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

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Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
I struggled with the question of whether or not to chase Saturday’s event and ultimately decided to do so after weighing the probabilities of contracting the virus or unwittingly spreading the virus to others. As the trip would be a single day venture not requiring an overnight stay and without need to get food while actively chasing my only real possibilities of requiring close contact with anyone else would be a vehicle breakdown, a traffic accident, a traffic violation, a medical emergency or the need to help others in an emergency. Oh, I guess you can add getting hit by a tornado but I always try to keep a healthy distance while observing and am not an “I’m in the tornado!” type of guy so that chance is remote. So based on the above and using my last 13+ years of commuting from my current home back and forth to work I did some math. 720 miles per week or about 37,000 miles a year or about 500,000 miles total. In that 13+ years and 500,000 miles I’ve had 0 vehicle problems (Toyotas rule!), 0 traffic accidents, 0 traffic violations, 0 medical emergencies, 0 times I’ve had to help someone and most amazingly I’ve never been hit by a tornado. So while I know the possibilities aren’t really zero they’d be pretty damn low for a 1 day 500 mile trip so the chase was on.

If anything the only thing I did differently was not speed as much as I usually do, I kept it to less than 10 miles over…most of the time…not because I was worried about a citation for violating the order (which I could easily deflect if necessary) but just to avoid possible contact with an LEO for the sake of not having contact. When I got closer to my target Galesburg it became apparent it was the target for just about every other chaser and their grandma and combined with the poor surface observations and heavy cloud cover I decided to look to my all-time favorite chasing territory as an alternative. Yes, Iowa, where corn isn’t just for breakfast anymore and hopes for amazing tornado memories go to die. Observations looked much better just over the state line, clear skies, higher temps and dews, strong backed surface winds and a bunch of other promising parameters that provided false hope. But should I cross the state line? Um, yeah, why not? What difference does it make that I’ve crossed other than I get a chance to bust once more by my lonesome instead of in my own state among the hordes? Interstate traffic was light as I approached the exit to Muscatine, good old Muscatine where I’ve busted three times before but that was not my target so onward westbound! But not much farther as the plan was to intercept fast moving storms heading NE so I got off at the Tipton exit, an area I’d only busted one time previously, and sat all alone on this nice little gravel road for almost two hours watching clear blue skies give way Sc and then agitated Cu and finally voila, an echo on the radar! But this being Iowa the storm had gone up literally right over me and with darkness approaching and warp-speed storm motions I knew I didn’t have a chance and bailed after a short pursuit. Of course that storm soon after went tornado warned and stayed that way on and off all the way to Wisconsin and I felt sure wedge reports were going to abound from my once prized catch but none were forthcoming and my sanity was spared.

The trip home featured trying to beat the second Galesburg storm both across I-88 and then ultimately home. I did the former easily and just barely the latter and decided to do my most dangerous activity of the day…get some groceries! As I pulled into the Meijer I checked radar and noted that while the storm would hit it would be the forward flank core not the business end that was producing at least one tornado. At that hour social distancing was easy and after quickly getting my goods I was just getting into the self-service checkout lane when a voice came over the intercom and in a tone stricken with panic announced that the NWS has issued a tornado warning and a tornado was on the ground heading toward the store and everyone take shelter in the front bathrooms…NOW! It was really interesting watching how people reacted, I assumed all would rush into the bathrooms but hardly anyone did, people did rush to the front but when they got there they just kind of stood along the wall…apart from other people. Apparently people were more concerned with getting too close to others than from the looming tornado that the lady on the intercom implied was surely going to hit. Personally if I hadn’t know better about the storm I’d have taken my chances with the virus versus the tornado and gotten in the shelter but knowing the store was safe I just finished checking out and headed home.

Final tally for the day:
No vehicle breakdown
No accident
No ticket
No medical emergency
No need to help others but I was tempted to console one shopper who was clearly terrified
No contact within 6 feet of anyone else
No bigfoot sightings
And of course, being a chase in Iowa, no tornadoes but more importantly at least during the chase no virus spreading!
 
So there are several of us still on this site who have been around since we use to anxiously await the paper copies of ST that Dave printed so many years ago. We have seen storm chasing grow from a few people to hundreds. There was a time when you would go out of your way just to hopefully run into one of the stars, like Hoadley, Marshall, Bluestein or Doswell / Moller, to name a few.

During the evolution, we have seen the innocence of storm chasing hijacked by charlatans as well as irresponsible media crews and their minions. We have seen law enforcement come down on chasers resulting in false arrests, threats and lawsuits. We had zero deaths during the golden years turn unfortunately to multiple fatalities in a very short time frame. We have seen roads so crowded it was impossible to track a storm, while making the pursuit even more dangerous. We have seen chase seasons killed by drought years, Mexican wildfire smoke and just boring climatology. There is NO guarantee of being able to chase.

Chasing this year will be a personal decision based on a lot of factors, discussed ad nauseam. The reality is that we still have over 30 days until the peak of the season and a lot can happen. Being in the EMS circle, I'm bombarded with official and unofficial discussions regarding potential treatments, some very promising. Once a medical treatment (in lieu of a vaccine) is discovered, things will change rapidly. Once the so-called curve flattens out, medical facilities will be able to handle the situation.

So the advice of someone who could potentially miss the first season in 33 years of chasing would be to wait and see what happens.
 
Nov 27, 2016
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Milwaukee, WI
>>snipped<<
Final tally for the day:
No vehicle breakdown
No accident
No ticket
No medical emergency
No need to help others but I was tempted to console one shopper who was clearly terrified
No contact within 6 feet of anyone else
No bigfoot sightings
And of course, being a chase in Iowa, no tornadoes but more importantly at least during the chase no virus spreading!
Congrats on a nice day out!
 
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Reactions: Michael Towers
Feb 21, 2012
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Wichita, KS
Greg Abbott
The Texas Department of Public Safety is on the Louisiana-Texas border today enforcing my Executive Order requiring self-quarantine for anyone who travels to Texas from Louisiana.
We want to prevent the #coronavirus from being imported into Texas.
View attachment 20198
But it's already there? These interstate travel bans should've been implemented months ago when the virus was still confined to the coasts. Too little too late once again for the US. I dont foresee coming to plains states although I could be wrong.
 
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Reactions: James Hilger
May 18, 2013
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@Jeff Duda made a comment in another thread about wanting lots of storms on May that made me think. Assuming life returns to somewhat normal in May, I wonder what the crowds will be like? Part of me says folks have been confined to home and will be ready to go out. The other part of me says that a lot of folks are on forced vacation time or furlough now and may have to work when life returns to normal, not to mention out of country chasers might not make it here. Hopefully we will get to find out.
 
We went to SW Kansas today...we refuelled using gloves and hand sanitiser, took our own food and tea and coffee and saw virtually no cops till later this afternoon on our way back to Hillsboro where we saw 3 in quick succession...they were either having a nap, waiting for speeding cars to set off their alarms or spotting but none paid us the slightest heed whatsoever. We waved at a couple of people we knew as we drove past and the rest of the day all we saw were meadowlarks......

We did however notice a diner in a small town had a decent crowd...sitting down...inside the restaurant........
 
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Reactions: James Wilson
Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
@Randy Jennings Based on this past Saturday's event and barring any big changes in how things progress I think you can expect crowds but probably in smaller numbers than would happen absent the virus. I do think the financial toll will have an impact and for some people the question of whether to work or chase will be something they hope to be able to even ask. Let's hope by May everyone has a chance to seriously consider chasing any event far away from home because that will mean things will be much better than they are now in a number of ways.
 
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Reactions: JamesCaruso
Sep 25, 2006
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Minneapolis, MN
@Randy Jennings Based on this past Saturday's event and barring any big changes in how things progress I think you can expect crowds but probably in smaller numbers than would happen absent the virus. I do think the financial toll will have an impact and for some people the question of whether to work or chase will be something they hope to be able to even ask. Let's hope by May everyone has a chance to seriously consider chasing any event far away from home because that will mean things will be much better than they are now in a number of ways.
I can honestly say I don’t think I ever saw another chaser in Iowa on Saturday. I know there were there based on SN but I don’t think I ever saw another chaser from Melbourne to Potsville, IA.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania

Very useful data here - you can select the US as a whole, or individual states, and see the social-distancing measures in effect as well as a visualization of the projected curve and its peak. It focuses on hospital utilization and deaths, not number of cases, but still gives a good visual of when the peak occurs in each state. In almost all of the traditional chase states, the peak ends prior to peak season (assuming second half of May is peak season for this purpose) and we are on the downside of this, but there is still a lot of activity right through May in certain states. For example Colorado and Oklahoma go down near zero by late May (again, this is hospital usage, not cases), whereas Kansas goes into early June, Texas goes into mid June, while Nebraska takes until July, for what reason I'm not sure.

I assume the projections are being updated daily based on actual data but I'm not sure.

I am going to cross-post this to the other coronavirus thread, as this post here is oriented toward using it to judge what will be going on in chase territory but it is a great resource for overall understanding of the projected curve.

EDIT: Realized this was already posted in the other thread so not going to re-post there. Apologies if it was already posted in this one as well.
 
My "2 cents worth" on chasing in 2020 in the States:

Large Group Tour Operators:

I think it's unconscionable that any large group operators are still sticking to their 2020 tour schedules, in the face of projections that the peak, even in the current hot spots, won't be over until late April/early May. Many states, given that they are still "early on the curve", will have much later peaks in infections. Even when that April/May peak has passed in the major centres, there will only be a gradual reduction in new cases, not a "magical" disappearance of the virus, leaving a huge reservoir of active Covid-19 coronavirus in the population. Exposing your guests <and potentially helping them to transmit the virus> by travelling across the Plains is at best ill-advised, and at worst, smacks of wanton disrespect for the locals in the places that they eat and stay, no matter much how often you observe hygiene protocols.

And what about the safety of your guests? If you've watched the Netflix documentary, Pandemic, you'll know how overstressed local healthcare on the Plains is, even in "normal" times. How does a large group operator ensure that a guest who falls ill on a tour is given access to effective healthcare? And, what about the other guests who may have to go into 14 day mandatory quarantine? And, what about state border restrictions and legal stay at home orders - does that not apply to you? Are you willing to risk the health and lives of your guests for your commercial interests?

In view of that specific health risk, and the mounting impracticality of chasing across state borders as the US "closes down", I cancelled all my 2020 season tours on March 16th, and refunded my guests in full as these serious risks will continue well into the summer months, if not for the rest of 2020.

I've seen some discussion of refunds on here, invoking cash and accrual accounting issues, as some sort of excuse for not making refunds. As a Chartered Accountant, I'm well aware of the accounting issues, and we could debate the application of those terms ... but, in the real world, any tour doesn't pay out the bulk of their expenses until the tour is actually run. As I've said above, you should be cancelling now, and given that you haven't yet incurred the bulk of your expenses, should be offering generous refunds, NO MATTER what your contract says. For your International guests, 2021 is unlikely to offer any reprieve, as border closures to International aviation will likely be in place as long as there is active Covid-19 in the major countries, or until an effective vaccine is developed and widely available. Watch this space for having provide a certificate of immunity/vaccine to travel anywhere - much like Yellow Fever, which was an earlier pandemic in the States.

Individual Chasers:

There has been much discussion here about "freedom" and the ability to minimise contacts through hygiene measures and staying in your vehicle. I'm bemused by several chasers latching on to the exceptions for "outdoor" activity so as to continue storm chasing hundreds of miles from home. You do know that in other countries, we have imposed the "immediate neighbourhood" or within 2 kms of home as the definition of "outdoors" because of people like you ignoring what is the intent/spirit of these restrictions, and selfishly focusing on the "letter of the law"? The reason being, that no matter how meticulous you are about hygiene and avoiding contacts, you are simply increasing the number of contacts as you travel, making the suppression of community spread and/or contact tracing impossible. You are at personal risk from catching Covid-19 from surfaces and airborne - at a minimum you'll need to stop for gas, where you'll be sharing the same air space as other customers. I know many of you are younger, and therefore consider yourself "immortal" :) ... but consider this, the very fact that you are younger with better immune systems makes you more likely to be asymptomatic, and from overseas evidence, shedding viral particles as you travel and contaminating any locale you frequent on your travels. Personally, if you live in a state where a "stay at home" order has been requested, you should "do your bit" and avoid travel outside your local area. Unlike me, who is in the vulnerable group, and may never be able to chase again without an effective vaccine, you have endless chasing seasons in front of you after this pandemic becomes just a background illness - in the meantime, do your fellow citizens a favour, and stay home.
 
I'm not sure any tour groups have stated they will be positively be chasing in May or June? Maybe I missed something? I nixed my private tours weeks ago. I think most models show the virus still active through May. Things change every day and I seriously doubt any responsible tour group would actually conduct a tour in the middle of this. The legal implications alone would be too risky.
 
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Jan 14, 2011
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stormhighway.com
Some of you are surprised to see my reaction to recent developments. This has happened after I watched what transpired in Italy and am now watching the same thing play out in New York and Louisiana. After I hear the fear in my family's voices when they talk to me on the phone. After I just received word that the first case has been reported where I work. After hearing a grocery store here has had several of its workers test positive.

After seeing this briefing today from Dr. Fauci:


The reality now is that storm chasers violating COVID-19 orders are no longer my colleagues, they are a public health threat.

As I stated before, I am not going to be reporting individual chasers to authorities.

Instead, I'm working on a press release that I'm going to be sending out to national media, as well as local media, state, county and municipal governments in the Great Plains and Midwest informing them the more than half of the storm chasing community is planning on breaking any current or future quarantine orders and no-travel orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I will also be releasing a video on my 100k subscriber Youtube channel.

The title of this release is going to be "Public Advisory: More than half of USA storm chasers plan to violate COVID-19 orders in your area". I will then go into extensive detail documenting the public statements that chasers have made to that effect, and offer estimates that there may be well over one thousand chasers from all over the USA traveling and staying in their communities, some of which have been in areas currently experiencing higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The residents of the Great Plains deserve to be aware of this potential threat, and I will see to it that they are.

I will accept any information or evidence that you have to this effect, including any other public statements that chasers have made or photos that have been posted.

You can email me any information you have privately at stormhighway@gmail.com, or you can post it in this thread.

In addition to this effort, I have started work on dispelling many of the myths that chasers are using to justify breaking these orders, including the assertion that they are acting as spotters. The first installment of this I just posted to my blog:

Storm chasing secrets: The difference between chasing and spotting
 
Dan, I'm not sure this is the right approach. Take it from someone who took a royal pounding when I stood up to the lunacy of Storm Chasers and TWC. I'm glad I did. I think I got the point across and history has vindicated me. But such well-intended quests in a small community comes at a great cost, including lost friendships. Maybe a better approach would be to target and expose the very few (if any by May) chasers who openly and carelessly endanger others (re: virus) instead of broad-brushing the majority of chasers who can go out for a day trip and cause little or no harm or risk.

Edit: My main concern is for large tour groups that are sill planning on chasing. It's my understanding some are not going to pull the plug. This would be insane to say the least and I cannot believe the liability involved (after checking with my attorney) if someone became sick with COVID-19 or it could be proved that a guest or crew infected someone else. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against most large tour groups and I refer people to them all the time, but this would be insane, especially given the latest CDC estimates of 100k dead and the peak to run into May.
 
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Jul 16, 2013
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Joplin, MO
I will not be chasing at all, or going out to storm spot even because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The truth is, if I were to get COVID-19 the chances of me dying from it is pretty high. Not to mention the risk I could put others in if I were to have it and didn't know and was out interacting with others. That's not a risk I'm willing to take, or a risk I would want to put onto others. I'm mostly working from home, with the exception of a couple of times having to go to my office.
 

Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
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Menominee, MI
I had planned on retiring from the fire service in July of this year. Because of COVID-19 I’ve turned in my papers and will retire on April 15th. The risk factors for me if I contracted it are just not worth me continuing until July. I can’t say yet if I will chase this year or not. It takes me 11 hours of drive time to get to Kansas so I’m far from a local chaser in the Southern plains. I’m hoping for things to improve for everybody.
I’m not a spring chicken and haven’t encountered anything like this in my lifetime, so like everyone else, it’s taking me a while to absorb everything and make good decisions. Even if we disagree with how each other handle this, rest assured, we are all in this together.
 
Nov 27, 2016
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Milwaukee, WI
Dan maybe another way to make a positive impact to protect folks would be to focus your communications to the Governors of targeted states, starting with Gov. Stitt in Oklahoma.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
The title of this release is going to be "Public Advisory: More than half of USA storm chasers plan to violate COVID-19 orders in your area". I will then go into extensive detail documenting the public statements that chasers have made to that effect, and offer estimates that there may be well over one thousand chasers from all over the USA traveling and staying in their communities, some of which have been in areas currently experiencing higher numbers of COVID-19 cases.
How do you know that chasers “plan to violate COVID-19 orders” or that “more than half of the storm chasing community is planning on breaking any current or future quarantine orders and no-travel orders“ when there are no imminent severe weather events on the horizon, and the decision about whether to take a chase vacation doesn’t need to be made for another 6-8 weeks? What’s wrong with chase vacationers keeping open the possibility of chasing until they see what the situation is in mid May, late May, or early June? You said yourself in one post, it’s like the stages of grief, some chasers may take a while to accept that they may not be able to chase at all this year. Many don’t have to accept it right now because their scheduled trip is 6-8 weeks away. If you had some other, more traditional vacation scheduled for 6-8 weeks from now, would you cancel it right now, or wait and see what happens? I have an extended family cruise scheduled for early July, and a couple of those family members are high risk, should we all be written up somewhere because as of *this moment* we still plan on going?

Writing is cathartic and clarifies thought. You’re going to use people’s “public statements” - meaning, I assume, posts on here or on Facebook - as evidence they “plan” to chase, even though they may just be thinking out loud here among other chasers and trying to come to grips about what they can and can’t do, or should and shouldn’t, do?

At least before you were threatening to out people that actually chased; now it sounds like you want to out people, or the community as a whole, for even having a dialogue or debate about it. Before you claimed your threats were intended for self-policing of our community before it got bad press, now you preemptively want to alert the media before anybody has done anything wrong.

Maybe you are only referring to chasers that intend to chase “now” and not “later,” but I don’t know how you plan to delineate between different “groups” of chasers. You risk throwing the baby out with the bath water here.

EDIT: I guess my point is, a lot of people can *say* they are going chasing, but most will make a different decision, if warranted, when the time comes. As an analogy, in normal times you might have a ton of work to do and a huge deadline, but a party you still want to go to. You say all week “I don’t give a damn how much work I have to do, I’m not missing that party!” Yet when the day of the party arrives, and you still have a ton of unfinished work and are in danger of missing your deadline, you bail out of the party at the last minute. You’ll find a lot of chasers follow this same pattern. You can’t chastise and embarrass them just for saying “I’m going to that party!”, when they haven’t actually done it yet.
 
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Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
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Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Instead I'm working on a press release that I'm going to be sending out to national media, as well as local media, state, county and municipal governments in the Great Plains and Midwest informing them the more than half of the storm chasing community is planning on breaking any current or future quarantine orders and no-travel orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I will also be releasing a video on my 100k subscriber Youtube channel.
This is both academic and journalistic dishonesty unless you have a (valid and reliable) representative sample of the storm chasing community that affirmatively answered that they were going to engage in this behavior, likely through some sort of a controlled survey.

Anecdotal collections of self-reported chase accounts here on Stormtrack, and/or secondhand observations of what people said they observed on their own chase this past weekend, coupled with some random non-scientific poll that the Tornado Titans posted on Twitter (the actual question posited was ambiguous), which was open to everyone and their third cousin twice removed, are not substantive affirmations that "more than half of the storm chasing community is planning on breaking any current or future quarantine orders and no-travel orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic". That honestly just comes off as your trying to intercalate random statistics to fit your perception (confirmation bias) of where the problem stands, since over 50% makes it seem like a preponderance of chasers are callously salivating to spread this contagion like stimulus checks rolling off of government printing presses, and it's not fair to media entities to make that type of a serious claim unless you have actually scientifically polled more than half of the chaser community yourself (the Stormtrack community itself does not necessarily qualify as a representative sample either) and they've indicated that they will affirmatively chase all season regardless of when, where or how COVID-19 restrictions may otherwise dissuade discretionary travel.

Also, publicly blasting people when you may not have all of the facts, or if you are mistaken in an accusation that calls a particular person out, since this is opening up a Pandora's box of stool pigeonry, also creates potential civil liability for libelous content.
 
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Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
2,153
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Macomb, IL
www.tornadoguys.com
Let's look at the actual poll. There are 654 votes. Who voted? I'm sure some chasers did, but I have no way to vet any voters. This is just a Twitter poll. There's a relatively high margin of error along with all of the questionable niceties mentioned in my previous post.

It's also a loaded question. "Have government stay at home orders/other actions affected your chase season 2020 plans?"

What does that mean? What if I am an optimist? Karen George answers no because she still has her tour booked from June 15-25. Patti Pewhugger still plans to drive 10 miles west of Jetmore, KS to take some anvil photos. Thirteen year-old Base Reflectivity from Elk City, OK still plans to go out in his front yard and take TikTok videos in front of a shelf cloud. Dimochka Sabadosh, a Russian bot, votes no. Any veteran chaser reading this thread votes no because s/he still is watching the mid to late June time frame in the hopes that the pattern is good since that's the only time s/he can get off of work. Donnie Dogooder, from Harpers Ferry, WV, an avid fan of Storm Chasers for over a decade, with a rapidly expanding collection of pilfered photos from all of his hero storm chasers on social media which he shares around the water cooler at work, votes Yes.

See the problem with relying staunchly on this poll, and some anecdotal posts on ST?

Capture.PNG
 
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Jan 12, 2015
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Yes this is in very poor taste and I'm not exactly sure what the objective in this is other than to undermine the chaser community as a whole.

At the end of the day, chasers choosing to chase or not to chase comes down to nothing other than personal responsibility. By saying you're going to release a press statement to the national media for a completely unverifiable claim, the only objective you're coming across as having is the objective to undermine and damage the chaser community as a whole.

Can you actually prove if anyone is making active attempts to defy direct law enforcement orders to stay home? Can you actively prove if anyone is trying to defy a travel ban to chase? You may be able to prove both of these, yes.

But, can you prove that there is an organized, COLLECTIVE effort by the community to consistently defy LEO orders and actively serve as COVID vectors for high-risk communities and ignore social distancing guidelines? No, you can't. The fact that you even think that you can is frankly asinine and completely illogical and trying to take blame away from a case by case personal responsibility basis, which is what this is.

Do I agree with going long distance chasing in this situation? No, far, far from it. I think it is extremely irresponsible and unethical. However, this "press release", to be frank, sounds more like an emotionally-charged vendetta instead of an actual attempt at addressing what you view as an issue in the community, which you're trying to pin on the community as a whole instead of a personal responsibility basis like it actually is.

I strongly disagree with both irresponsible chasing and your irresponsible attempt at "fixing" the problem in equal measure.
 
Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
Whatever Dan decides, the media will run with it like a toddler with a popsicle. So I guess we have that to look forward to.

I plan to get out when I can, in an area I normally chase, within shouting distance of my home in a vastly unpopulated area and having to never refuel. I'm a homer and I love it here. Hell I can chase from my backyard, and even then it'll be June and hopefully were on the downslope and with treatments in effect. But I'll clarify, that if me chasing solo in the vast emptiness of eastern Colorado poses ANY risk at all at any time, I'm hunkering down and doing the deep dive into Netflix or rewatching Dan Shaw's chases for the millionth time to get my fix. This hobby ain't worth my life or my wife's life or my coworkers lives. Perhaps this is the year I start painting again.

We'll see.