Wednesday, May 14, 2014

More on "extreme" storm chasing

Recent tornado situations once again have produced incidents where chasers have found themselves in danger from tornadoes, and narrowly escaped serious injuries or death.  Then, to compound the irresponsibility of such actions, they post their "I'm in the tornado!" videos as a digital badge of their "courage".  And they license such videos, hoping to get them aired - for a price, of course.

I've talked about this at some length before, and expressed my concerns.  But a recent Facebook post accused those critical of "extreme" chasers as being "haters", encouraging the posters of extreme videos to keep up their actions in the face of any criticism.  Chasers unwilling to risk themselves by getting close to tornadoes are called "sissies" or worse.  The particular subset of chasers represented by such extreme attitudes has been with us for quite a while.  They rightly say we have no power to stop them from what they choose to do.  I expect to change no one's mind with this blog.

The loss of the Twistex chase team on 31 May last year in the El Reno tornado has sent a message to all chasers:  even seasoned veterans trying to be as safe and responsible as possible (while trying to carry out an inherently dangerous mission) can make a mistake in certain situations.  The El Reno HP supercell storm produced a large, "wedge" tornado, moving somewhat erratically, wrapped in rain.  By getting in close to the mesocyclone where situation awareness became difficult, many chasers were putting themselves in danger and several had some narrow escapes, in addition to those who did not manage to escape.  Many of us came away from that experience with the new (and old) lessons for safety becoming increasingly relevant to us in our chasing decisions.  Many of us learned several lessons from the tragic outcome of 31 May 2013 - but of course, the "extreme" crowd has already demonstrated this year they have learned little or nothing from the loss of their friends and chasing colleagues.  Some of those lessons were already known from the now decades-long history of storm chasing, some came from that terrible day.  That some chasers would ignore these lessons was, unfortunately, a predictable response from that group of extreme chasers who consistently thumb their noses in defiance at anyone critical of their behavior, sneering contemptuously at those whom they label as "haters", and referring to them as "sissies" for not indulging in dangerous behavior of the sort they crave.

I have no problem with someone selling their stills and video from storm chasing.  I've been doing it for a long time, and it's helped pay for the costs of storm chasing - but the tally sheet at the end of most years tells me I just about break even with my sales.  That's fine by me - I continue to think of storm chasing as a hobby, not a profession, so I do it for the fun and excitement of being able to witness the awesome spectacle of severe storms.  I shoot stills and video to capture the moments during a chase and - to sell if I can.  I don't chase "competitively" with anyone and I'm never jealous of someone else's success.  All I care about when it comes to the extreme chasers is that when they broadcast their near-death experiences and contempt for responsible behavior, they do two things that concern me:
  1. They glorify doing dangerous things that could result in their fatalities and those who chase with whom they chase.  This confirms the bias the media have in regarding storm chasers as crazy.  It reinforces an image of chasing that's not appropriate for most of us.  In effect, it's promoting an inappropriate stereotype applied to all of us.
  2. They encourage others to emulate their behavior, perhaps in hopes of achieving fame and fortune as a chaser, or perhaps just for the adrenaline.  Real fame and fortune, of course, is just an illusion for all but a very tiny fraction of chasers who have marketed themselves as "extreme", only a few of whom actually know what they're doing well enough to become rich and famous for their exploits.
If someone has video of a near-fatal encounter, the most valuable thing they could do with that is to use that footage to present and discuss what mistakes they made in getting into that situation, in order to help other chasers not to make the same mistakes.  Several experienced chasers have done just that - admitting they made a mistake, accepting the responsibility for it, and then sharing that information in a way that helps other chasers.  This is something extreme chasers never do, whereas many experienced, responsible chasers have already done so.  Sadly, extreme chasers don't seem to want to use their errors to help others - it's all about them, not even remotely about the storms.  Their actions speak so loudly, I can't hear the words they're saying.


Chuck Doswell said...

Additional note:
I often hear things like "It's none your business what I do!" Whenever someone behaves irresponsibly in a public medium, it's my business to speak my mind about it. If you don't like criticism, then either stop doing irresponsible things, or stfu. You have no business telling me what is or is not my business.

Rodney Nonamaker said...

Very well put sir! I recently had an incident and I sat down the next day and did a long detailed recount of the incident followed by what I have learnt and will be taking away for future chases. Enjoyed this blog post!

Anonymous said...

Very well written my friend. Very well written.

James Menzies NEWS 9 Storm Tracker.

Kerry Burns said...

What I do not get is what is all the hype over two chasers getting to close. I have a stake in this because one is my son. Not once have I ever told him to not get to close. He is a very knowledgeable when it comes to weather. He is also a grown man, I would trust him with my life and in fact have been with him. When I told him that I finally wanted to go see a tornado after he was into this hobby for 5 years or so, I said let's go. He drove us right to one which happened to be I guess an F4 in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He does know what he is doing. He would by NO means put his life or others in danger on purpose. He was close and was videoing and so what? The amateurs can see for themselves through the video, what needs to be said. Who's to say that this training video is over? What is sad is that, without volunteers to get footage of anything dangerous, we wouldn't have any videos. Imagine people jumping in the water with great white sharks, jumping off cliffs,race car driving chasing tornadoes or any other dangerous sport or hobby. We do what we do, we live by our own virtues, not ones of others.

I think you should be praising chasers who warn the public and do search and rescue as well. Instead guys like yourselves beat down the good that comes from information given by men like them. Without men like the two your talking about life in the fast lane would be slow or come to a stop.
Then what would you write about?

Kerry Burns said...

What is different about Storm Chasing compared with other dangerous sports or hobbies. With out video of the particular sports or hobbies one I would think find life a bit boring. We see video's of people in the water with great whites, cliff diving, race car driving at 275 mph, rock climbing, tight roping across the Grand Canyon and Storm Chasing. People can think it is nuts other people find it fascinating. It is the choice of the individuals to be who they are. If you disagree with the actions of these men you must also disagree with the actions of other seekers looking for the unknown and also the thrill. What is it about the weather that make it so different from the other attractions. What say you?

Chuck Doswell said...


I appreciate that you have confidence in your son's judgment. Unfortunately, I don't share your confidence. The video shows clearly that they were in that position to be in danger from a tornadic storm as a result of their chase decisions. You likely don't have the context to understand my concerns regarding the showing (and sale) of such video, but I will try anyway. When chasers put out such video, they encourage others to emulate them. Even experienced chasers make mistakes and errors in judgment, but it seems unethical to me to seek to capitalize on your mistakes and add fuel to the criticism that storm chasers are basically lunatics. I get concerned because their public airing of bad judgment encourages the faulty stereotype of stupid chasers putting themselves deliberately in harm's path.

Your logic is flawed in your second comment: "If you disagree with the actions of these men you must also disagree with the actions of other seekers looking for the unknown and also the thrill." No, that conclusion does NOT follow from the premise of disagreeing with the actions of these chasers. Not all participants in dangerous hobbies behave irresponsibly. The road to hell can be paved with good intentions, after all.

I have written extensively about this in web essays and blog posts. Perhaps you should consider reading some or most of that in order to gain a more extensive understanding of what constitutes responsible storm chasing.

The degree to which chasers constribute to saving lives is greatly exaggerated ... typically by the chasers seeking to rationalize their actions. Chasers are not out there chasing to save lives ... chasing is a basically selfish activity. If they want to save lives, they should become spotters for their communities, or get trained and become first responders.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck. This "living on the edge" strikes me as being part of the bigger picture of our modern society where self-destructive choices made by some people necessarily affect us all through our out-of-control litigious system and "social safety net" that requires you and me to cover some (if not all) of the financial and legal costs racked up by idiots who are attracted to danger (severe weather, smoking, drug use/abuse, and myriad other things) that give them a sense of excitement but ultimately harm or kill them. What I fault you for doing here is failing to identify the ultimate problem with "extreme chasing" which is that you and I wind up paying a higher cost of living because their bad decisions. Whether you "care" about these people is another matter, but when people make bad choices in their lives that wind up costing me money, you and I should have every right to interfere and stop them because our bank accounts are being dragged into these deadly tornadoes without our approval. That's what's really wrong here. Kurt Nielsen

Chuck Doswell said...


You evidently have identified what you see as your primary concern. I share that concern but it's not my primary incentive for opposing the glorification of "extreme" chasing, which includes:

1. The tendency of many non-chasers to make the unwarrant assumptions about thebehavior of all chasers, based on the behavior of these blatantly irresponsible chasers, and,
2. The encouragement of equally irresponsible emulators.

Chris Webster said...


"Without video of the particular sports or hobbies one I would think find life a bit boring."

It is quite humorous to think that the magnificent human mind could possibly be in a permanent less-than-satisfied-state if not for videos of extreme sports and stunts. To even think we could be "bored" without the existence of extreme video seems to be a classic trap/lie of mass media. Any adult, of sound mind, should be embarrassed to ever utter the words “I am bored”.

Like anyone else, I have been to many events and meetings in which the content of those events could be described as "boring", yet the activity of my own mind during such events has always prevented me from being "bored". If people can fully embrace that last sentence, I think they will find one of the keys to real happiness.

Garrett Fornea said...

I'm not entirely a great fan of such extreme videos being posted at all...unless it's done by someone such as Reed Timmer. That said, I DO get really tired of reading "INSANE" and "EXTREME" and "INCREDIBLE" being at the beginning of most of his tornado video titles. A lot of this "extreme chasing" can probably be attributed to his influence anyway.
But I digress. My point here is in memory of the infamous Kansas Turnpike video, with the tornado that succeeded the Andover F-5 amidst the same parent storm. I recall you as once saying that they just need to stop airing that video, with all its influence on taking shelter as overpasses. You can use such "extreme video" to teach people that it's not a good idea, but in the end...monkey see, monkey do.
Though I intend to write novels about the lives of college-age storm chasers and their friends (and actually teach SOMETHING legitimate about the weather and chasing), I have concern about an upcoming movie called "Into the Storm" which I feel may encourage this kind of "extreme chasing" behavior.