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

Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
If we would all just get on the same page and do this for two or three weeks, it wouldn't likely be an issue for the core of chase season. At that point they could focus on mitigating localized cases and smaller scale stay-at-home directives instead of population-level directives like widespread stay-at-home orders for entire states carte blanche. One of the medical data analysts on the Sunday national press circuit opined as much. If the entire country just participated rigidly in extreme social distancing for a few weeks, that would flatten the initial curve. Once we saw a resurgence in late April or early May, the public health officials could by then roll out massive testing responses, feverishly (no pun intended) quarantine positive and suspected positive cases, and work on localized stay-at-home orders to combat the second wave on a more limited basis that did not impact the entire populace (e.g., only in metropolitan or local areas where there are still enhanced numbers of people testing positive). By that point we wouldn't even be dealing with region by region, haphazard protocols when the crux of chase season kicks into full swing. Like the Spanish Flu of 1918 and other pandemics, there will be resurgences and subsequent ebbs and flows, but that could be handled differently, at least in theory.
Agreed, that’s what I was alluding to in an earlier post. I just don’t see this being an issue come peak chase season. We simply cannot stay locked down that long and expect to have anything left of the economy, society or country. No way we aren’t in some sort of less-restrictive “phase two” by then.

I was facing constraints on my chase vacation this year because of a huge work project, but now that looks to be delayed because of the virus crisis. So my schedule has opened up and my hope is I can get out there. Because who knows what will happen next year, this same project could create constraints on me in 2021 if it is delayed long enough.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I'm seeing lots of reports on Twitter that many truck stops are beginning to close to inside traffic (no food and restrooms) AND overnight parking. This coupled with the closure of many rest areas is causing a food, restroom and parking crisis for truckers in some areas. I know we have some in that industry here, are you seeing that where you've been? Would be yet another impact to consider on a chase trip.
 
Jan 16, 2009
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Kansas City
The president just said he wants the country opened back up by Easter. Chase season looks to be impacted very little this year after all if this becomes reality.

 
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Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
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Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
I still think most states (including those in Tornado Alley) are likely to begin reopening in some ways by the beginning of May. April looks like a rough time to try to be out chasing (although I still think you can do it without any real worry if you're not coming in from outside the region), but I am optimistic for things to improve by the core of the chase season.
 
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Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
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The president just said he wants the country opened back up by Easter. Chase season looks to be impacted very little this year after all if this becomes reality.

I took this to mean he was speaking for an optimistic best case scenario, which based on current projections is not likely to happen now. IF everyone had gotten on board and done 2-3 week shelter-in-place orders, it might have been possible to partially resume some semblance of private sector normalcy, but there's no way that's attainable in two weeks. I don't interpret that statement to mean that he's planning a legal showdown to directly try and infringe on powers reserved to the states with some sort of executive order (he'll lose on this at the Supreme Court anyhow) remanding those gubernatorial decrees.
 
Mar 21, 2004
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Urbana, IL
skydrama.photography
I spoke with local EMA and law enforcement this morning and find myself echoing a lot of what has already been said over the last 48 hours.

Law enforcement is looking for: blatant social distancing violations (groups of people hanging out), restaurants and bars that are open, and employees that are being forced to work. They are not stopping single vehicles at random. (this is for my home state of Illinois, but likely applies elsewhere). They also said that while not listed explicitly, they do consider "storm spotting" an essential service.

I'm not endorsing or suggesting anyone do anything other than what's been advised, but, if you are alone in your vehicle, have planned ahead so that you're not stopping for food or bathroom trips at restaurants, gas stations, or truck stops, or participating in chaser convergence, you are unlikely to be hassled.

That's all speaking strictly for your local area, or at the widest scope, in your home state.

What's been said about long-distance chasing in areas that have restrictions I absolutely agree with. Everything above probably still flies - be alone, plan to never set foot inside a restaurant, rest stop, hotel, etc, and you may never be hassled. But, a potential run-in with EMA/law enforcement becomes a heck of a lot trickier if I'm 10 hours away from home and 3 states away vs in my home county. You've got to weigh how much it's worth it at that point.

Even for local events, for now at least before we get to peak season, I probably don't even do much in-state without a legitimate fear that I'm going to miss a solid tornado if I don't go out.

As a Midwestern outsider working full-time with a family, it's rare that I'm trying to get to the plains for another 6-8 weeks anyway, so I'll curb my anxiety about missing anything for now and just try to get by in the Prairie State while we're restricted.
 
Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
Going back to the they police can stop you for speeding or whatever and then ticket you for more as they talk to you. I would think a small town cop doesn't want people from other areas coming to their town and possible infecting it.
If you’re already pulled over then it depends, if you’re a local you can give any number of valid excuses but if you’re not then good luck avoiding the extra fine. If you’re just driving through I think it unlikely you’ll get pulled over because you might have a legitimate reason (elderly family member nearby) plus the officer probably wouldn’t want to pull you over and possibly become the point of infection for the town. Of course it depends on the cop and if caught don’t expect leniency.

Aside from providing a compelling legal reason for an officer to pull you over I think the biggest risk of legal trouble when chasing in a restricted area would be actually witnessing the storm, especially when among a convergence and even more-so if you’re outside taking pictures/video. Instead of ticketing each driver directly though I’d imagine the officer might simply order all vehicles to stay in place (as long as the storm isn’t posing an imminent danger), note each license plate and have tickets issued by mail to the vehicle owner. Local spotters might be able to successfully beat it in court but not the out of state chaser or even the chaser from a few counties away…and if the state is having issues with compliance you could see the fines get steeper. Perhaps a shaming on social media could be in store as well. “While deadly virus spreads, carloads of storm chasers defy restrictions and endanger public safety. Sheriff busts dozens of storm chasers, see video”. Definitely would be a black eye for the hobby and reflect poorly on storm chasers.
 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
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Those who work for media entities or chase for them should have gotten letters (or should be getting them) if they consider you to be an essential employee and you may need to be traveling at some point in an area that has some sort of restriction. I got two this morning: one is from the station manager, and the other is from the Department of Homeland Security - CISA.
 
Jun 12, 2019
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Michigan
Speaking of media, I just read an article about the effects of the Coronavirus on upcoming spring/summer travel, whether restrictions will start to relax by then, and whether we be able to make (or keep) late spring/summer travel plans.

Short tl;dr answer: they don't know. But an interesting thing I learned is that they're building predictive mathematical models (similar to the ones we like to use) to calculate and attempt to predict the geospatial spread. But instead of frequently updating the models with surface obs and sounding data, they're updating them with Covid-19 case data.

I propose they name it the CRRR: Computerized 'Ronavirus Rapid eRadication model.
 
Call me wrong, but I'll bet if we have those very long lines of chasers out while the "stay at home" or whatever you call them orders are active, some (not all) LEO's are going to use everything in their powers to enforce it, especially in areas where tensions or issues have previously occurred. So keep the evidence cameras rolling and stay the hell out of Crane County, Texas! 🤣
 
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Speaking of media, I just read an article about the effects of the Coronavirus on upcoming spring/summer travel, whether restrictions will start to relax by then, and whether we be able to make (or keep) late spring/summer travel plans.

Short tl;dr answer: they don't know. But an interesting thing I learned is that they're building predictive mathematical models (similar to the ones we like to use) to calculate and attempt to predict the geospatial spread. But instead of frequently updating the models with surface obs and sounding data, they're updating them with Covid-19 case data.

I propose they name it the CRRR: Computerized 'Ronavirus Rapid eRadication model.
I read Arizona's "stay at home order" this morning and the media is excluded as are active first responders. As noted before, the very hard core chasers are not going to pay any attention to this if it's a big day. They are just too aggressive and it's going to get jiggy.
 
Jun 12, 2019
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Michigan
I read Arizona's "stay at home order" this morning and the media is excluded as are active first responders. As noted before, the very hard core chasers are not going to pay any attention to this if it's a big day. They are just too aggressive and it's going to get jiggy.
I don't disagree. Like Jesse, I have papers that allow me to be exempted from my state's order for the purposes of work, but I would never think of using them as a pass to get through other states (or even my state outside of my local area). Media might have some leeway on that, but I don't work in media, and am not qualified enough to guess.

Also, thanks a lot for getting Will Smith's greatest hits stuck in my head.
 
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May 18, 2013
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I'm active in 2 spotter groups in the DFW area (one in the county I live and the other in the city I work). I got emails from both of them today. The local. NWS office said they are deferring to the local officials on if mobile spotters are allowed out during a formal activation. Both of the EMs declared storm spotting essential public saftey functions and said they still wanted mobile reports (with safe social distanceing). This of course means nothing to chasers or spotters from outside the area, but it does give some insight into what at least a few EMs are thinking.
 
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I'm active in 2 spotter groups in the DFW area (one in the county I live and the other in the city I work). I got emails from both of them today. The local. NWS office said they are deferring to the local officials on if mobile spotters are allowed out during a formal activation. Both of the EMs declared storm spotting essential public saftey functions and said they still wanted mobile reports (with safe social distanceing). This of course means nothing to chasers or spotters from outside the area, but it does give some insight into what at least a few EMs are thinking.
We are also active spotters and I had the same conversation with our local NWS last night and was told pretty much the same thing but also that they really don't know (yet).
 
Jan 10, 2014
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Sheridan, WY
www.kevin-palmer.com
I'm still hopeful that I'll be able to chase this year. The peak of storm season in the Northern Plains usually isn't until June/July so that leaves plenty of time to be past the worst of the pandemic. Also I already chase solo, avoid crowds, camp whenever possible, and don't stay out for more than a few days at a time. So I wouldn't have to change my chasing style much to limit exposure. But with that said, anything can happen in the next couple of months, it's difficult to predict even a week out.
 
May 18, 2013
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I suspect this is more bark than bite, but a media outlet in DFW is reporting that police have the authority to stop folks out and about and one police chief says they have received complaints about stopping folks on their way to work. (not clear if that is the only reason a person was stopped).

 

Jesse Risley

Staff member
Apr 12, 2006
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I suspect this is more bark than bite, but a media outlet in DFW is reporting that police have the authority to stop folks out and about and one police chief says they have received complaints about stopping folks on their way to work. (not clear if that is the only reason a person was stopped).

That's interesting because as I posted a few days ago I'm in a hobbyist Facebook group chat, not directly law-related, with a couple of licensed attorneys and they both agreed that the constitution still applies, i.e., you cannot stop vehicles randomly to ask people for their necessary travel documentation, assuming the driver had otherwise done nothing wrong, but that it could become an issue of secondary enforcement if a person was already stopped for reasonable suspicion of having done something warranting a contact stop. It's an emergency situation dealing with public health, so in the end it's up to a judge to decide if you get stopped and they actually cite or charge you for something. The burden of proof is on the state, but I could see some judges siding with the state. No doubt when this is all over, as is the case in past emergency situations, including both world wars, regional natural disasters, and other local emergencies where martial law or movement restrictions were placed on the populace, there will be new case law analyses that arise out of aggrieved parties appealing legal sanctions through the judicial system, challenging the reason for being stopped in the first place. We'll see.