Note: Storm chasing can be dangerous; I do not recommend that anyone try this simply as a lark, or casually. In fact, my recommendation is that you not take it up at all!
Update (08 March 1999): I am honored to say that I received the prestigious Meatwagon Award at the 1999 Severe Storms Conference in Lubbock, Texas ... see here for information about this award.
Storm chasing began for me in 1972, although I had done some very limited chasing on my own before that. That year, I had returned to graduate school (after an involuntary "sabbatical" in the Army) ... I ran into a whole gang of like-minded folks at OU School of Meteorology and at NSSL, so we just went out and did it. My first chase was on 18 April 1972, and I saw my first tornado on 30 April 1972 (near Mangum, OK - See the correspondence by Golden and Morgan in the December 1972 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, p. 1179, Fig. 1). Here is what I (and some other chasers) looked like in 1973, on a chase day I have since forgotten .. I think it was a bust. Of the five of us pictured, three are still in meteorology. Note : the vehicle shown there is what I called my "White Elephant."
Storm chasing figured prominently in my student days and ever since. Since storm chasing requires a forecast, and since successful storm chasing requires a successful forecast, I have become interested in forecasting methods that work. Application of the science of meteorology takes on a special meaning when it affects how well your storm chase efforts pan out. Missing a big one because you missed your forecast, or being in the wrong place when it happens because your foreast was wrong is a painful experience. Sitting out in the middle of nowhere, chunking rocks at lizards and kicking anthills as the sun goes down in clear skies is not fun when you have to pay for the wasted trip out of your own pocket. Pain is a wonderful teacher, and makes us pragmatic: If an idea works, you add it to your toolkit. If it fails, start asking questions about it. Furthermore, if you use something successfully in storm chasing, you want to understand it. Thus, I can argue that storm chasing has made me a better meteorologist than I would have been without it.
To be sure, storm chasing can be an all-consuming passion. (Those interested in chasing need to be concerned about safety.) Students especially need to curb their lust for the big tubes in order to fulfill their obligations as students. Once you have completed your education, there will be plenty of time to make up for missed storms, but if you're a weather freak, it's nice to get paid to do something you love (weather!), and that means you have to think about studies before you rev up the wheels and head out with the gang for the next "big one"!
As indicated in my discussion of photography, I have been able to make my storm chasing hobby be of value to the citizens of the tornado-prone parts of this country, through the development of storm spotter training programs used by the National Weather Service. It also has played a large role in my science, either directly or indirectly. There can be abuses by storm chasers, but clearly the highways belong to everyone and there is no way to keep the "yahoos" from chasing.
In view of the increasingly widespread interest in storm chasing, I have added a personal FAQ list, to minimize the number of times I will have to answer the same old questions. Please consult it before you e-mail me with your storm chasing questions.
StormTrack Megasite, one-stop shopping for chase stuff
Gene Moore, only the best chaser in the whole world (imho) and a fellow old-timer
John Monteverdi, a real professor
Jim Leonard, another chasing old-timer, who also chases hurricanes
Sam Barricklow, a classic case of a dedicated chaser, who also is a spotter
The Tornado Project, your best source for great tornado books and video
Roger Hill, a chaser competing for the mythical #1 spot
Roger Edwards, almost as opinionated as me
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