Note: These opinions are those of the Paul Bouchreau and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Storm Chaser Homepage (SCH), NIU, or any of its affiliated members.
I am Paul Bouchereau, Meteorologist, and Storm Chase Coordinator for KWTV Channel 9 in Oklahoma City. I am the "monster" most feared by Chuck Doswell, Roger Edwards, Rich Thompson and Jon Davies and for that matter most NOAA storm chasers. I don't think I'm that bad a person. I abhore the Designated Hitter, enjoy articles on Quasi-Geostrophic theory, and I own a Cocker Spaniel. All kidding aside what we do at the television station is totally different from what government chasers do. I'm not going to try to convince anyone what we do is better than NOAA nor, am I going to say our behavior is next to God-Like, I'm not going to put my hand on a Bible and swear that my teams never break the law, nor am I going to say anything about Channel 4. However,some government chasers would like you to think they are God's gift to stormchasing and all other chasers should think and act as they do. To hear Chuck Doswell preach about "other" storm chasers makes him sound like he is Moses standing next to the burning bush with the Ten Commandments.
Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Roger Edwards and Chuck Doswell. Between the two, they have more knowledge of Meteorology and severe weather than I could ever imagine, but they are not living in the real world. The mission of KWTV and television stations is to inform the viewer. This is not an esoteric idea, much the same as McDonald's offers Big Macs, we offer information. That is what we do.There is no grey area, it is Black and White. Our business is information. Information that is delivered with the microphone and camera. We do not protect anyone, but if someone can protect themselves with the information we deliver than the public is better served. Information which at times contains Weather Service warnings. We have a direct connection with the public, something NOAA does not have. NOAA depends on television and radio to get their warnings out. We do not send our crews out for the ratings, Emmys, or the promos just as they don't write those never read scientific papers to justify the hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NSF. And NEVER, NEVER in my career have I ever encouraged one of our crews to break a law and I can promise you I will NEVER do it in the future. Like government chasers our crews are also individuals, if they decide to break the law they are on their own. They have been told this and it is in printed handouts we distribute to all chasers. Our chasers have just as much experience as any other chase group. Out of our 26 chasers 12 have degrees,8 attended OU meteorology school and 4 have chased on their own for 5 years or more. I do not send anyone out on our nickle unless Gary England or myself have convidence that they have the knowledge to keep themselves out of trouble. Our chasers are knowledgable and experienced and this shows in the fact that we have had only one accident in 24 years. That accident was a one car hydroplaning incident and the driver and passenger were unscratched. Most of our crews have not attended the "Terrible Twisters" show, of which is for public entertainment only, not spotter training.Its absurd to even think we would use it as a training excerise.
Yes, it is amazing no one has been killed in the past 10 years, I'd like to think its not luck but well trained people.But even though we've had a few chasers with brain "backfires", we as a chaser community know what we can and can not do when it comes to storm safety.I don't think we need the government slapping our hand telling us we've been bad boys! Its that same old Liberal government thinking, that the government knows what is best for us. I also find it distasteful to generalize about TV because of the ignorant few who I have promised not to talk about. And by all means tape record everything, our chasers do. Our chasers drive unmarked cars, those red cars you may see are News Department cars.
Thompson and Edwards' article makes me think these guys are not only not of this world but have achieved orbit! To think that greed is the basis for the degradation of stormchasing is laughable. They claim that chasers who sell their video lack the integrity of "hobbyist" chasers, they also feel all chasers should rethink their reason for chasing. This sounds alittle "PC" to me, I don't think there's any doubt why we go out. The thrill of the hunt, the awe of nature, and the conquest. In the modern era there are people who pay good money to see these powerful images and who is to say we can't or shouldn't tap this interest. Ask Waren Faidley, Jim Leonard,Tim Marshall, or Marty Feely their views on being paid for chasing. I think Thompson/Edwards mean well but are still in the good ole' days of the 10 cent Pepsi.
So what is it at KWTV that we do that is so wrong. We certainly don't metastasize the cancer Edwards and Thompson talk about because as a general policy we DON'T PAY for video so don't come knocking on our door. Our thoughts on this....We can send out as many as 15 crews.If there is the "Big One", I think we'll get it on tape. We have quite a few viewers who send in their tapes.All they get is a smile, a thank you, and their name on television and for many that is all they want. We don't solicit viewers to send us their tapes like some stations do so that they can cut their budgets. This only invites trouble and the heightens the chances of a tragedy which could legally be their fault. Yes, our stormtrackers get paid by the hour, their mileage is paid as are meals. They provide 2 services to the station and one is not more important than the other. The first is to provide a three dimensional look at the storm so that the broadcast meteorologist can have a better understanding of the storm that shows up as a couple of hundred pixels of color on a two dimensional monitor. We can put one of our stormtrackers on the air instantly, giving the public a current position of the storm as well as movement and weather expected, something NOAA can not do ( NOAA radio,maybe, but no one listens). Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, our business is pictures. We can broadcast video through the cell phone. All we want to do is show the picture and get a few words from the chaser. Hyping? Glamour? I think not, our reputation will not allow this. You'll never hear our chasers making up stories of houses blowing up. Chuck Doswell was quite right when he wrote that TV stations are very aware of their public image. Good public image means more viewers & more viewers mean I can go to the grocery, movies, and OU football games. Our public image, according to research, is the best in Oklahoma. This is a source of pride for our station and we would never allow a stormtracker, reporter, photographer, or anyone to damage it. Are we infallible?...Are we perfect?...of course not! But we do seek perfection as all chasers do. We don't keep our people on a leash, we expect them to act courteously and profesionally which is no different than the non TEE-VEE person should act.
So, what is the problem. As I see it, it is not greed, it is not the tube, or the selling of video but an increased interest in weather. Yes television probably has alot to do with it especially The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, and the Networks. We have always tried to get the public more aware of the weather and we have achieved that result. Public awareness and outcry have served NOAA well with $20 million dollars per NEXRAD site. Chasing has also changed since I chased in the late '70s. Whereas we stay put and let the weather develop then chase, chasers now are mobile all the time and there are a 10 fold increase in numbers. Numbers? You bet! I've gotten many emails from folks across the country wanting to know where the twisters are so they can chase them. You think its bad the past few years? You ain't seen nothing yet! "Twister" and associated Tornado Videos has fanned the flames of curiosity and it will be a circus out there.
This little tiff is nothing new. Will a few words from either side convince anyone that one side is better than the other...NO. Will the arguing go on....Yes. Do we hate goverment chasers, of course not. We do have a job to do as do the government chasers. Is there room for improvement, of course. Not any one group corners the market on chase virtue or the blame for all that is wrong. I believe all chasers have the obligation to report dangerous behavior, but don't just whine and cry, REPORT IT!! We have not gotten a complaint about our chasers so either our guys are acting correctly or other chasers don't have the backbone to stand up and complain to the right person. But also remember we can do the same. Hey guys lighten up!! Chasing is fun, or it was when I went out. It can stay that way if we treat each other with respect. I feel we are converging on that point where law makers will have to act. If there is anyone that is more poorly qualified to judge chasing I can't think of one. If we can't chase responsibly some of us won't be able to chase at all.