Storm chasing and the 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

  • Please note the forum rules were updated today. You may review them by clicking here
Mar 3, 2012
39
16
11
31
Hillsdale, MI
I saw some videos in the central/western Illinois area that looked very bare and thought nobody was out lol. Of course it was a very small sample size. I had been weighing out in my head how the "stay at home orders" causing less traffic on the roads and the moderate risk/people with more free time, would correlate to a typical year. I was hoping traffic would be lighter due to all of this, but I guess the moderate area wasn't enormous, it was a somewhat rare opportunity in the area and I'm sure all the chasers out were going after the same cells.

So I guess chaser convergence, overcame the extra traffic that would normally be on the road?
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
554
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
I saw some videos in the central/western Illinois area that looked very bare and thought nobody was out lol. Of course it was a very small sample size. I had been weighing out in my head how the "stay at home orders" causing less traffic on the roads and the moderate risk/people with more free time, would correlate to a typical year. I was hoping traffic would be lighter due to all of this, but I guess the moderate area wasn't enormous, it was a somewhat rare opportunity in the area and I'm sure all the chasers out were going after the same cells.

So I guess chaser convergence, overcame the extra traffic that would normally be on the road?
Granted I was by myself and my perspective was limited to where I was at on several individual storms that I pursued. It certainly wasn't anything like Oklahoma or Kansas on a higher end day, but I don't ever remember seeing this many chasing people in Illinois previously.

Possible enhancement factors were the fact that it was the first higher end (looking at it from the risk level) setup of the season outside of Dixie Alley and people just want to get out and chase after winter ebbs away, synoptically it did have substantial tornado potential going into early yesterday morning, it was a Saturday, more people are working from home or laid off and most universities are closed, and this was a situation where threat levels were ratcheted up several days early, there was a lot of discussion on social media prior, and anyone paying attention to models would have seen the potential for a substantial severe weather event or if you just look at SPC forecasts, even they changed the Day 3 outlook and had a MDT in place by the morning Day 2 outlook.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jamie G Cox
Jan 14, 2011
2,941
2,744
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
The past couple of times I've filled up at the pump, I've observed no one else taking any precautions like using gloves, wipes or paper towels. Although none of those anecdotal observations have involved other storm chasers, I think the lesson is that I don't think we can trust the community as a whole - and that would include the chase community - to be diligent when it comes to sanitation. If there are 100 chasers on a given event, it's probably reasonable to assume that at least a tenth of them aren't going to bother with being vigilant at avoiding possible disease transmission at gas pumps, bathrooms and food establishments.

If a chaser has convinced themselves that interstate chasing during a global pandemic even in areas with non-essential travel restrictions is OK, how can we trust that they are also taking their disease transmission risks seriously? It is logical to conclude that a lax stance on chasing during this pandemic is inevitably going to encourage many careless types to chase in areas they shouldn't, which WILL result in the virus being introduced in remote areas that it otherwise wouldn't. Given the numbers we saw yesterday, I'd like to know how anything elss than a universal condemnation of long-distance interstate chasing is in any chaser's best interest right now.
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
554
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
The past couple of times I've filled up at the pump, I've observed no one else taking any precautions like using gloves, wipes or paper towels. Although none of those anecdotal observations have involved other storm chasers, I think the lesson is that I don't think we can trust the community as a whole - and that would include the chase community - to be diligent when it comes to sanitation. If there are 100 chasers on a given event, it's probably reasonable to assume that at least a tenth of them aren't going to bother with being vigilant at avoiding possible disease transmission at gas pumps, bathrooms and food establishments.

If a chaser has convinced themselves that interstate chasing during a global pandemic even in areas with non-essential travel restrictions is OK, how can we trust that they are also taking their disease transmission risks seriously? It is logical to conclude that a lax stance on chasing during this pandemic is inevitably going to encourage many careless types to chase in areas they shouldn't, which WILL result in the virus being introduced in remote areas that it otherwise wouldn't. Given the numbers we saw yesterday, I'd like to know how anything elss than a universal condemnation of long-distance interstate chasing is in any chaser's best interest right now.
While I was by myself in my own vehicle (in radio contact with another pair that was basically a convoy), I saw numerous instances of small groups of people 5+ standing in close proximity at various stops along the road or in parking lots. Every time you had a traditional gaggle of chasers stopping to take photo or videos, people generally weren't respecting social distancing among their own little subgroups. I guess what was also surprising was the willingness of people to come right up to the car and want to start making small talk or shake hands (I only had one person that was like, "I'd shake your hand, but..."). I don't necessarily have a problem with people chasing if they take precautions, minimize their exposure, and practice social distancing, but let's take that part seriously folks!
 
Jan 14, 2011
2,941
2,744
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
Take a look at the results of this Twitter poll:


I am personally going to start systematically tracking and reporting chasers who violate COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions. It's in the best interest of storm chasing for others to do the same. Disclaimer: that is my personal opinion, not one held by Stormtrack officially.
 
Last edited:

rdale

EF5
Mar 1, 2004
7,213
772
21
50
Lansing, MI
skywatch.org
How would you know if a chaser is under quarantine? That means they were around someone exposed to COVID but not showing symptoms.

And for reporting in general - if you know who they are, send them a message reminding them. And how will you differentiate between chasers and spotters and the public?
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
554
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Take a look at the results of this Twitter poll:


I am personally going to start systematically tracking and reporting chasers who violate COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions. It's in the best interest of storm chasing for others to do the same.
Out of curiosity what are the thresholds for violation?

I am completely in favor of social distancing and so forth, but I think there's room for healthy debate on at exactly what point someone violates these. It has been brought up that the federal government, not the individual states, has the sole power to restrict interstate travel (there is an interstate commerce clause in the COTUS; regulation thereof IS a power enumerated only to the federal government). Therefore, stay-at-home orders appear only to apply to those who are residents of the state in question, e.g., the Kansas stay-at-home order does not apply to me. While there are limits on non-essential travel, essentially every state has broad verbiage for "outdoor recreation activities." There are also provisions allowing intrastate travel for essential purposes, and these would include chasers who are meteorologists, those who have EMA/LE/FD credentials, and even chasers such as myself who aren't degree holding atmospheric scientists, but otherwise have a part-time or full-time position with the media, even if one subjectively decides that hobbyist chasing for those who don't fit one of the aforesaid isn't an acceptable "outdoor recreation" activity. Some EMAs have even said they consider those who are SKYWARN certified spotters or that have passed an NWS class to be essential as well.

So are we only talking about documented cases where someone has photos of chasers in conglomerates who are not respecting social distancing? What is the criteria going to be? Is it to be a public document, and if so, can someone grieve their inclusion?
 
  • Like
Reactions: JamesCaruso
Mar 3, 2012
39
16
11
31
Hillsdale, MI
Take a look at the results of this Twitter poll:


I am personally going to start systematically tracking and reporting chasers who violate COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions. It's in the best interest of storm chasing for others to do the same.
Are you referring to things like people chasing out of state or people who are not following precautions of spreading the disease?
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
554
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Look, we either do this or the Washington Post, Wichita Eagle, USA Today does. Take your choice.
That's fine I just think those are some questions to consider, because I can see some names getting included when the persons included did have a legitimate case for being out chasing or spotting, but that wouldn't be evident just from collecting names off of SN icons, Twitter posts or storm chasing log reports.
 
Jan 14, 2011
2,941
2,744
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
From Jason Persoff:

Simply speaking from a public health standpoint, travel is what caused the pandemic. The idea that a bunch of people traveling around the country potentially with illnesses is the LEAST beneficial thing I can think of. Or, upon return they cause disease caught on their trip to be spread locally.
 
Interesting that people are suddenly concerned for public safety in reference to storm chasing. Bad behavior, chasing under false pretenses, endangering the public / EMS personnel has been going on for years. People were often ostracized for even mentioning bad behavior -- or departed ST forever. Not bringing this up as an argument, just interesting.
 
Feb 21, 2012
169
211
11
Wichita, KS
I spoke with a captain Sheriff in KS, won't specify county, who FWIW said that they are not stopping people solely because they are violating a stay at home order. Additionally, those who are stopped will be issued a warning, and potentially more than one warning before issuing a citation. They are not focusing their resources on chasers who congregate due to it being similar to an outside observation. He also deemed chasers and spotters "essential" in the context of a state-wide lockdown. He did say however that it can vary by county and is ultimately up to the discretion of the individual officer how he or she wants to handle the situation. Nonetheless, the chance of receiving a misdemeanor or even a fine for in-state chasing will be close to zero.

From that sheriff:
"I think in this pandemic we are experiencing things for the first time and there are going to be varied opinions from city to city county to county and state to state. I would argue that they are essential as they provide life saving information to the citizens. If a dry cleaner is essential, storms spotters are essential. But again it depends on each jurisdictions specific emergency order by the health officer"

"In kansas it is a misdemeanor, potentially. We aren’t going to arrest someone or give them a ticket on first contact, second contact or maybe even third contact. No one really wants to do that but at some point if there is continuing disregard for it then action will be taken."

"No one will be stopped unless they are committing a traffic offense. No matter where they are from. We have no legal right to do that at this tome. (sic) "
 
Feb 21, 2012
169
211
11
Wichita, KS
For one, Kansas is mandating anyone in the state who has been in Illinois to quarantine for 14 days. Groups of chasers congregating without social distancing. Pretty simple stuff.
I don't think it's simple however. Your claim of reporting chasers is based on the assumption that other media sources will do the same. I'm not sure that assumption is valid as the media has much more important things to write about that are keeping them wildly busy than a small congregation of storm chasers. Also, how are you defining chasers violating this order? There were a number of chasers in IL yesterday who were out of state, but how do you know they are not considered essential in the context of local LEOs and how do you know they are not following quarantine orders?
 
Just saw this. Also heard a report a couple days ago of a similar checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida keys. Yes, these are tourist areas with one or two ways in and out, so easier to control than most places we chase. However, it does make the point that checkpoints are being used in some areas.

 
Nov 27, 2016
14
29
1
Milwaukee, WI
In fact, I won't do it under the Stormtrack umbrella. I'm building a web site for it today.
Thank you Dan for being a voice of reason on this topic! I also appreciate all that Dr. Jason Persoff said yesterday, highlighting the error in thinking (or lack thereof) by those who seemingly and blindly want to simply carry on . . . business as usual.

We must advocate not only for ourselves but for public health & safety as well. To be treated as though we're being a jerk or malcontent by those who want to go on blindly about their own agenda, is wrong and ultimately transparent in their motive.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Dan Robinson

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
554
11
39
Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Just saw this. Also heard a report a couple days ago of a similar checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida keys. Yes, these are tourist areas with one or two ways in and out, so easier to control than most places we chase. However, it does make the point that checkpoints are being used in some areas.

I think they can get away with checkpoints, even in this situation, because they even do it a lot when there are suspects at large. There is pretty wide latitude here as long as they stop every vehicle and the rights of the accused are not otherwise violated. I do not, however, believe that arbitrary or discretionary stops of individual vehicles at the whim of individual police officers, when said vehicle or driver has done nothing to reach the reasonable suspicion threshold, is constitutional. If you are stopped for a legitimate reason, e.g., speeding, and other facts indicate that you are violating one of these orders, then they could likely hold you accountable.
 
  • Like
Reactions: James Wilson
Jan 7, 2006
536
557
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
I sat yesterday out, and will likely do the same for the next several weeks, barring a local setup that's convincing. I expected a fair number of chasers to bite on the MDT, but truthfully, there appeared to be easily even more than I anticipated! Furthermore, plenty of reputable and (otherwise) responsible chasers were openly sharing updates online. The SN map was smothered in dots, and people were advertising their activities en masse over 3-4 distinct target regions.

The upshot I took from this is quite different from Dan, apparently. Thus far, I've seen no reports of encounters with law enforcement. I've seen a couple accounts of law enforcement monitoring storms with chaser crowds present in IA/IL and no issues arising. Separately, the few times I've been out driving in my local area this past week, the extent of traffic and "normal" activity suggested the average American is *NOT* voluntarily avoiding activities that fall outside explicitly-ordered closures (restaurants, gyms, etc.) -- at least in the central U.S., and at this time. Just this morning, I saw this tweet from the National Park Service recommending social distancing at their locations. This seems like implicit endorsement of interstate (or at least non-local) travel in order to engage in an activity that would be comparable to chasing, but outside of a vehicle and thus somewhat higher in risk.

So again, I return to the kind of scale analysis argument I mentioned earlier. Right now, it's abundantly clear that the net impact of a couple hundred chasers is so far below the noise floor of society at large as to be imperceptible. How many thousands of other Americans also traveled non-locally this weekend with more social destinations (e.g., family, friends, or even national/state parks where still open)? Also note how much "social distancing" was going on in most of the Jonesboro video shot by locals, as another random sample. Our ranks have grown over the years, but sometimes we forget how insignificant we really are. A chaser who behaves responsibly by using gloves at the pump and avoiding restaurants/hotels is laughably inconsequential right now. The key phrase is right now. If things get markedly worse in the central U.S. in a week or a month, everything might look totally different. At that point, it will be much more obvious that chasing is truly a bad idea, and there will also be legal clarity. But until such a time as interstate travel is prohibited with enforcement, I don't think it's reasonable to engage an anti-chasing crusade. The size and diversity of yesterday's crowds should drive that home for anyone who was unsure prior. By doing so, you're holding storm chasers to an unreasonable standard that clearly isn't being applied to the country at large... yet. Furthermore, legality aside, the actual risk posed by a solo chaser stopping only at gas stations is simply tiny. It would be one thing if our community were trying to sneak under the radar engaging in activity that's exceptionally likely to spread disease. In reality, responsible storm chasing is precisely the opposite: it's almost surgically designed to minimize risk among all conceivable activities that involve travel.
 
Again, I think a lot of people are missing the point. If you are out chasing, I don't think you will encounter a problem with LEO. If chasers clog roads or act-up, I have no doubt LEO will use the "don't go out" orders to the full extent of the law. The biggest target will be tour groups as large white vans full of tourists will generate a lot of negative optics, especially if they are parked on the side of the road in a group. (This is not intended as a negative comment about tours, just a matter of fact). I think the points Dr. Persoff mentioned on a personal level must also be considered. I still plan to go out at some point, but I don't see an end to this until later in the year. This virus is NOT just going to vanish overnight.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Yvonne Bennett