Amateur storm chasers cause headaches for emergency spotters

Steve Miller

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Original: http://www.naplesnews.com/weather/375395951.xhtml

The storm chasing frenzy is causing headaches for emergency personnel in severe weather situations, such as happened Sunday.

On several occasions Sunday, the control operator for Wichita County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARE), the volunteer storm spotter group, had to shoo amateur storm chasers from their closed radio frequency. But the main problem is traffic congestion as amateur chasers converge on roads where severe weather is developing.

"The country is inundated with these people," said Charlie Byars, who is ARES coordinator for nine North Texas counties."

"Safety is our main issue," said Byars, who noted that as many as 100 amateur storm chasers may converge on the area when the potential for tornadoes is high.

He said they will sometimes park in the middle of a road to watch and photograph an approaching storm. His group has begun calling law enforcement to clear away congested roads.

"We do not think storm chasing is a good idea," said Rick Smith, Warning Coordinator for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., the bureau responsible for Wichita Falls and much of North Texas. "We don't condone it."

To illustrate the potential danger of chasing, Smith points to an incident in May 2013 where four chasers were killed by tornadoes near El Reno, Oklahoma, two of whom were seasoned chasers.

"That's a sobering reminder that it's not as cool as it looks on TV, Smith said.

He said the tornado-chasing phenomenon began with the release of the movie "Twister," in 1996. The movie, which combined romance, villains, and unrealistic meteorology, glamorized tornado chasing. Since then, video captured by tornado chasers has become regular fodder on some cable TV channels.

Byars said some amateur chasers will drive hundreds of miles from their homes for a chance to photograph a tornado. The phenomenon seems to have special appeal to foreigners who do not have tornadoes in their own countries, he said.

One intruder on the spotter radio network Sunday was an Australian, who continued arguing against his exclusion from the frequency into Monday afternoon.

"We try to be nice. We hate to be rude," Byars said. "But we don't know who these people are or if they know what they're doing."

Intruders on the net are told they are welcome to listen — but not to talk.

In addition to tornado chasers, Byars tells of "tornado safaris" in which companies charge customers thousands of dollars to participate in a tornado hunt.

Storm spotters are different than storm chasers. Members of the local ARE undergo extensive weather and safety training and serve time as trainees until they qualify to spot storms on their own. Spotters are typically assigned to an observation point and move only when they're in danger or asked to mover by the network controller. Chasers actively pursue storms, sometimes at high speeds.

Smith praises the value of trained spotter groups such as the one in Wichita Falls, which he calls one of the best in the country.

"They are doing life-saving work," he said.

The spotter group here communicates with the weather service and with emergency managers in area communities who decide if storm sirens should be sounded. While weather technology has become sophisticated, no radar can "see" a tornado, Smith said. Confirming a twister depends human eyes on the ground.

Sunday night, radar had a strong indication one storm cell could become tornadic and the weather service issued a tornado warning for part of Wichita County. ARE spotters never saw a tornado and none was confirmed.

The Sunday storm produced strong wind and large hail in southwest Oklahoma and gave Wichita Falls 1.37 inches of welcome rain. Another storm before dawn Monday temporarily knocked out electricity to about 2,400 customers in the Wichita Falls area and dropped small hail — but added nothing to the official rain gauge near Sheppard Air Force Base.
 
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Nov 4, 2008
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texasstormchasers.com
Another case of officials getting butthurt about storm chasers in their 'territory'. Many of the chasers I saw out on Sunday were behaving and probably had more experience than 80% of the 'trained spotters' out there. That doesn't excuse bad behavior - but this does provide another example of why I never bothered getting my HAM license. Its so much better to just talk to the NWS directly and 'bypass' a third party.
 
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Mar 9, 2016
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I wonder if the Australian was Daniel Shaw, I doubt it, he doesn't seem like the type of person to argue. I also saw a post on Facebook about an experienced chaser being blinded by extremely bright amber lights from another chaser in front of him...
 
Mar 31, 2015
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Sounds like a bunch of "trained spotters" are getting their feelings hurt and are looking down at chasers as "amateurs" and assuming they don't have any training. Maybe I'm reading it wrong but it sounds like they think everyone who isn't a "trained spotter" is there to do nothing but take pictures and block the road. Get over yourselves.
 

Mike Marz

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This is why I will never have light-bars, hail-guards, bumper-stickers, or any other things on my vehicle that would give anyone the idea that I am storm chasing. I am not a storm chaser. I am just out there going for a nice Sunday drive. Sure, my license plate says I live in Minnesota. It isn't illegal to travel the country on a nice leisurely drive is it? The headline to this story is as follows "Amateur storm chasers cause headaches for emergency spotters" .... What the hell is an emergency spotter? A "trained" spotter sitting on top of a hill in a fire truck reporting a rain shaft wedge tornado...? What is an "Amateur storm chaser"? Someone who actually moves around and gets into the correct position inside of an HP supercell to see the area of interest? They want to call law enforcement to keep people away from storms??? Like when the law enforcement on Brandon Clements live stream stopped traffic IN THE PATH of a tornado??? They don't condone storm chasing, they don't think it is a good idea ................ let the "emergency spotters" and law enforcement have all the fun... Well, I don't condone skydiving, or bungee jumping, hell I don't even like flying. There are many unsafe things in this world, but I get physically angry and actually want to get into a fist fight when I see these types of articles. Stop chasing and stay away from areas that are forecast to have tornadic supercells.... Ok, so just stop doing one of the only things that I love to do on this earth. Give us a break.
 
Similar to what has been previously stated, the issue I have with this article is that they try to classify professional/amateur storm chasers/storm spotters, which can't be done. Are they promoting the idea of attempting to ban amateur chasers? Any experienced storm chaser started as an "amateur". Who cares why you're out there, whether it is for a hobby, media, reporting, or science. Everyone out there thinks they are justified in some way to be out there chasing. Just don't be stupid or obnoxious and everyone can get along.
 

Mike Marz

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Mar 11, 2014
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I also really hope they are not referring to Daniel Shaw. He is very good at what he does. If they are referring to Shaw, I think he should just drop the whole spotting aspect, and just get out there to enjoy the storms. Don't even bother with the radio and calling in reports if they don't appreciate it. Half the time I am watching his live stream I hear crazy redneck sounding hillbillies saying "hee haw dem der its a tornaduh jim bob look at all dat der rotashun in dem clouds" all while Shaw is trying to chime in and tell these guys that the storm is completely outflow dominant and has zero tornado chance at the moment.
 
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Jan 14, 2011
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These news articles will only get worse unless we fight back with full video from our chases. Nothing shuts up the armchair critics and wayward chicken littles faster than video evidence.

If you have archived video of your ENTIRE chase from this day, please let me know and I will add it to this page I created for the Kansas coverage last year. I've edited the page to add Texas to the list.

http://stormhighway.com/blog2015/april2815a.php
 
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Jeff Duda

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That article was about 10 paragraphs longer than it needed to be.

The TL;DR: a lot of storm chasers were in north Texas Sunday night. One of them stopped in the middle of the road briefly. Another got on the "closed" radio frequency for the local ARES group and argued with them over something. This kind of thing annoys a radio operator and some law enforcement officers...for a few days each year. WAH WAH WAH.
 

Matt Salo

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Feb 22, 2015
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I would agree that the numbers have gotten a bit out of hand. 20 years ago, I never saw another chaser on the roads (at least not that I knew of). However last I checked, "Storm Chasing" itself is not illegal, and should never be illegal. (Free country and all). But the real issue isn't the "storm chasing", it's the moronic actions by some chasers (ie: blocking roads, extreme speed, wreckless driving, insane blinding lightbars, etc.) that are causing the problems, and some of those actions are illegal. Law Enforcement and the media just like to focus on the fact that they are "storm chasers", and not that they are just idiot drivers, violating traffic laws, or trespassing on private property.
 
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Matt Salo

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Feb 22, 2015
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Also... I like how they call it "The Storm Chasing Frenzy!!" LOL. Frenzy? Maybe for some real n00bs, but for most of us that have been doing this for a long time, it's not a "frenzy". Hell, I wouldn't even call it a hobby. It's more of a way of life.
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Always two sides to a story and this issue is no different.

Although the vast majority of chasers out there follow the rules of the road and don't endanger others, there are always a few bad apples. I don't think it's a widespread or major issue, but there are many examples of chasers/spotters doing stupid things in the field. It's just a fact.

I've honestly missed getting some footage before because I wasn't in a safe spot to pull off the road/get out the camera.
 
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Todd Lemery

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A couple of things stuck out to me in that little whine-fest of an article. First the claim of the "extensive" weather and safety training that spotters go through. I'm sure most people on this site have done the spotter training already and can attest that while being a good basic beginner instruction, it sure as hell doesn't qualify as "extensive" in my book. A lot of this sites users have more knowledge hiding underneath their fingernails than what it takes to qualify as a spotter.
The other thing that caught me eye was that their may be as many as, OMG, get ready for it, as many as (gasp) a hundred chasers in a general area around a storm! Wow! They fail to mention which ones of those hundred chasers shouldn't be allowed there. I must be old fashioned because I've always thought that law abiding citizens were free to move about the country as they wish. I don't hear anybody crying about 1000 people a day visiting Old Faithful, which happens to sit on a huge volcano.
I know everybody likes having a storm to theirselves, but the only way around that is doing what some people do and veer off their main target toward a secondary one that doesn't get as much attention. Maybe the spotter whiners could notice that "their" area is already covered and go back to their mom's basement and let the 100 chasers take care of the reporting.


Sent from my iPad using Stormtrack mobile app
 
Jan 14, 2011
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Yes, I would say that whoever scolded Daniel Shaw - if that is indeed who they are referring to - owe him a public apology. Daniel puts many of us to shame in the quality, accuracy and professionalism of his reports. That's simply uncalled for to reject that kind of information, much less brag about doing it in a national news article. I think a more appropriate article is to alarm the North Texas public about the dangers of their little spotter net cliques rejecting quality information from experienced individuals. It's been well known that many spotter nets are "closed groups" that are not open to outside information, and if I was a resident, I'd be concerned about that.
 
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Ahh the annual "there are too many chasers getting in the way" article. At least we're getting it out of the way early this year.

From what I could tell it was a little busier than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary. I guess Kingfisher years ago will always be what I compare any convergence to, and Sunday was nothing of note that I could see.

Personally, if I were receiving reports I'd much prefer them from a chaser. They are closer to what is going on and because they are actively pursuing they also give a lot more warning time if something indeed touched down rather than someone who is stationary at a designated place a few miles from town.
 
Mar 9, 2016
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Plattsmouth, Nebraska
That Australian "intruder" happens to be Daniel Shaw and he has done some great work with the HAM radio and general storm spotting
It's literally his first week back in the U.S. (Not even a week yet) and already media are trying to talk crap on him, he happens to be attempting to save lives and if it happened to be the only frequency I could get on to, I would do it too, I was watching his stream last night and the night before, last night he had a funnel but no frequency to report it on. There shouldn't be "closed" storm spotting frequencies, what happens if there is a tornado on the ground heading for a town and he can't get a frequency to report it on or submit a report into SpotterNetwork soon enough?
 

Shane Adams

Always two sides to a story and this issue is no different.

Although the vast majority of chasers out there follow the rules of the road and don't endanger others, there are always a few bad apples.
That's exactly the point. Of course there are a few exceptions, of course there are a few bad apples. But this article, like every other one just like it the past decade, continues to broad brush ALL chasers into the same little butthurt target zone. That's what pisses chasers off. Hell, if we're being thorough, why not allow me to pen a nice little ditty of an article about the many myths (and truths) of storm spotting? Like the fact any spotter under the age of 70 probably knows significantly less than any chaser who's been out there a couple years. How about the fact that in situations where people WILL die, they do so while the net controllers are disputing, questioning, or kicking out completely real experienced reports...all because they don't know Bubba, Claude, and didn't go to Mildred's Sunday brunch last weekend...screw saving lives when someone's busting protocol!!!!

It really is an unfortunate reality that these small town folk just don't like anyone who's not from their neck of the woods. They feel the need to be responsible for everything, including making inaccurate reports (they believe save lives) while disallowing any other report not because it's bad information but because their accent is funny, or they're from out of town, or they have a weird callsign. I've said it before and I'll continue screaming it until the day I stop breathing: it is not against ANY law to be PRESENT around severe weather. Until this changes (and it won't keep me away even if it does), these people (and all like them) can collectively F off.
 
Jan 14, 2011
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I've been doing some digging and I have a feeling this story may become bigger - soon.

Please put the word out. If any chasers had video running on Sunday and captured the exchange on the Wichita Falls spotter net, we need that ASAP! Thanks in advance!
 
May 1, 2011
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Purely anecdotal. But take this for what it's worth. Reasons I've encountered chaser "convergence"

1.) Emergency vehicles blocked or narrowed road options. In several cases, actually trapping traffic into hail cores, or retrograding rope tornadoes.

2.) Locals stopping in the middle of road next to me to ask what that dark cloud is. And then I need to hear a 20 minute story about that one time their brother's girlfriend's dad's uncle saw a tornado once.

3.) Exciting long duration storm in the middle of nowhere with limited road network and the tallest object on the horizon was a prairie dog.

4.) I once saw what looked like 200 red dots on radarscope on a road I was parked next to. Didn't see a soul near me.

Even if there's just one storm on a moderate risk day, I might see the same 40 chasers go by over and over. I think the popularity of this hobby is way overblown and we actually get lumped into local traffic, local interest, local response, and local law enforcement. And yet being "the face" of a weather related hobby, storm chasers will always be the scapegoat no matter who is causing problems. They can do no wrong.


Maybe we should do a high risk stand down. Nobody "chases" just let the locals do their thing all on their own. Then let all of the footage of clogged roads, bad etiquette and clogged channels speak for themselves.