Why do people drive into tornadoes on purpose?

Mar 26, 2022
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I understand Dominator and TIV, but other than those, why do some chasers post videos of themselves deliberately driving INTO the tornado? I'm not even talking about risk taking in HPs and being surprised by tornadoes, I mean seeing a tornado and knowingly driving into it, in the 5-04-22 severe weather event there were multiple videos posted to youtube which show chasers deliberately driving into the tornadoes, and these are experienced, well known chasers, who I would think would be aware of the ability of tornadoes to rapidly intensify and produce conditions unsurvivable in a vehicle

In one case chasers approach a clearly visible EF0-EF1 tornado in Texas and drive into severe winds on the edge of the circulation and perhaps further in while filming a chase vehicle in the oncoming lane penetrate the core flow, and the ones filming discuss whether they were close enough to count it as "zero metering" as if that is somthign desirable

In another video the chasers (not the same ones) drive into the Seminole OK tornado (under powerlines!) as their vehicle is hit by debris while talking about how the entire thing is a wedge and wondering why a tornado emergency has not been issued, and another vehicle which appears to be a chaser does the same

I am surprised to see experienced chasers doing this without a dominator/tiv style vehicle, How do they know the tornado won't intensify? If I remember right the 1997 Jarrel TX tornado was said to be at F5 intensity within seconds of touching down, and I thought after the 2013 El reno OK tornado everyone in chasing was aware of the fact that a large EF0-EF1 wedge could contain completely unpredictable EF3-EF5 vorticies

To be clear, I am not saying this to criticize or call out anyone in particular, but to describe a trend I have been noticing
 
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Jeff Duda

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I'd say the answers are pretty obvious: fame, money, power

People have to one-up each other to be the best at something, even if it means seriously risking their lives to do it. And somehow...some way...a small handful of chasers have managed to start making decent enough money doing that to make a living.

There's just too much rush of getting attention on Twitch, YouTube, or other social media from almost getting yourself killed for some to resist.
 
Mar 26, 2022
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Saratoga county NY
I'd say the answers are pretty obvious: fame, money, power

People have to one-up each other to be the best at something, even if it means seriously risking their lives to do it. And somehow...some way...a small handful of chasers have managed to start making decent enough money doing that to make a living.

There's just too much rush of getting attention on Twitch, YouTube, or other social media from almost getting yourself killed for some to resist.
Are people actually making profit by being in the tornado that they wouldn't make by being near and not in the tornado? I understand that some people like risk taking, but some of the recent videos make it seem like people are forgetting how strong tornadoes can get
 
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Warren Faidley

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This question has come up numerous times. Driving into a tornado is strictly for publicity stunts. After a decade of people doing this, often claiming it's for "life-saving science," no one has yet provided any information that has saved a single life. Ironically, there is always very dramatic footage captured and posted immediately to monetized social media outlets. One must question the true intentions here, is it for science for personal gain.

Some people are better at "guessing" the intensity of a vortex, so they will generally get away with it -- but over time, physics and fate will dominate the outcome. It's false to think a "TIV" or any fortified vehicle can withstand "all" tornadoes. The ground effect created by lowering a vehicle is only as good as the flat surface you can find in any given situation. Any debris, e.g., other airborne vehicles or a telephone pole, for example, disrupts the ground effect pressure and the vehicle will simply become flying debris. This is best illustrated in a NASCAR race. Most people who preform extreme stunts for a living will eventually perish from such acts. Record books are filled with individuals who defied death for years but eventually perished, like Steve Irwin.

People can chase however they want. If someone wants to drive into a tornado, then go for it. Just don't endanger other's lives while doing it, or give the false impression to new chasers that it's easy and safe to do.
 
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Mar 30, 2008
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In another video the chasers (not the same ones) drive into the Seminole OK tornado (under powerlines!) as their vehicle is hit by debris while talking about how the entire thing is a wedge and wondering why a tornado emergency has not been issued, and another vehicle which appears to be a chaser does the same
My video. I did not drive into a tornado. I intentionally knew the mesos would be huge(hodo), so my rule was to stay out from under the collar cloud. What you cannot see on my video is the fact that I am well outside of the circulation.

With that said, there is no other feeling I have found in the world like being next to a tornado. The sound, the smell, the wind. Once you get close once its hard to stay back at a far distance. Knowing the environment your storm is in is essential.

As far as fame or whatever, it seems like insane close footage is a dime a dozen now.
 
Mar 26, 2022
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This question has come up numerous times. Driving into a tornado is strictly for publicity stunts. After a decade of people doing this, often claiming it's for "life-saving science," no one has yet provided any information that has saved a single life. Ironically, there is always very dramatic footage captured and posted immediately to monetized social media outlets. One must question the true intentions here, is it for science for personal gain.
I would think excitement would be the main motivator for getting close, as the people who do this are for the most part not super famous, (when I said "well known" I meant well known among other chasers, not celebrity) but I agree personal gain may be the motivator for those who say they are doing science when they aren't, there really is nothing wrong with being a storm photographer, and there is no good reason for people to call themselves scientists if they are not

However, a vehicle with properly mounted and calibrated instruments can gather scientific data in tornadoes if it and the instruments survive, for example this paper published with data from a TIV intercept in conjunction with a DOW https://journals.ametsoc.org/downloadpdf/journals/bams/94/6/bams-d-12-00114.1.pdf

In the long run I could see such data on low level vortex behavior and the wind-damage relationship contributing to risk assessments and computer models that lead to engineering changes or forecast improvements that save lives, but this is only for the tiny minority of chasers who are publishing data in scientific journals, the only way the rest of us contribute to saving lives is spotter reports, which don't require being that close

Some people are better at "guessing" the intensity of a vortex, so they will generally get away with it -- but over time, physics and fate will dominate the outcome. It's false to think a "TIV" or any fortified vehicle can withstand "all" tornadoes.
I did not intend to imply TIV or Dominator are safe in all tornadoes, but I was trying to focus my post on the trend of driving into tornadoes without even having armor

Most people who preform extreme stunts for a living will eventually perish from such acts. Record books are filled with individuals who defied death for years but eventually perished, like Steve Irwin.
I don;t know about most, I think part of the danger is that enough people get away with it to give newer chasers the illusion of safety

People can chase however they want. If someone wants to drive into a tornado, then go for it. Just don't endanger other's lives while doing it, or give the false impression to new chasers that it's easy and safe to do.
This is how I feel too, my biggest concerns are people driving into tornadoes in traffic or towns where they could interfere with others' escape or emergency vehicles, and I fear that new chasers will see this as the normal way to chase and die without ever knowing they were taking an unusual risk
 
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Mar 26, 2022
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My video. I did not drive into a tornado. I intentionally knew the mesos would be huge(hodo), so my rule was to stay out from under the collar cloud. What you cannot see on my video is the fact that I am well outside of the circulation.
Is a collar cloud the same thing as a wall cloud? This is not a term I hear a lot. It is good to know you were watching the storm and trying to stay out of the most dangerous area, I had thought that the winds you encountered driving into Seminole in the beginning of the video were the edge of the tornadic circulation

With that said, there is no other feeling I have found in the world like being next to a tornado. The sound, the smell, the wind. Once you get close once its hard to stay back at a far distance. Knowing the environment your storm is in is essential.
I totally understand, I will admit that I like watchign the close up video, and I have always loved windstorms, I actually started chasing because I remembered intense outflow winds in some thunderstorms when I was a kid and wanted to see more storms like that, so I can understand wanting to be right in the high winds, I just don't want to take a chance on death and don't want new chasers to think getting right up to tornadoes is just a normal part of storm chasing
 
Oct 26, 2007
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A collar cloud is not a wall cloud. You can see a collar cloud after the tornado forms, but not always. A wall cloud usually precedes a tornado, but again, not always.
 
Mar 30, 2008
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Basically the collar cloud is formed as the RFD comes around big mesos like we had on 5/4. The hodograph was a tip off that would be the case. Anything outside isn't necessarily tornadic (although watch out for satellites) but RFD winds tend to be faster on bigger mesos. Not always, but that's been my experience. Anyway, a collar cloud is typically the denotation of the tornadic winds. I could see it was all clear (no clouds) to my left, so I knew RFD was my only concern. As we got into seminole, RFD winds picked up a roof and i looked back in my mirror and saw it coming at us. I had an escape route ready, and bailed south without hesitation. My odds arent 0% obviously, but I try to work on making them as close to that as possible.

Also, I believe that camera was zoomed at that time as well. That does help. TV is not reality. It is missing context always of whats going on.
 
Mar 26, 2022
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Basically the collar cloud is formed as the RFD comes around big mesos like we had on 5/4. The hodograph was a tip off that would be the case. Anything outside isn't necessarily tornadic (although watch out for satellites) but RFD winds tend to be faster on bigger mesos. Not always, but that's been my experience. Anyway, a collar cloud is typically the denotation of the tornadic winds. I could see it was all clear (no clouds) to my left, so I knew RFD was my only concern. As we got into seminole, RFD winds picked up a roof and i looked back in my mirror and saw it coming at us. I had an escape route ready, and bailed south without hesitation. My odds arent 0% obviously, but I try to work on making them as close to that as possible.

Also, I believe that camera was zoomed at that time as well. That does help. TV is not reality. It is missing context always of whats going on.
This makes much more sense, from the video it looked like you were driving into the tornado

The question I have is how do you know an escape rout will be usable in high winds with powerlines overhead and roof debris flying around? It would seem any escape rout could easily become obstructed
 
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Now, if I wanted to just feel a condensation funnel, I would use those dolphin like submerging sea-doo things...dive under the funnel wall and surface in the eye to deploy a drone...or coast underneath if narrow. No debris-no traffic-just you.
 

Warren Faidley

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As a child, I use to ride my bike into the center of large dust devils. As an adult, I have been very close to two, slow-moving, land-spouty, weak tornadoes and it was very exciting. They were over open fields with little or no chance of debris. I was alone and endangering no one but myself. The risk was minimal. Would I do this with a well-developed supercell capable of producing a violent tornado.... no.
 
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I have been in land-spouty, weak tornadoes four times, each time unintentionally. I don't want to do again, either. IMO, It just goes to demonstrate how easily one can get into a dangerous situation even while trying to be careful. I have always tried to be careful while chasing.

e.g., I was driving I-35 into Emporia KS on May, 21, 2011 and drove under a storm that didn't seem particularly threatening. The base was rather high and there was no funnel that I could see, but as I passed under it the wind blew like hell from the south, then it blew from the north. Soon after there was a tornado, and I exited on highway 99 and filmed it.

On June 4, 2015 while chasing the Pilger CO storm a very similar thing happened, and that circulation became the anti-cyclonic tornado.
 
Mar 26, 2022
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I have been in land-spouty, weak tornadoes four times, each time unintentionally. I don't want to do again, either. IMO, It just goes to demonstrate how easily one can get into a dangerous situation even while trying to be careful. I have always tried to be careful while chasing.

e.g., I was driving I-35 into Emporia KS on May, 21, 2011 and drove under a storm that didn't seem particularly threatening. The base was rather high and there was no funnel that I could see, but as I passed under it the wind blew like hell from the south, then it blew from the north. Soon after there was a tornado, and I exited on highway 99 and filmed it.

On June 4, 2015 while chasing the Pilger CO storm a very similar thing happened, and that circulation became the anti-cyclonic tornado.
This I understand, it's the people who knowingly and deliberately drive inside the tornado in a non-armoured vehicle that confuse me
 
Oct 26, 2007
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Brian: Could it be that when you hear a chaser scream on a video that they are inside the tornado, they aren't really inside the tornado, because they would be flying, or flipping many times? I believe this is the case most of the time.
 
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Dave C

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As others have said, adrenaline, footage, or attention seems to be the obvious reasons to do such things.

Like any other 'extreme' activity, there is a wide spectrum of motivations and of levels of risk taking. For example skydiving in general is safe statistically and provides some thrill, but the average person doing it follows strict rules, has no wish to test fate and do things that change the statistics toward dangerous. For them, it is enough to enjoy within limits. Others, for example the extremists within the wingsuit community who shoot mountain gaps, are almost guaranteed to be killed eventually and many even admit they know this in interviews, etc.

Some people fill themselves up with this stuff and don't seem to have any reasons to be restrained. One commonality seems to be that the very most extreme of risk takers can't enjoy without pushing further and further or getting attention/ego boosts from the activity constantly. They universally think they can control something that in the end, statisticaly, they cannot. It really comes down to some psychology going on where people have motivation that puts safety lower in their priorities. I think in some of the cases of killed chasers and near misses, clearly this type of thinking was a factor. I am sure they felt in control and excited until nature surprised them.

To be clear I am not judging those people as bad people, just acknowledging the spectrum of risk tolerance is different and that it has a damaging end in some cases. Despite the frequent defense of some of the more egregious activities that no one is hurt, living my way, etc... someone does often get hurt or burdened when the extreme risk takers finally are injured or die or have to be rescued, even if it is only family or emergency services. In the worst cases, someone else gets hurt or killed. The general trending of this behavior as something impressive is making it more dangerous for others to be near these people (crazy driving while chasing, or how about the guy who crashed a plane for the footage?).

I actually don't mind the vast majority of people who want to do such activities like take a bigger risk than I would personally, as long as they do not put others at risk. The attention seeking/validation and arrogance that comes from some of these people is very frustrating to deal with though.
 
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Mar 26, 2022
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Brian: Could it be that when you hear a chaser scream on a video that they are inside the tornado, they aren't really inside the tornado, because they would be flying, or flipping many times? I believe this is the case most of the time.
I am not talking just about people screaming that they are in the tornado, but some of the videos it clearly looks like they are inside the circulation

I know people who have driven in EF0-EF2 winds in cold fronts and downslope windstorms without incident (not reccomending this, EF1 is really risky), and it takes at least high EF3 to throw a vehicle (I read a paper sayign it takes 70 m/s), so it is definitely possible to drive through some tornadoes, but it is not possible to tell that they won't intensify on top of you or throw debris at you
 

Jeff Duda

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I've been inside a low-end EF-2 tornado (Silver Lining Tours 5/28/19). I wouldn't relive the 20 seconds during and immediately after for any amount of money or fame.
I was in an EF0 tornado near Jewell, KS in May 2008 with the TWISTEX project. Even though that only lasted for 5 seconds it still scared the shit out of me and I would not knowingly do that again. Our car was *pinches* this close to getting lifted and tossed off the road.

We measured winds in the 70-80-kt range.
 
Mar 26, 2022
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I was in an EF0 tornado near Jewell, KS in May 2008 with the TWISTEX project. Even though that only lasted for 5 seconds it still scared the shit out of me and I would not knowingly do that again. Our car was *pinches* this close to getting lifted and tossed off the road.

We measured winds in the 70-80-kt range.
Why do you say you were almost lifted? I would have thought that would take way more than 80 kt
 
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It's interesting to read these other accounts of close encounters. My record is not clean by any means, but the derecho winds yesterday were likely the strongest winds I had ever been in while chasing, outside of Hurricane Irma in 17. I estimated around 85-90 mph, but hard to really tell in SD. Of course I set myself up with miles of clear fields to my south that I could see any debris coming my way.

We've had more chaser deaths by Freightliner in 2022 than we've lost storm chasers to tornadoes ever. Keep the risks in perspective.