Thursday, July 16, 2015

More on "extreme" storm chasing, part 2

Recent events reveal that a prediction I made long ago apparently has been verified.  I'm not happy about that, however.  Sadly, a storm chaser has been charged with running a stop sign and killing two people in the resulting collision.  Time will be needed to learn the details, and to determine whether or not he is guilty as charged.  If this storm chaser was actually chasing at the time, and the fatalities are proven in court to be his responsibility, this will be a very sad time in the history of storm chasing.  It's another predictable but terrible "milestone" in storm chase history, just as 31 May 2013 will live in infamy because of the unfortunate deaths of three storm chasers who were hit by the El Reno, OK tornado.  Although Tim Samaras and the Twistex team were quite responsible storm chasers, their objectives required them to take extreme risks.  Note:  at this point, I have no idea if this chaser is routinely irresponsible in his chasing, but it only takes one incident of irresponsibility to ruin everything.  Hence, although some of this blog may not apply to him, it's the incident that has caused me to reflect on extreme chasers, who engage freely in life-threatening acts.

Extreme (or "outlaw") storm chasing has become relatively widespread, likely in part because of what people routinely see in entertainment media.  It's not reflective of the majority of chasers, but extreme chasers apparently like to think of themselves as "above" most other chasers.  The whole notion of being an "extreme" chaser is considered in those circles as a badge of honor, worn with pride by those willing to do virtually anything to catch a sensational event, right up to the edges of death.  Those of us advocating a responsible approach to chasing have been ignored openly.  Further, we've even been bashed in social media by some of the extreme chasers, who enjoy flaunting their disrespect for advocates of responsible chasing.  I certainly have been singled out by some as a target for their antipathy.  It's precisely that sort of macho bravado that concerns me:  I predicted that fatalities inevitably would result from extreme chasing and, in this case, being right is cold comfort.

This case is even worse than having chasers die in a tornado chase.  Having one's actions result in the death of two innocent people simply going about their business is worse, as I see it, than a chaser dying as a result of doing dangerous things around a storm.  I've said all along the greatest threat to chasers is being on the streets and highways, and that threat includes any non-chasers who happen to be in the path of a chaser doing extreme things.

Years ago, my wife and I were chasing - I think it was in Nebraska but I can't recall - and we came upon the scene of a collision in a small town (with brick streets).  A chaser had T-boned some locals, although apparently without serious injuries.  The chaser's vehicle wasn't one we recognized; it had some decals that indicated it was a chaser, however, and had CO license plates.  Although we didn't see the collision, it seemed evident that the local driver had underestimated the speed of the approaching chaser (who likely was exceeding the in-town speed limit) and tried to cross the intersection before the chaser came through.  I never heard anything afterward about this wreck, so evidently the media never picked up on it.  With today's social media, we'd probably have heard more about what happened and who was responsible.  This was a very sobering consideration - many extreme chasers are quite ready to admit they often exceed speed limits in their efforts to get a storm*.  I've seen their own videos showing them speeding, driving on the wrong side of the road, running stop signs, etc.!

I'm unaware of any fatal collision initiated by a chaser before the current example.  However, if any such wreck has happened in the past, we just may not know about it.  Although not as well-known, it seems some inexperienced chasers were killed by the Tuscaloosa, AL tornado two years before the sad death of Tim Samaras and his team.  The AL fatalities didn't receive a great deal of media attention, so there could be earlier incidents of chaser-responsible traffic fatalities about which we haven't heard.  If extreme chasers continue to be irresponsible, my forecast is that there surely will be more examples!

The "outlaw" chaser, perhaps seeking to borrow from the romanticized image of the fictional anti-heroes so popular in the entertainment industry, is not a flattering image for storm chasers.  I certainly have become quite tired of having to answer for the irresponsible deeds of "extreme" chasers.  These are not just playful antics or about the courage of the chaser - they represent a real hazard to the extreme chasers and those who happen to be near them in the heat of a chase.

*I won't claim I never exceed the speed limits, but I certainly would not want to speed through a small town - not just to avoid getting a speeding ticket, but because it isn't a very responsible thing to do.  If I occasionally speed in open country, it's not something I would choose to boast about with the media.  It's behavior I prefer not to advertise as something of which to be proud!


lawman446 said...

I choose to be a Skywarn spotter rather than an actual chaser. I would guess the meteorologists would much have my live storm report, than an up close picture of a tornado destroying somebodies property. Leave the chasing to the experts. Get the "ground truth" for the men and women behind the scenes working the Weather Service Offices. I admire your work.

Shawn Hildebrand said...

I'm a trained storm spotter and also an amatuer chaser, however I chase responsibly obeying the laws. I've seen the disrespect that "extreme chasers" have for others and themselves, just to have that closeup picture and or video. It's not worth it to risk your life and others to get that close to tornado. In my humble opinion one way to curb that is [which may not come to fruition] to crack down on media outlets paying these "extreme chasers" for those up close shots of severe weather. A lot of these chasers make their living that way. It's just a thought. i agree with Mr Doswell that we will see fatalities future forward fro, extreme chasers.