Why Meteorologists Chase Storms

By By Cory Mottice, Meteorologist
June 03, 2013, 6:18:03 AM EDT

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As a professional storm chaser myself, I know all too well the things people associate with storm chasers. I can't count the number of times that I was told I only chase storms to see the destruction severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can cause, or that I only chase to make money from my videos.

While the power of tornadoes, and severe weather in general, is breathtaking, we by no means ever want to see a tornado make a direct hit on any populated area, or even hit a lone house in the open country. Sure, we hope to see a tornado or two when we go out chasing, but we want to see it in the middle of an open field, miles away from any kind of structure. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. We have seen far too many times this year alone the destruction a tornado can cause. Just look back at the Joplin, Mo., tornado or the massive outbreak in the middle of April. These are some of the worst weather-related tragedies in history, and we need to do whatever we can to try to prevent catastrophes like these in the future. One life lost is one too many.

As meteorologists, we have a responsibility to keep the public safe in any way possible. Whether that means waking up all your family and friends in the middle of the night to keep them safe or even posting some sort of warning on Facebook or Twitter, just a small act like this might save a life.

So back to the point at hand, why do meteorologists chase storms? Simply put, we do it to save lives. When we are out chasing storms, we have the best forecasting tool available, our eyes. Unlike radar and satellite imagery, we can see what is going on in realtime. We don't have to wait five minutes for the next radar scan to come in, instead we are watching it as it is happening.

Tornadoes can spin up in a matter of seconds, and last for only a minute or two. If the tornado forms between radar scans, there is no way for the NWS to know that this is happening. This means that a tornado warning may not be issued, and the public would then be unaware of the dangers that are ahead. This is where storm chasers can mean the difference between life and death for someone else.

If we see any indication of a tornado forming, we will immediately contact the NWS and tell them what we see. They will then issue a tornado warning to alert the general public. Even though this warning may only be issued minutes in advance, it could save someone's life.

In the unfortunate event that a tornado does strike a populated area, we help out in whatever way we can, whether that means freeing people that are trapped under debris or handing out water to those in need.

Another priority for some storm chasers is to conduct research so we better understand how tornadoes form. Reed Timmer and his crew are a great example of this, risking their own lives to collect data on tornadoes. This data will hopefully one day provide meteorologists with a better understanding of how tornadoes form, which would in turn mean more lead time for warnings.

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