Honest Question about Hurricane Chasing

Mar 5, 2010
295
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Cascade, CO
Like many of you, I have been watching the Hurricane coverage over the last 24 hours via news and social media. I have been struggling with the actual NEED of hurricane chasing so I thought I would post something there.

When chasers chase potential tornadic storms there is a element of "help" that they are doing. Reporting a tornado on the group actually helps those in the way of the storm. There is actual good being done here.

Can we say that same about hurricanes? When a hurricane arrives, it has arrived. Is it important to report a 121mph wind instead of the 119mph estimated by radar? Does reporting trees down, houses destroyed alert or inform anyone? Do it help keep the public safe Does it actually help???

It seems like Hurricane chasing is purely for thrill and the opportunity to make $$$ selling video. Maybe I am wrong. This is similar to chasing tornado's BUT I think even in our attempt to get video etc, we could be actually helping the public by putting ourselves at risk. I struggle to see this happening with a hurricane.

Can someone help me with this?
 
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Todd Lemery

Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
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I would love to chase hurricanes too, but my wife won’t let me. If she would though, I’d chase them for the same reasons I pursue tornados. Just for the thrill and adventure. I realize that chasers aren’t going to dial up the NWS and give them a surprise update that a hurricane is landing, but as a whole, chasers are very well equipped and ready to help anyone in need they come across. Their presence most likely is an overall positive to the situation. I’ve never heard of chasers having to be rescued after a hurricane.
Dan probably knows best, but I’m pretty confident that you are lucky to cover just gas money selling video.
I’m sure most people chasing hurricanes aren’t doing it to “collect data and save lives” and I’m Fine with that.
 

MClarkson

EF5
Sep 2, 2004
891
27
11
Blacksburg, VA
There are a couple trustworthy veteran cane chasers out there who provide valuable 'ground truth' to back up other data, and take with them calibrated barometers and eyes that are experienced at estimating high wind speeds. Sure it doesn't always matter but its a nice extra data point to have, especially for forecast verification after the fact.
 

rdale

EF5
Mar 1, 2004
6,942
468
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Lansing, MI
skywatch.org
There is no value that any storm chaser provides on the ground in a hurricane. Nothing against them if they want to do that - but even Reed's rockets gave more data than a chaser in Mexico Beach.
 
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When chasers chase potential tornadic storms there is a element of "help" that they are doing. Reporting a tornado on the group actually helps those in the way of the storm. There is actual good being done here.
This is true, but is that the main reason for people chasing severe/tornadic storms? I would bet that regardless of what is said, the main reason people chase is for their own personal gain, whether that be in the form of seeing cool storms, adrenaline, money, etc. Helping, in whatever way, is just a good byproduct of being out there.

Hurricane chasing is just storm chasing with the "help-factor" mostly stripped away, leaving the basis for why someone chases (personal gain) still remaining. I don't feel that's the fault of the chaser, but just how different a land-falling hurricane is vs. a tornado. I see no problem with hurricane chasing as long as you don't put others in harms way or make a situation worse by becoming a victim and burdening first responders.
 
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There is no value that any storm chaser provides on the ground in a hurricane. Nothing against them if they want to do that - but even Reed's rockets gave more data than a chaser in Mexico Beach.
Very true. Hurricane chasing is all about the violent action for most people (including an expanding group of inexperienced individuals) and they are doing increasingly stupid things -- including media outlets. Chase fatalities are inevitable. Such is the draw of social media where the goal is a competition to post the most insane clips.

I provide images for news, safety and editorial outlets. I also volunteer during or after the storm as a Tactical EMT. I generally won't pursue a hurricane unless it strikes in a manner favorable for the type of images my clients want: "Wind and Surge." I will not chase a hurricane unless there is acceptable infrastructure to survive the hurricane's maximum intensity. Nor will I chase a strong hurricane in a vehicle -- driving around as a debris magnet, or to be stranded in a deadly surge (or boring location) by a flat tire(s) or road erosion. I narrowly made it to the final departing ferry during Hurricane Ike or I would have been stuck on Crystal Beach, which was moonscaped.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
As I read the OP, I was formulating a response in my head very similar to @Alex Elmore. I don’t chase tornados to help people. I hope that doesn’t sound bad, it’s just honest. Of course I would help if I had occasion to, but come on, let’s be honest, none of us are going out there just in case we’re needed... Aside from helping with post-storm search and rescue, it is rare that a chaser report results in a warning that wasn’t already issued based on radar, and there is a spotter network for that. Calling in a tornado is like calling in a traffic report - you’re not reporting anything that hasn’t already been reported multiple times. If helping was our primary goal then we ought to become EMTs or other first responders, and/or spotters, not chasers. Like Alex said, helping is a by-product, an accidental by-product in fact. I think the bigger way (only way?) that we “help” is just by adding to the general body of information, knowledge and documentation about storms, whether to the scientific community or laypeople. So I don’t see any difference between the primary goals of hurricane chasing or tornado chasing, although clearly with hurricanes a desire for an adrenaline rush in *experiencing* the storm is probably the greater driver, whereas in tornado chasing it can be that but also may not be, if you choose to keep a distance and just enjoy the beauty and atmospherics. Not much of that in a hurricane, unless you are fortunate enough to experience the clear eye. You need to be *in* a hurricane, you can’t watch it from a distance like a tornado, there is no structure to enjoy like with a supercell.

I would love to chase a hurricane, it’s on my bucket list, but am not at a point in my life where I can drop everything at a moment’s notice for an indeterminate amount of time. I also admit to being perplexed by the logistics of a hurricane chase - how do you get into evacuated areas? Are you even allowed to stay at a sturdy hotel in an evacuation zone? Won’t cops stop you if you are driving around in an evacuated area with a curfew in force? I have read hurricane chasers say it is no problem, but I fail to be able to envision how it would work out. Last thing I need is to travel somewhere far away only to be thwarted by these types of logistical issues.
 
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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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There is really no difference in motives between chasing tornadoes and chasing hurricanes. Virtually no one does either for altruistic reasons. As for money, the situation is the same as with everything else in the video market. It used to be profitable up until 2006 or so. Today most will not make much if anything unless you happen to catch something really crazy. With tropical systems, there is more of a risk of damage to your vehicle, cameras and other equipment that raises the risk of expenses outweighing revenue even back when the money was good. If you lost your car in surge, you might have been barely able to pay for a new one before 2006. Now, you'll take a loss if you trash just your video camera.
 
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There is no value that any storm chaser provides on the ground in a hurricane. Nothing against them if they want to do that - but even Reed's rockets gave more data than a chaser in Mexico Beach.
I'd agree as far as instrument acquired scientific data. But eye witness accounts, video of real conditions and more still play a good role in post storm analysis. But would hurricane research be hampered if that were absent? NO! But there HUMAN factor is critical and I will say that I do provide a real value to people....less so science. I'm OK with that. I've often said I'm the "war correspondent" in the historical weather event field.
 
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rdale

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Mar 1, 2004
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Ehhh - "good" role might be a slight overstatement... In any event if the goal was putting "turtles" down to record constant video and weather obs would probably be more productive. But yes, the video from inside the eyewall was pretty impressive.
 
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The money in the game is dying. No body cares much about weather or other natural disasters. Not much if anything new on TV, cable, etc. Add to that the saturated amount of providers. Yes, we made $70,000+ selling DVDs back in 2004/2005 but those days are gone.
 
Ehhh - "good" role might be a slight overstatement... In any event if the goal was putting "turtles" down to record constant video and weather obs would probably be more productive. But yes, the video from inside the eyewall was pretty impressive.
Good and more importantly equal to tornado chasing. I'm don't want to play some 'us versus them' game about hurricane chasing and tornado chasing. We could site various anecdotal situations all day for weeks on end. Besides, it's gonna keep happening for both. There will be good times and bad. Good people and bad.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
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As for the appeal, I admit a Cat 1 or 2 is pretty boring by most chaser standards. The winds are Plains/Midwest severe storm-caliber and not very impressive. The difference is that they go on for hours as opposed to minutes, and weaker structures and random things can start progressively failing. That can be visually interesting for video. 3s start getting interesting from a wind speed standpoint. Now that I've finally seen a 4+, I can say it is one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring experiences I've ever had as a chaser. It is the most immersive experience of any other extreme weather phenomenon in terms of being a part of such raw power. Tropical chasers like Josh Morgerman and James Reynolds fly around the world at great personal expense to do these without making much in return from video sales, and I can see why now. I will be doing this again if we ever get another chance like this, which we may not for a very long time.
 
It's going to get interesting as chase convergence becomes part of hurricane chasing. One of the big problems has been adding human elements to frames. With most insane storms I've shot there is a lack of people. Now it's possible to humanize imaging as people flock chase to hurricanes. For example: The image below of a surge wave during Hurricane Ike would have been very boring without the (non-encouraged) assistance of a local stuntman.

Ike-11.jpg
 
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Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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Just to illustrate how futile the ENG video market has become: as of right now, I have made no confirmed video sales from Michael despite getting out of the city relatively early and sending out a package of clips hours before most chasers even had cell service back. From what I can tell, the only ones who made sales were those who caught roof damage in progress in Panama City Beach and probably (I have no confirmation) those who have video of themselves losing their vehicles in storm surge. Most everyone else likely made zero or very little revenue.

Doesn't matter to me - the trip was absolutely worth it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Just like I still go to the Plains every year despite making any revenue from those trips most seasons.
 
Just to illustrate how futile the ENG video market has become: as of right now, I have made no confirmed video sales from Michael despite getting out of the city relatively early and sending out a package of clips hours before most chasers even had cell service back. From what I can tell, the only ones who made sales were those who caught roof damage in progress in Panama City Beach and probably (I have no confirmation) those who have video of themselves losing their vehicles in storm surge. Most everyone else likely made zero or very little revenue.

Doesn't matter to me - the trip was absolutely worth it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Just like I still go to the Plains every year despite making any revenue from those trips most seasons.
Really sorry to hear this. You have some really good footage. Back in the day, it would be a 2k+ clip value. With people giving away clips to TWC and other news outlets for $50.00 or less, the market is a dud. This is not to say a single clip could go viral, but that's a long shot. I heard at least one person is in trouble for shooting drone footage over a military base, so why even bother with that. I've just become picky with what I chase and don't waste money and time unless it's something really insane with long term promotional or stock value.
 
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May 6, 2017
43
38
11
Minnesota
Why? Ground Truth! I was trying to get help to a seriously injured woman and her son that stayed in Mexico Beach for the storm. There house was destroyed around them and they had to swim out of the debris and surge. I am NOT trained as an EMT but I did everything I could to help them get into another home that was open. Before anyone gets butt hurt, it is legal to take shelter in times of emergency in most places AND the owner of the home already contacted me and thanked me for getting their fellow towns folk help and shelter.

So I will just drop this here. After EVERY MOFO HURRICANE, I have seen some sort of government response within an hour or two max. Here, I saw ZERO help for Mexico Beach, except for the Flip Flop Flotilla of the Cajan Navy that came in to help, NO OTHERS CAME UNTIL THE NEXT DAY. The only communications that were available was Text Messages and I did get messages out to the media that the town was in short Fd and that the message to send help ASAP due to several injured to the state and county was needed.

As for motives? True weather nerds know the answer, to see Nature at it's worst or best, depending on your point of view.
 
Aug 9, 2012
349
576
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Galesburg, IL
www.facebook.com
I would love to chase a hurricane, it’s on my bucket list, but am not at a point in my life where I can drop everything at a moment’s notice for an indeterminate amount of time. I also admit to being perplexed by the logistics of a hurricane chase - how do you get into evacuated areas? Are you even allowed to stay at a sturdy hotel in an evacuation zone? Won’t cops stop you if you are driving around in an evacuated area with a curfew in force? I have read hurricane chasers say it is no problem, but I fail to be able to envision how it would work out. Last thing I need is to travel somewhere far away only to be thwarted by these types of logistical issues.
You can drive into evacuated areas without a problem generally. I've done this (hurricane chasing) several times and never had an issue. Hotels book up fast, so start looking on the trip out there or have several booked in advance in your target area. Cops won't stop you from driving around during the storm, they are more worried about other hazards and a lot of times there isn't even anyone out during the worst of the storm (police included). Sometimes you can have issues getting over bridges or areas that are closed, however if you have media credentials they tend to let these people in, otherwise you have to settle for areas that are open and viably "safer". But again, once the eyewall hits, most are in sturdy shelter, so this isn't an issue and more a moral issue of how far you want to press the envelope of your own safety. I recommend chasing at least one, even the lower end ones can be very exhilarating with some strong eyewall action. I try to avoid storm surge, flooding in general, I'm not a fan of. High wind, I am a huge fan of, so when I chase, that is what I'm looking for.
 
I just came across this post so I apologize for such a late reply. I have chased a handful of hurricanes ranging from cat 1 (Hermine) to cat 4 (Irma). Honestly, I do it for me. I just enjoy it. I don't ever go trying to pretend I'm doing anything that I'm not. I'm not pretending like anyone NEEDS me there. I just want to experience the storm, ultimately. That said, I don't ever like to feel useless so I do make a legitimate effort to be helpful in whatever ways I can. I have performed rescues before where trees had fallen on a truck, trapping the driver inside, and I will do that in any scenario that arises, but I'm aware that there were others (LEOs) who could have done the same had I not been there. I just happened to arrive first, by chance, and had the gear to cut the trees and remove the driver. I was also chasing with a firefighter and I've got some first responder experience as well so we were aware of how to deal with that particular situation. I also take measurements as I'm sure many of you do and provide consistent updates to the NWS and other entities that need to know. At the end of the day though, those actions are just a byproduct of what I'm there for which is to intercept a hurricane solely for the interest of experiencing and documenting it. I'm sure people would get by just fine and the NWS will have as much info as they need so I know they don't need me to be there, but since I have some personal desire to be there anyway I go ahead and make whatever positive contributions I can. I guess what I'm saying is to just keep things in perspective and do your own thing.
Edit: I saw what Warren Faidley said about things he won't do in hurricanes and it reminded me. I think it's very important to plan your chase for a hurricane more than just "this is my target area". During Hermine I will admit that I was mobile the entire time and it worked out fine being a weaker storm, but even being "just" a cat 1 we still found ourselves in hairy situations with trees falling all around, about a dozen tornado warnings right on us, transformers exploding, and the usual hazards from wind and rain. For the stronger hurricanes (Irma, Harvey), I actually researched locations to set up in a sturdy building where I wasn't in imminent danger of the surge. It was still very intense as our hotel suffered some moderate damage and the ground floor had minor flooding, but we were able to get what I was there for and do it in a relatively safe manner and made it home after a few days. Plus, take extra gas. That has been the biggest lesson I think I've learned. I had one bad experience years ago because I didn't prepare adequately and that lesson has been incredibly important since then.
 
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Jan 31, 2017
83
62
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Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
Hurricane chasing perplexes me. Not sure what the point is, except to be in the middle of extremely bad, high-profile weather. It's not like tornado spotting, in which spotters may be the first to alert the NWS that a tornado has formed. We *know* the hurricane's there. And to go to an island where there's no escape route... Am I alone in feeling that, after this Morgerman is welcomed with hugs and tears, he ought to be grounded for the rest of the hurricane season?
 
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Morgerman is not a scientist, professional journalist, medical responder, etc. He has zero affiliation with anything. As I said before, he's the new breed of chasers, I label them as "storm influencers," the next step in the evolution of chasing. Just be there and survive while snapping a few pictures on their phones and they are heroes. There are no legitimate news crews present to document anything they claim. This could also be done with tornadoes. Just go to a high risk box, wait for something to get hit and show up standing in the debris like Captain America. Then again, he has the right to chase as he wants.

I don't find it surprising that The Weather Channel is promoting this individual, given their recent track history. They seem to gravitate towards trouble, as we have seen of late.
 
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