Some Chase Musings

By Matt Crowther

These are my thoughts regarding some of the issues raised by Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards in their essay "The Cancer Within", as well as some other issues I think need to be discussed.

First of all, I agree with Thompson and Edwards about most of the issues raised in their article. The fiasco in SW Kansas certainly has the possibility of being repeated, that type of zoo-like atmosphere (no pun intended) only ends up hurting all chasers. However I must disagree in part with them in blaming all storm chasers who "sell their catch" with the present situation. Certainly there are the "yahoos", and John Smith farmer types who endanger themselves and others by wanting to "sell this to the TEE-VEE"...but there are other, more experienced long time chasers who help pay the enormous costs of chasing by selling their video. In our case, in 1995 we spent over $4000 storm chasing, and were glad to get some (less than half) of that back by selling our video. I do agree that we should never glamorize chasing, and Betsy and I always try and emphasize the costs, long hours, busts etc when giving interviews. I do not think that if we stopped selling our video, it would somehow stop the problems the chase community now faces. We will chase regardless, since we love to do it simply for its own sake, but I see no real harm in helping to offset out costs occasionally.

This kind of leads me into the other topic (somewhat related) I wanted to is somewhat sensitive, but I feel it is important.

This has not only to do with "yahoos", but with some long-time chasers as well. I am referring to the actual goals of "chasers". Are we "tornado" chasers, or "storm" chasers. I will give you an example of what I mean, from our 1994 chase.

We were in NE Nebraska in early June, on one of the most gorgeous LP supercells I have ever seen, either personally, or on tape. We were about 10 miles SSE of the storm, and was able to take great storm structure video of the incredible striations on the "upside down wedding cake". While we were stopped taking video, a vehicle zoomed by us, headed north towards the storm. I later found out that car was a chase vehicle. As it turned out we only saw a brief tornado that day, right at dark and only for a few seconds. Also, we saw several lowerings in the distance which were probably actually weak tornadoes with no visible funnel to the ground.

So why did the chasers who passed us not stop and film the incredible structure? It probably was because of the mind-set among many chasers that the goal is to A: see as many tornadoes as possible, and B: get as close as possible to the tornado. My feeling is that I am a STORM chaser first, and that tornadoes are certainly part of that, but not necessarily the end-all goal. Most have you have probably seen the great pictures that Howard Bluestein got of the Spearman storm/tornado in 1991...the reason that these are great pictures is because of the storm structure, not just the tornado. Chasers....ask yourselves this question, what would you rather see: great storm structure, or a tornado that is: distant, rain wrapped, poor contrast, or a combination of these?. The beauty and majesty of storms is in ALL their configurations, not just twisters. There is also a great contempt out there in the chase community for landspouts, and outflow/shelf clouds. Both of these can be strikingly beautiful, but a lot of chasers poo-pooh them totally. They are nothing more than "trash".

Another thing that bothers me is that many of the most experienced chasers take a lot of risks to get to the goal of being "up close and personal". Just look at Tornado Video Classics 3....yes, there is some neat stuff there, but how long will it be before one of the experienced chasers makes a mistake and is killed or badly hurt? There is an awful lot of core punching going on, venturing into the "bears cage" etc. It is a testament to their skill that nothing serious has happened yet, but I am awfully afraid that even the most skilled chasers will make that one mistake, and... One of the reasons Betsy and I have yet to see a large tornado close up, is that we are very reluctant to get into a potentially dangerous situation. I have gotten jealous of those other chasers now and then, but then I stop and think of the dangers, and I think we will continue to err on the side of caution.

These are just my opinions, but I think these issues need to be raised and talked about. I welcome any personal replies or you can reply on wx-talk or wx-chase (Netnews/email groups).

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