK. How did Chuck describe this damaging tornado? "It was shrouded in dust for a while, but this gradually dropped away to reveal a nice tornado. This stayed on the ground for quite some time, and we had a great view of the tornado and the storm together..." Nice? An interesting choice of a word to describe a tornado that was causing pretty significant damage, especially for someone who suffers a sense of revulsion at "storm chasers whooping and hollering with excited joy about the spectacular things they're seeing".

Which brings us to the large Binger F4 wedge, which Chuck missed out on seeing a good view of due to a navigation error. Chuck's descriptive tone of missing this tornado was disappointed - apparently he wanted to be closer to the devastation. All told, the May 22/23 outbreak produced 43 confirmed tornadoes and caused roughly $81 Million in damage (in 2011 dollars).

Blake K said...

Let's look at some of the other things you've said...

- There's May 24, 1973, when the NSSL sent numerous chase teams to document a tornado's life cycle on film. The official NSSL team was successful in capturing 8mm & 16mm film of the tornado as well as still photographs, and WHAT MADE THIS IMPORTANT WAS THAT THEY WERE ABLE TO MATCH THE VISUAL DOCUMENTATION WITH THE RADAR DATA. Chuck, haven't you been complaining that there's nothing to gain from visual documentation of tornadoes? Chuck chased that day as a "private chaser" and saw the Union City F4 as it left town, and with damage everywhere, Chuck described the tornado as "a beautiful elephant trunk."

Now, Chuck has gone on to say that what he witnessed in Union City was sobering and made him strongly question whether him chasing was morally acceptable to him with the damage the tornadoes inflicted on people's property and lives.

- How about September 1st, 1994? Chuck was visiting friends on their property near Fort Davis, TX. When his friend asks whether she is seeing a tornado out the window, Chuck responds, "Oh yes it is! Where's my camera?" (So his first instinct was to grab a camera, hmm, where have I heard this before? Sadly, it seems Chuck's first instinct wasn't to call the tornado in to the weather office... Naughty.) Chuck goes on, "In the throes of an adrenaline rush, I fumbled my camera out and snapped some images of this distant tornado, which was somewhere between Fort Davis and Alpine, TX."

- On what Chuck enjoys from storm chasing… “My excitement from chasing comes from having a chance to see a complex and rare demonstration of Nature's power - it's probably more like the ‘buck fever’ that hunters experience when they find their elusive quarry than what bungee-cord jumpers must feel.”

- On storm reporting responsibilities of storm chasers… ” It helps to have precise locations of the events (not your location necessarily, but where the event occurred), and times of occurrence. Doing this ensures that what you saw can become part of the official climatological record of what happened. The official criteria for severe weather are: 1) hail 2 cm [3/4 inch] in diameter, or larger, 2)wind gusts 25 meters per second [58 mph] or higher, 3) certain types of straight-line wind damage [trees uprooted, significant damage to homes and structures, etc.], 4) any tornado.”
(Might need to update your Chaser FAQ, severe hail is obviously now 1”, not ¾”)

Blake K said...

Ok, enough examples of Chuck contradicting himself through both word and action from the past. Let’s get back to the erroneous things he’s saying nowadays. Chuck “seriously doubts the significant benefits of storm reports on days like April 27”. Well, maybe not on days like that, which happen every 40 years or so, when nearly every storm out there is dropping violent tornadoes, but wouldn’t you rather the general public be under the impression that calling in storm reports is an important activity? The general public doesn’t know the difference between April 27th and a 2% risk day… I know at least a handful of employees at NWS offices that really appreciate the “ground truth” that storm reports provide to their warnings. So I think what Reed is saying about reporting severe weather, especially tornadoes is of significant value to the accuracy of severe weather warnings and thus the trust the public places in them.

On to “how many people have died with video cameras in their hands?” If we’re going to ask such jackass questions, should we consider whether the cameras were on, or whether they were actually pointed towards a tornado? If you’re going to put the blame on storm chasers, then you’re going to have to shoulder the burden, Chuck. Sure, a number of this generation of storm chasers have reached a bit of fame with some of the storm chasing shows out there, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a number of those chasers became interested in chasing and tornadoes based in some part because of the work you’ve done and the plethora of tornado images that can be found by typing “chuck doswell tornado” into Google. I think, however, that the boom in the number of people filming severe weather has more to do with the quality/low cost/accessibility of photographic/video devices to the average consumer than existed a decade or two ago. Do you also feel that the citizens in Japan who filmed the tsunami earlier this year were out to seek fame at the expense of their fellow citizens? Maybe a few, but there is something about observing/documenting the raw power of nature that is captivating to many people. It’s the same reason your first instinct was go grab your camera down near Ft. Davis in 1994.

Now, about the paragraph that starts with: “In this year's events, I repeatedly hear people in videos saying ‘I've never seen anything like this before!’”. How callous and cold-hearted can you be? Blaming people for not having seen it coming? You’re an idiot. I’ve watched lots of tornado videos, looked at countless images, even seen a number of them from up close and personal. I saw things on April 27th that I’ve never seen before. And certainly, what happened that day is not the norm, is not the expected outcome, even with seeing the parameters and the models up to several days in advance? Do you think the general public knows how to read a Skew-T? Think they know what a hodograph is? CAPE is what Superman wears. These are things that we who have an intensive interest in things meteorological have knowledge of. The general public knows what they see on the news. And because meteorology is not an exact science, they have heard the warnings before and not seen storms. Or, there have been warnings and tornadoes have occurred, but have hit the next town over, or were EF0’s and didn’t really do a whole lot of damage. Explain to me how the general public is going to know the difference ahead of time between an April 27th event and a bust day?

Blake K said...

I’m going to go the opposite direction of you and say that social media, and the accessibility of information via the internet is going to benefit us in the long run. You know how many followers Reed and other storm chasers have on Facebook? Well, when Reed and others post warnings about dangerous weather, their followers listen. They get the message when they’re checking Facebook on their coffee break at work, when they’re in between classes. And those people are connected with other people, and the word might trickle down when otherwise they might not have known a tornado was headed their way. And just like it is unknowable how many people might have died with a video camera in their hands, it’s also unknowable how many people got advanced warning of tornadoes that day because of the internet and the posts of Reed and others.

Reed is experimenting with different technologies to try and record microscale data which you claim to be valueless in our overall knowledge of tornado science. Reed is driven by an intense desire to better our understanding of tornadoes, not his understanding. He is willing to risk his own safety to perform experiments and gather data that up to now is only accessible by being in close proximity to the tornado. Perhaps the future will allow us to take various measurements of a tornado using lasers pointed at it, or with some kind of advanced acoustics (obviously something different than radar)… However, through conversations with him, he understands that the income generated by participating in shows like Storm Chasers and by selling unique tornado footage is very valuable in funding his experiments and being able to push technology further. Has Reed gained fame through the show and his library of footage on YouTube? Yes. Does he want it, no, except for the public forum it allows to increase public awareness.

Another thing that’s been bothering me lately is your inability to provide solutions or even useful suggestions for improving the situation. You sit back and complain that things aren’t like they used to be, or that there are too many people out there chasing, and that they’re all dangerous and self-glorifying and unconcerned with public safety. With statements like “Did you think you were somehow immune? What people find so astonishing is that it actually happened to them!!” I’m not convinced you give a single solitary shit what happens to people. And just like the politicians you so devoutly hate, you seem more apt to divide and polarize opinions instead of working towards improving things and creating a better environment for all parties involved.

So I challenge you, Chuck Doswell, of immense meteorological knowledge and vast storm chasing experience to become part of the solution and not the problem. How can social media be a benefit to storm reporting and public safety? Is there a way to bring severe warnings to the public in ways other than a red scroll on the bottom of a tv screen or a blaring weather radio? We’re not looking for perfection – there will be flaws with any system, especially when people are involved. There will always be people who are going to ignore warnings, and people over time will always become complacent. We don’t like to be controlled by fear. We don’t like arranging our lives around being prepared for unlikely catastrophe. I don’t know any storm chasers that has witnessed damage and loss caused by a tornado that doesn’t contemplate how we can improve things, if only just a small bit. Are you saying that unless we can save all the lives on a day like April 27th, it’s not worth saving any lives? Progress is usually made with small steps, not giant leaps.

So, Pot, the Kettle has called you black too…


Chuck Doswell said...

Blake K ... perhaps you should get your own blog under your own real name and just post a link from it. I went ahead and accepted all your lengthy comments just so you could vent freely. I can't be sure of precisely who you are, but you must surely be one of Reed's devoted followers. Touched a nerve or two, did I?

The perspective from which I wrote this blog entry is that of today, not from 30+ years ago. A lot of what I'm saying is the result of having been chasing for nearly 40 years and having been a contributor to the science for all that time, as well as to the spotter training programs of the NWS. If my attitudes and opinions have changed over time, then perhaps you're willing to grant the possibility that I may have learned a thing or two in that time? I don't think the way I did 40 years ago, but I'm not inclined to apologize for or to try to rationalize things I may have said and done in the past. Ten years from now, if I live that long, I may feel differently about some things, yet again.

I make no apologies for the enthusiasm I have for storms, and I've explained my perspective in several of my Web essays. If you see contradictions in that, I certainly can't dictate what you think! But you won't hear me whooping and celebrating in videos uploaded to social media and bragging about breaking the law in public media.

Opinions about me vary and I don't mind that at all. You can interpret what I've said and done over the past 40 years however you wish. I think what I've done can stand on its own, sans any defense on my part.

If you're offended by what I say about Reed et al. - that isn't something that concerns me very much. As for being part of the solution - I've done what I believe I can over the course of my career. But there's no logical requirement for me to provide solutions for every problem - I've always believed that calling attention to problems can be the start of a solution. Do you think keeping silent is a solution?

Fumiko said...

Chuck, keep doing what you do, keep thinking like you do. we need it! people need a damn reality check. thank you for your thoughts. people are not so smart 99% of the time. my hat's off to you.

Blake K said...

Chuck, Blake is my real name. I completely respect what you've accomplished and the contributions you've made towards our current knowledge of severe weather. Indeed nearly every book I own or have read regarding this field bears your name in the credits. Truthfully, having read a good number of your blogs and posts, and realizing your scientific and methodical approach to some of these responses, I wanted to back up the points I was making (I mean, who actually cites blog responses after all).

Anyway, I was trying to touch on the fact that in your younger days as a chaser, you expressed much of the same excitement/fear/awe/etc. that many of today's chasers share with your younger self. What they (as a whole) lack is your 40 some (sorry to age you) years of chasing experience and perspective. I don’t think you should apologize for anything, but I think that we learn from our mistakes better than any other methodology. I thought it was unfair to hold today’s chasers to a different standard than you were held to in the golden days.

Granted, the storm chasing landscape is vastly different from those early days paved by the likes of you, but the intimate experience between a chaser and the storm is still a valid one. Your chases are pretty well documented, and I’m sure that if you had access to HD video, you would have documented with it as well. YouTube, social media and the internet as a whole are making the chase community much more visible to the general public, and there’s an added onus of responsibility placed on the chaser to act in a way that reflects well on us all, so there’s no better time to watch out for our own than now.

I guess one of the big things that bothers me is the division within the chase community. One of the things I love about storms is that with each storm I view, my knowledge increases and I understand a fraction more than I did the day before. While my chasing pursuits are about the awe of nature and my own understanding, I don’t think I have a right to judge what other people get out of chasing.

Which brings us to Reed. There are times when he has been reckless, but the Reed of the past year and a half is vastly different from the exuberant chaser in his early days. I think Yazoo City and April 27th were his “Union City.” Like it or not, Reed is a figurehead for the chase community, and I think his appearance on the Tonight Show recently is a reflection of the newer, more mature Timmer. As for the amateur videographers out there, I think there needs to be a better distinction between a person who takes a video of a tornado that is impacting them and the chaser who has the entire model/forecast process to put him in position to see a storm. This country has gotten in a bad habit of over-generalizations, and I don’t think we should put amateurs with legit chasers in the same group simply because they both have cameras.

I completely agree that progress comes from healthy dialogue and debate, and I thank you for posting my overly lengthy response. One of the best lessons I’ve learned in life is to question authority, and you, Chuck are an authority. Hopefully you won’t begrudge me that, and at least can consider my points to be fair.

Chuck Doswell said...

Blake ... there is at least one important difference between Reed and me. When I was beginning to chase, it was brand new. We had no choice but to learn things the hard way. I have that excuse for some of the dumb things I said and did. Reed had the benefit of others from whom he could have learned, but he chose to ignore what I (and others) told him on many occasions. His eyes were and still are (to the extent that I can tell) fixed on the "prizes" of fame and fortune. He certainly is the face of chasing for many people as a result and it continues to be an image I don't much like. I accept the possibility that he may have changed as a result of recent experiences, but I haven't seen any evidence of that. He needs to accept that he may be responsible for yahoo emulators out there - just as I'm forced to accept responsibility for contributing to an explosion of chasers, having glorified chasing in past interviews. I learned over the years that the media seek only to exploit people - Reed is the poster child for being exploited by the media, in exchange for the empty purse of fame and his 30 pieces of silver.

Chuck Doswell said...

A couple more points, Blake ... You said:

"While my chasing pursuits are about the awe of nature and my own understanding, I don’t think I have a right to judge what other people get out of chasing."

I have the right to any opinion and to express it when and how I wish. So do you. If you think no one should make any judgments of the behavior of others - we're just going to have to disagree on that!

You also said:

"One of the best lessons I’ve learned in life is to question authority, and you, Chuck are an authority. Hopefully you won’t begrudge me that, and at least can consider my points to be fair."

I've spent much of my life questioning authority, so I don't mind it at all if you question me. However, I've not responded to all your points, point-by-point, because there are many and most of them are simply not valid interpretations of what I've said. If you wish, I can do so offline and email them to you, but I see no value to that here.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Chuck. I've had the lovely privilege of having the Reed Timmer and Discovery channel circus in my CWA filming tornadoes and never hearing a report from them in real time or even the next day. They and most other "professional" chasers have only one selfish motive, and it has nothing to do with saving lives or advancing the science.

The most recent case was a tornado that damaged 100 structures a couple days before April 27th. While the storm was tornado warned, getting those real time reports of a tornado on the ground could have added emphasis to those in the path to take cover. But don't worry, the youtube teaser Reed and the discovery channel posted on the next day helped save people.....from boredom.

Nick said...

As a meteorology student and storm chaser, I do have excitement over significant weather...or any weather. If I didn't, I wouldn't be much interesting in studying it all day and all night. But I think for those that go out and storm chase, not only knowing some meteorology, but also having some plain old respect for the potential destruction the weather you're trying to find and chase can do to people is extremely important. I'm part of a chasing group at my university here on the Plains and have had spotter training. As far as I'm concerned, I chase to educate myself on convective storms and their structure and evolution and how to better forecast. And of course, if I see severe weather, I report it to the local weather service office. And God forbid, I witness significant damage or injuries, report it to emergency authorities and don't drive through damaged areas.

In other responsible, not a total fool contributing to chaser convergence just trying to get videos for money.

Ryan McGinnis said...

While I am no sociologist, I suspect that what we are seeing with the public not taking warnings seriously is the result of a large number of factors, including the number of up-close videos we've seen in recent years. But I think chaser glamorization aspect is a minimal factor when compared to what I consider basic human nature -- i.e., when presented with a novel threat, people act stupid, sometimes even if they are instructed in advance to act otherwise. One might counter that the threat of tornadoes is not novel on the Great Plains -- that they happen all the time. That they do. But how many people are personally affected by tornadoes? How many people get to say they were directly struck by one or had an extremely close scrape? Not that many. For most, the sirens blow, they go downstairs (or don't) and nothing bad happens. Lather, rinse, repeat enough times and eventually the siren becomes the Pavlovian trigger to wander out on the front porch armed with your cellphone camera.

A very similar thing happened in the recent Japan tsunami. Here are a people very well versed in an earthquake threat -- they happen so often there that when the earthquake alerts hit, people take cover. But tsunamis are rare and only happen once every one or two generations -- most people had never actually seen one impact and so the risk was hypothetical. So when the real tsunamis came, a portion of the population decided to continue on as normal despite the blaring sirens and text message alerts and audible warnings blaring over klaxxons. It wasn't until the water actually started crashing towards them that the risk became real.

I imagine that for the next decade or so, the residents in Tuscaloosa, Greensburg, and Joplin will take tornado warnings VERY seriously. A lot of residents will probably have PTSD panic attacks every time the sirens sound. The threat is now real and demonstrated.

Anonymous said...

Responsible or not, five hundred chasers on one storm cannot be safe. It's what keeps me out of the field and watching the live streams.

Sean D said...

In re: James Aydelott

It is indeed disappointing that it seems so many people would rather watch a cartoon than have potentially life saving weather info broadcast.

Could this be because the news media have turned weather coverage into a circus, complete with on-air talent seemingly losing their minds at garden-variety thunderstorms, risk-taking chase teams, and Whopper Doppler One Million? Seriously, just how many non-severe thunderstorm events do we have to go wall-to-wall for? I can definitely understand and relate to the fatigue of the average Joe and Jo who don't care about the weather unless it is actually going to get them. These people vastly outnumber us weather weenies.

This is what happen when you derive a revenue stream from severe weather: you get risk-takers and annoying broadcasts and so-called "extreme" meteorologists all competing for that buck... all trying to one-up each other. And there's always someone who will take it one step further. Who suffers in the end? Everyone else. The public. The chasers.

Even so, is it these folks' faults that there's still a market for what is becoming, as Dr. Doswell put it, a trash sport? After all, would the competition exist without the audience? It's not like the competitors are forcing the audience into the arena.

Thank goodness I had the sense to read the remarks of my forerunners, who taught me to remember that open displays of recklessness and celebration may not be well-received by those affected by the storm. Even with this foundation, my own experiences on the ground following the Greensburg tornado shook me to the core and made me think very deeply about what I do and why I do it and HOW I go about doing it. I truly believe such considerations (i.e., ethics) are even more important when puruising goals that are perceived to be so closely related to human pain & suffering.

Perry Williams said...

Chuck, I agree with you 110% percent. It's also why I have chased my last tornado. I can do a lot more good doing what I did on April 27th; sitting here at my computer warning friends in the path what is coming...and how to save themselves and families; help them survive.

===== Roger ===== said...

Chuck's essay dealt with the selling of tornado video and the crazy attitudes and practices displayed on those videos for everyone to see and emulate for themselves. Let's stay on topic here.

Blake and Chuck: You want solutions? You want the "right way" and the "alternative"? Rich Thompson and I offered very simple and straightforward solutions to this problem--beginning nearly 13 years ago.

[Full disclosure: at the time, even Chuck opposed some things we wrote in that essay, and he was selling video of the Pampa (8 Jun 95) tornado. Were we right after all, weren't we, Chuck? Based on your latest essay, it sounds like just such a tacit admission.]

In short, the solution was for chasers to stop selling tornado video. It's driven by greed, ego and nothing else. Nothing more or less. If your motives are truly altruistic and educational, GIVE it away. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. Selling "XTREME INSANE" video only promotes more and more of the same behavior. Think of Camaro Guy in MO. Think of Pharmacy Guy in North Carolina. That's just the early tip of the iceberg.

Is it too late now? Is the cat too far out of the bag? Likely. I hate to say that Rich and I told you so...I really do. But we did tell you so. We warned you many years ago that this was where chasing was headed. We also told you the solution. That solution was ignored in favor of greed and ego. Look at the consequences that have been wrought.

Now there may be no solution left. "Storm chasing" as a hobby has been nuked, and now stands as a post-apocalyptic wasteland of shameless, wanton selfishness for sale to the highest bidder. The motto of storm chasing now is: "Look at me! Myself! I! Number one, baby!"

Where is the humility?

If it is indeed too late...

Thanks, all "chasers" who have prostituted yourselves and this hobby by selling "XTREME INSANE" tornado video for top bid. Even if some have reformed (as Blake K asserts for Reed), the damage has been done, and blood is on your hands.

===== Roger ===== said...

I just added a prologue to that essay, and will excerpt some of it here:

Now, in 2011, it's too late. All manner of people with little or no understanding of storms, some calling themselves chasers, some not, are filming them in dangerous and deadly situations. Miles-long traffic jams form in and around some storms in Oklahoma. The wildest "XTREME INSANE" chaser video lands one on the major TV network shows, in full vainglory. Chasers post "media contact" info for videos of themselves acting like idiots, getting into horrifically irresponsible and dangerous situations, and celebrating destruction.

Some chasers film themselves either acting like they're rendering aid, or actually doing so. Either way, it's pretentious and egotistical. ***Authentic charity is not broadcast for others to see.*** It's what you do when nobody is watching that matters most.

Somehow, enough viewers eat up all this self-promotional pap that the cycle spreads and grows and propagates, the "Cancer Within" now metastasized beyond cure. This is where "storm chasing" now is. The "carnage circus" we described above is out of control. All manner of people with no understanding at all of severe storm behavior are out there shooting video and trying to cash in on the fad. The distinction between them and "storm chasers" doesn't exist to the viewer. For all practical purposes, everyone whose tornado video gets on TV is a "storm chaser". Denying that reality doesn't change it, any more than calling a duck a snake makes it a serpent.

To hell with it all. I (Roger) don't even call myself a "storm chaser" anymore. I'm ashamed of the term. I'm ashamed of and deeply pity) those who go on TV and promote this unrecognizable wasteland of irresponsible lunacy that now defines "storm chasing". The term has been too corrupted and dirtied by rampant, shameless greed. You will see no "look at me" ego-strokers on my vehicle: no antennae, no weather-related stickers, no PVC tubes. Most of the time, you won't even know it's me out there. And I prefer it that way.

And still today, neither of us sells storm video, and we haven't since before 1995.

Chuck Doswell said...

Rogelio ...

A self-imposed ban on selling tornado video wouldn't stop the yahoos from doing it. Yes, it makes those who impose such a ban on themselves more "pure" but despite what some people assert about me, I've never claimed to be a purist. I don't turn down the opportunity of income derived from chasing, mainly because it has helped defray the costs of chasing and allowed me to update my equipment. I've never asked people to be "pure" - just responsible and sensible. To some, like Blake K, that makes me some sort of evil hypocrite but - opinions vary.

Anonymous said...

I must admit I share the sense of revulsion. I saw the Discovery Channel special too, and I was especially disturbed that they did not point out how dangerous the actions of some of the amateur "chasers" were. I think this video is maybe the worst example I've ever seen of taking stupid chances. These guys are actually listening to a local weather guy on the radio and are oblivious to what he's saying and nearly get themselves killed:

My perception was that the guys who shot this video were portrayed as somewhat heroic on the DSC special, for getting such a good video. And in my opinion, the only value in their video is to show you just how ridiculous chasing has become - you'd hope it would click with viewers that these knuckleheads are lucky to still be alive.

Last year, as a freshman studying weather, a graduate student offered to take me storm chasing . . . and I declined, at the risk of being considered cowardly. I just don't trust that most students (and some professors) nowadays have the proper respect for the danger of these storms. There is a thrill in it, no doubt - but safety has to come first. And I really applaud you for point that out as a veteran of meteorology/storm chasing.

Scott said...

For most people the experience of being close enough to a tornado is unique and I can understand them wanting to record the experience.

One of the biggest pet peeves of mine about storm videos is that the vast majority of people making the video won't shut up. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, at 30 fps that's about 30,000 words per second. There is very little that these people can add to the video.

It's gotten to the point where I usually just turn the volume all the way down when watching storm videos.

It would be nice to be able to hear the sound of what is going on without a bunch of stupid comments from the people taking the videos or those around them.

There have been some good videos on Youtube that had minimal talking from the people taking the video. Some have added useful captions at the bottom but these are by far the minority.

I do watch Storm Chasers but again, much of the time the volume is all the way down. Regardless of what some people think of them, they do get some very good video.

I'm guessing that Original Media must require Reed Timmer to jump up and down and call any tornado, no matter how small looking a "huge tornado."

I would expect that he, if anyone, with all of the tornadoes that he has seen, should be able to take pictures and video and be calm about it.

Best wishes to all, I hope that today's expected outbreak somehow has minimal loss of life, injuries, and damage although I expect the opposite.

Isaac Pato said...

Since the video that my friends and I took in Joplin is probably a source of your disgust, I will defend myself. I don't feel that my video is a "public celebration" of a deadly tornado, but I do understand that there will be people who feel that way. I wish that those feelings wouldn't come from you, a veteran chaser whom I respect.

We shared our video of the Joplin tornado with the world, which is our right.

I'm sorry if you found our "whooping" disturbing, but we were excited to see the tornado touch down briefly in a field, we didn't know it was going to get big and tear a swath of damage through Joplin. Yes, we are new to this compared to you. It didn't sink in until the wedge was over the trees churning out debris that it might be deadly. Even then, it was impossible for us to know what was going on underneath it.

I called 911 to report the tornado before we even turned off of the road that we were filming on. I don't claim to have saved any lives through this action but I was completely concerned for the people in its path.

I can't get what I saw from that day out of my head. It was the worst devastation that I have ever seen. As a veteran chaser you must have seen this kind of stuff too. Experiencing it in person is completely different than physically being in ground zero. I'm sure we did exactly what you would have done if you had been there. We went into town and made a difference, however small that difference was, I'm glad we were there to do what we could do.

James Aydelott said...

re: Sean, re: me

Your media accusations are unfortunately true.

I'm just one met at one station, but we're trying hard to buck that trend.

We're trying hard (with management and owner support) to share information and interpretation of that information without blowing things out of proportion. I've actually heard other media meteorologists say that viewers like to be scared. Ugh.

I don't know if there is a long-term solution, and certainly, I don't know what that would be.

Its as if the genie is out of the bottle, and the full decent into idiocracy can't be slowed.

Rob H said...

The Reed argument falls flat if you take a minute to read his Facebook page or the TVN forums. The fans are thirsty for extreme tornado action, and I've witnessed some openly calling for the dissolution of the NWS for opposing Reed's stance on topics before. Others ask Reed if the tsunami from the Japanese earthquake will hit their home in Arkansas or ask Reed to comment on garden variety storms in England. These channels are nothing more than hype machines for a business, and shouldn't be taken as a serious way to educate or warn the masses because that's not why they subscribed to Reed's fan page. It is disturbing to me that these channels are (perhaps mistakenly) used in this manner to some degree, but I don't feel comfortable throwing Reed under the bus for this, because I'm certain he doesn't have an agenda to 'ruin' chasing, explicitly profit from suffering, or disband the NWS.

As for solutions - does giving the media footage for free really help anything? It still feeds a demand for it. Refraining from selling video doesn't accomplish anything, because with the number of people chasing now someone will get video to the media. If it's not a chaser, it will be some local idiot with a cell phone camera risking their life. This isn't really even an issue with chasing, it's part of the larger problem of media sensationalism. While the movie 'Idiocracy' will not likely be added to the Criterion Collection anytime soon, it does a good job of social commentary on what content people want, and how they want it delivered, in the 21st century.

With Roger saying that storm chasing has "now metastasized beyond cure", and Chuck saying that he doesn't necessarily have a solution, it doesn't paint a pretty picture for this idea of a return to the pristine origins of chasing. Is this even a desirable, let alone feasible, goal? It almost seems like railing against a smaller portion of some of our culture's less desirable behavior trends. Even if 'Storm Chasers' was canceled, data wasn't made available, tour companies couldn't get insured, etc. - it wouldn't stop people from using their cell phone cameras to film an approaching tornado and sending it to the local/national news, and it wouldn't stop the public from eagerly consuming it. Killing the supply of storm porn won't kill the demand, and there's really no incentive for the majority of chasers to stop providing it.

Chuck Doswell said...

Rob H ...

How does the "Reed argument fall flat" because he panders to a desire within some segment of the population for sensationalism and extreme risk taking? Just because there's a market for drugs doesn't mean any argument against selling them 'falls flat'!!

btw - I've never "thrown Reed under the bus" - I don't care much for how he goes about his business, nor do I enjoy his self-serving publicity machine, but that doesn't mean what I'm saying about what he does is a personal attack on him. I hate the message, not the messenger!

You say "It almost seems like railing against a smaller portion of some of our culture's less desirable behavior trends." Bingo! To say nothing about these things implies I condone them. You'd prefer I said nothing and bowed to the inevitable, I suppose. That's just not going to happen, so perhaps you should bow to the inevitable: I'm not going to stop expressing my opinions just because you don't like what I'm saying - about Reed and others who put storm chasing in a bad light and encourage others to emulate risky behavior in doing so!

Chuck Doswell said...

Isaac ...

You could solve the problem I have with your whooping and cheering if you simply remove that part of your audio before you upload it in a public venue like YouTube. I'm not asking you to deny your emotions, but I am asking that you not go public with them, given that the events you're so excited to see may have devastating consequences to people who may see your video. Perhaps you are just now realizing that the very same thing that you seek to see is capable of killing and shattering human lives. Imagine how you would feel about yourself, to say nothing of how others might feel about you, if you were heard cheering on some video where someone dies in a traffic accident or is shot by some thug.

Isaac Pato said...

Chuck, there are people that may misunderstand the excitement we show on video when we see tornadoes. However, judging by the vast majority of positive responses to our videos on YouTube, I'd say that those feelings represent a small minority of viewers.

On our videos we never cheer destruction. I understand that when looking at our Joplin video in hindsight—knowing the damage that it caused—it seems a little odd that we are excited to see the tornado touch down. However, the vast majority of tornadoes that I've seen looked the same as Joplin when they touched down (weak and small). Honestly, at that time I thought it was going to be a brief touchdown. My point is, we didn't know it was going to cause death and destruction at that time!

Our cheering is obviously at the tornado and not at the destruction. The person who you describe cheering at violence and murder is a monster. I don't appreciate being compared to that. I love watching tornadoes. I find them fascinating. I hate seeing the damage that they can do. In this video we watch and get excited for the tornado not a bunch of homes getting ripped up. It seems like 95% of YouTube understands that.

Some of our "yelling" is essential communication between each other. Do you advocate that we censor that as well before we upload our video?

If you participate in storm chasing, then you like tornadoes. If you share your pictures and video then you show people that you like tornadoes. What's the difference if you put your viewers in the car with you by sharing the audio as well?

Chuck Doswell said...

Isaac ...

This issue is not being settled by a vote of people offering comments on your video. It's a matter of being sensitive to how some people might see your reactions. You apparently lack that sensitivity.

I certainly understood the origins of your excitement, of course. Your lack of knowledge of the eventual impacts of the tornado is irrelevant to what I'm saying.

If you can't see why the parts of your audio where you're cheering about the tornado could be very upsetting to tornado victims, then this dialog serves no useful purpose. You may not like my analogy, but I think it's appropriate in this context.

Bamawx said...

As much as I enjoy almost all types of weather, including thunderstorms, the April 27th outbreak has certainly tweaked my perspective. I look at chasing and storm spotting as a personal fascination with nature and an outlet to provide a public service. Wishing for or against storms to occur has no bearing on what nature will do. Watching a tornado destroy much of Tuscaloosa Alabama where I once lived, worked on my degrees, and started a family caused me to find those chasers who find glee in watching storms cause death and destruction more distasteful than ever. I always wanted to see a tornado like the one I saw in Tuscaloosa, but not in that situation. I felt helpless watching it approach a town I love knowing what was about to happen. Now I wish infinitely more that it never happened. One of my best friends' wife was permanently disabled by the 11/15/89 Huntsville F4. Witnessing first-hand the Tuscaloosa tornado caused me to spend the last few weeks reevaluating my love affair with weather and chasing. I have been contacted by many young, inexperienced people who think they are ready to chase but are not. I am concerned that the way chasing has been portrayed will contribute to tragedies if it hasn't already. Even some experienced and knowlegeable chasers I know seem to be in it for the publicity (and money - which makes no rational sense to me). That bothers me. I took my video camera out to film thunderstorms in the 1980s while a college student at UA before anyone ever knew my name or cared who I was. I was actually embarassed to admit to friends at the time that I was a "storm chaser". I will probably continue to do the same thing as long as I am able whether I am unknown, famous, or infamous.

Thanks, Chuck, for your contributions to the science and also for your contributions to the idea of ethical and responsible storm chasing.

Sean D said...

re: James, re: me, re: James

I think it's a real challenge to meet the realistic warning needs of the market when the market covers such a large expanse while dealing with the sociological realities of the average TV viewer. Do people in Ardmore care when Woodward's getting slammed? And it's not something that can be helped easily because TV stations' markets have to be large enough for them to be profitable. In Oklahoma and in many other states in the Alley, that means you have to have and entertain large areas.

Now... with the advent of digital TV broadcasts, this can be helped. TV stations can run their regular programming on the main n.1 channel, and run weather warning stuff on the subs (n.2, n.3, and so on...). They can break these down into smaller areas, or they can just have one weather sub. Either way, the choice is left to the viewer as to what they watch. The TV station should just run a crawl on the main to indicate that something's going down on the subs. Or maybe we can take a traditional turn and just put a "W" in the corner of the screen. :-)

Or, if you're worried about people not being auto-tuned to the weather warning stuff, pre-empt the regular main-channel programming with the weather and move the regular main-channel programming to a sub.

Either way, idiots that want to remain as such will have full control over their destinies. And so will those that are interested in seeing the weather warnings.

Is this achievable? What do you think?

Justin Reid said...

I agree to pretty much all of this post. Like you I feel more and more left out of this type of chasing, despite my "young gun" status. In all that I have seen from in the storm chasing community on television and through other media, it's a wonder that I'm even interested in this hobby anymore. I hope this will soon change.

larrycosgrove said...


The recent run of killer tornadoes reveals two needs from the meteorologist and chaser communities.

As you stated, some editing could go a long way, to lessen the "thrill ride" and "sadistic chaser" aspect that seems to be emerging in media. In order for the videos to be newsworthy, however, some of the excitement must be presented. A sense of urgency is a real factor with coverage of storms.

Second, and I think the most important, is that we MUST ramp up forecasting of these storms. Not the NWS warnings and SPC watches, which are usually spot on and more than timely. But rather the LONGER TERM outlooks which I find are badly lacking. In all of the cases of fatal twister outbreaks this spring, the numerical models portrayed the hyper-severe scenarios quite well, as much as 12 days in advance. If we could instill some fear and instruction in the public, I think we could save more lives. But face it, when an F5 roars through a heavily populated area, someone will be injured and perhaps many will die.

Excellent essay Chuck....

Best Regards,
Larry Cosgrove

Steve Hamilton said...

Dear Dr. Doswell, thank you for posting this blog. Clearly there are a multitude of attitudes regarding tornadoes, storm "chasing" (and subsequent "catching"), and all of the human emotions that accompany such a pursuit. In my younger "chasing" days, I was much the same: wild-eyed with excitement and beaming with enthusiasm. Now that I'm an old dog, I like to think I've evolved at least a bit, into more of a "Storm Observer or Scientist". Being an AMS Meteorologist certainly changes my perspective of the type of events we've seen lately.

I cannot, and will not pass judgment upon anyone else who engages in this activity, because I am no better nor worse than any other human being. All I can do is set an example, each time I take the field.

Your perspective on the situation is greatly appreciated. I enjoyed your talk at the National Storm Chaser Convention a few years ago, when you highlighted "safe chasing" and brought this into the forefront, ahead of your time as always.

I feel fortunate to be associated with media as well as with NOAA and NWS. These professions have given me the perspective to not only appreciate the power of severe weather, but also the ability to empathize with those who are affected by it.

I happen to agree with some of the posts here, regarding change and how difficult it is to bring about. While this is a grave concern to me, it is beyond my power to control it. Living, and "chasing" by example is about all I can do, along with counseling those who wish to get into the hobby or science.

Thanks, Chuck.
~Steve Hamilton 6.1.2011

The Synaptic Dissident said...

I can understand what you are saying. I am one of those "amateur" photographers you like to trash. However... I go about it a little bit differently than most...

Its no lie to say that a lot of the videos are pretty garish. However, if you view mine, (my sole one) you might hear alot of "worthless commentary" but in actuality that was me carrying on about it with a good deal of anxiety. My kids were inside hovering in the bathtub covered up with as many blankets and pillows as could be. I went outdoors and filmed it for about two minutes before I lost my nerve, even though it was heading away. (The tornadoes in New York aren't squat compared to the ones that the Midwest has to suffer on a regular basis)

The one I saw up close and personal at a military evolution during a sudden severe thunderstorm would have made an AWESOME video. However, despite having had a video enhanced phone on me, I was content to hunker down and keep my eyes on the damn thing as it passed several yards to my left. I hadn't even realized at the time what I was looking at, but this EF-0 successfully blew down the battalion aid station tent, and the corpsman was giving out triages in her car. (No one was injured thankfully)

Due to my declining health, I have contented myself with the fact that "chasing tornadoes" is a thing of the past, if they come to me, fine. If I remember the video camera phone, great. If I can avoid getting myself or others hurt, all the better. I think however there is more than enough tornado footage going around. I think I do better to pass the tornado warning or tornado emergency on to my social networking sites and then batten down the hatches. My interest is not so much making a name for myself, not so much about acting like an ass, as it is to truly save lives. In the face of a terrifying monster such as the one that ripped through Joplin, 500 camera owners running around like hooligans wasn't going to do a damn thing.


C. Chapman

Chuck Doswell said...

Mr. Chapman,

It's not true that I like to "trash" all amateur photographers - just those who behave with no sense of responsibility.

Steve Flood said...

Hi Chuck, I'm an older storm chaser who is learning to moderate his enthusiasm for storms with reality checks and a shift towards prioritizing relationships with people. I remember how at least one time you mentioned in your blogs how people that are all consumed with storm chasing to the neglect of other matters should GET A LIFE. Well, thats exactly what I am doing!

My wife an I have been separated for 3 years. She moved to England in July 2008, and I am currently working on reconciliation. Where was I on May 24 2011 which was a big tornado day in Oklahoma? I was in England celebrating my twins 16th birthday! My girls need their dad. Soon they will be grown up and gone and I'll never be able to recapture the opportunities that were lost. NOW IS THE TIME FOR ME TO CHANGE PRIORITIES. At 66, I know I wont live forever. When I stand before that Great MIC in the Sky and He asks me what I did with my life, He wont be asking for any tornado videos or rainfall records. He'll be asking, what did you do with the relationships I placed in your life? Did people in your life always feel that they were playing second fiddle to storms and storm chansing?

I respect your position as an atheist. But even as a Christian, I overwhelmingly agree with you that storm chasers should never ignore the harsh reality of what storm damage does to peoples lives, or resort to heartless whooping it up at public expense. What I have read in some of your advice for storm chasers was very practical: Plan well, obey the local traffic laws, be safety conscious, dont core punch, and USE COMMON SENSE!

You may remember me from October 2009 at the NWA meeting in Norfolk: Steve Flood, Meteorologist at HPC.

The Synaptic Dissident said...

I stand corrected. I can also share your dismay with those who do not act responsibly WRT these matters. With the explosion and almost free availability of video-audio recording equipment you're going to see an explosion of "tornado chasing". Its rather like the part in Forrest Gump where he just started running across the nation for the heck of it and pretty soon he had acquired a mass following. You have to admit one thing, when it comes to tornado photography, you were a Forrest Gump. And you have indeed started a trend. I would definitely write a book about all of those experiences if I were you and try to point people toward the smart way and the safe way. It IS maddening to see videos on Youtube (if you search for "driver in car hit by tornado" you will see what i mean) of people taking absolutely senseless risks. You are a gold mine of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to these matters, maybe you ought to toot your own horn a little louder when it comes to staying safe. If it means ONE person heeding your advice and turning back when he might have gotten killed it will be well worth it. -C. Chapman

The Synaptic Dissident said...

Dear sir, I wrote another blog post, warning people that it is preferable to take shelter to trying to film tornadoes if they dont know what they are doing, mentioned you by name... hope you don't mind. -C. Chapman

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll keep this as short as possible. Firstly for some perspective, I live and chase in Western Australia, so I am undoubtedly 'out of touch' with how things happen 'on the plains'. However, I still feel able and compelled to offer my opinion on a couple of points.
First and foremost I have to take exception with Blake K's assertion that Chuck is 'part of the problem'. I have never met Chuck Doswell however I am VERY well versed in his work and career details and with all due respect, to accuse him of being part of the problem is quite frankly laughable. At the risk of drawing Chuck's ire under the 'no sycophant' rule, (which I assure you I am not) EVERYONE within the scientific and chase communities is aware of Chuck's enormous contribution to the field over many years and that his achievements speak for themself.

Second point I'd like to raise is that whilst I have the utmost admiration for Reed and his team, they have undoubtedly become 'suckered in' to the whole TV fame game and the nett result has seen them put up on some kind of pedestal within parts of the chaser community and to the uninitiated they have become the 'official' face of chasing. The problem being, Reed has (rightly or wrongly) 'earned' the reckless tag and in certain sectors this is seen as COOL with all the potential copy-cat ramifications this may have. He has possbily and quite unwittingly been responsible for the second 'wave' of chasers out on the plains, (some of whom are dangerously of ill-equipped and dubiously-motivated) Twister of course being the catalyst for the unprecedented primary explosion of numbers.

I fear that it is only a matter of time until a chaser (or team) become the 'chased' with tragic consequence and that may then force the hand of the authorities to act by whatever available means against chasing, which would clearly not be in the best interests of the scientific community and consequently the wider community at large.

Again, this is written from the perspective of an overseas chaser limited to internet and cable coverage of events.

Kris Wetton. Western Australia