How Did You Get You Get Interested In Chasing? - My Story

Apr 16, 2004
Austin, Tx
A recent conversation brought this subject up, and in reply I realized I hadn't really shared it with others and thought it would be a good story and thread to take part it. How did you get interested in storms and chasing? What was your first experience? The following is mine:

My family was based out of west Tx. When I was a kid about 3 and living in Knox City my cousins,
sister and I were playing in the backyard when my Mom and Grandmother told us a tornado was coming
and to come inside. I recall us looking at it first approaching from the swingset. I didn't
understand which part of the clouds and all were the tornado until someone explained and pointed it
out to me. We ran inside and hid in the closets. As I recall I think I can remember all the wind,
and noise, and concern from the adults. I wanted to know when it would end. Finally it passed and
everything was fine but it took my swingset and deposited it in a neighbors yard.

My grandmother (Mother's side) who lived in O'Brien was always interested in storms. She liked to
watch them. They said she had a knack for knowing when tornadoes were coming. They also said she had
some ability to cure people - such as burns I've heard (but that's a different story). I also had
some relatives in Clyde, Tx that got killed by a tornado. Some survived by outrunning it in a car.
Anyway I think I got a lot of my interest in storms from her and from my experience when I was

Later in life when I first moved from Dallas to Austin's Hill Country I didn't have a lot of friends
at first, but I had always been into outdoors and interested in weather. Austin's Hill Country was a
shock to my previous suburban life mentality of living near Dallas. I had never really been able to
see storms before because trees and houses always blocked the view. In Austin I lived outside of
town and the cedar & oak trees, hills, and lake made for a beautiful setting. In my early teens I
got to where I would go to the end of the street to watch storms coming in. At that location there
was a big drop-off to the hills and a very large valley extending to the north and in the distance
was Lake Austin. This made for a surreal viewing location and watching all the colors and motions in
the clouds was mesmerizing. I always loved the way it would be so hot and overwhelming during the
afternoon, and the storms would come in with their cool air and make it comfortable again. Sometimes
after a rain I would go down into the valley and pick blackberries from the vines that had been
wetted from the rain. One of my old routines when a storm was coming was to make a pot of coffee
sometimes with my Mom, and sit and watch the rain and listen to the thunder, etc. That got to be a
tradition with me for a long time. Back then my view of storms was simplistic and I never really
considered I ever had anything to fear from them much. There were some really bad ones I recall at
night. There was also a tornadic one that passed overhead one afternoon with a rotating horizontal
tube trailing high above and followed by clearing skies. For me that time was a thoughtful time and
a time of change. It was also a time to reflect. I've always had the tendency to be reflective of
life and things, and so soon I took up poetry, and creative writing on the side. Some of my writings
were about the rain, etc. Over the years I wrote - certainly over a hundred poems. This episode of
my life kind of reminds me of the song 'Rocky Mountain High', by John Denver. Yeah, I love
mountains too!

Anyway, additionally all this time my friends also shared some of my interest in storms. We always
complained we never got enough. Eventually we talked about the idea of just driving to the next
county to see a storm if it wouldn't come to us. This was really before there were many chasers, and
long before they had much media representation or publicity.

Life continued on and many years passed. Later I took a job in Colorado Springs, CO. A friend of
mine from Austin, moved there too and I finally got my pilots license and started flying locally and
doing some mountain flying. Many good times were had. This friend of mine - Jon, had always loved
adventure, as I did, and was always by my side for the next one. Together we biked, skied, camped,
ran, went flying, and climbed / hiked mountains, etc. We never really thought at the time of chasing
a storm. During this part of the stay in Colorado there really hadn't been many good storms that we
noticed. Sadly, one day I learned that Jon had died. This was of course a shock, and you never
really forget such things. In the aftermath a few months later, I saw a PBS show about chasing. It
was like a revelation! Why hadn't I thought of it? I mean I had thought of it, but at the time all
those years back my friends and I kind of shrugged it off and went on to do other things even though
there were times it was intriguing. Somehow I found another tornado video, and watched that. There
were only a few back then. This was totally amazing! Anyway to some degree I just put it in the back
of my mind and went on with my busy life in Colorado Springs.

One day in the Spring of 1993, I believe I was off for the weekend. Suddenly the television began
emitting tones and the screen displayed a tornado warning! It was for my area. The storm was passing
directly overhead, and would continue east. Surprisingly I didn't think it looked all that bad. It
was only light gray clouds coming off the foot hills to the west. Curiosity got the best of me and
so I jumped in the car with my road map, camcorder, and headed after it! This was my first chase!
Light gray clouds turned to a low coal black base overhead as I raced east in my Isuzu Trooper. They
seemed so low I could almost reach up and touch them. I didn't know what that black base was back
then, but in retrospect considering it with my current knowledge it must have been a very large
inflow rain-free base extending miles and miles to my north and south. Probably one of the largest I
have ever seen. There was much turning in the clouds, and even lowerings. The latest warnings were
not that far away to my east, but I never did see a tornado. At the time I pointed the camcorder to
almost everything and said 'This could be the beginning of a tornado', or 'Maybe this is a tornado'.
Watching the video now it is funny. I did end up seeing some type of funnel way up in the clouds
above me that was swirled with candy cane type stripes. To my west I also saw an incredible cloud
unlike I had ever seen. It was most likely a shelf cloud. It was very smoothed over and it was under
a larger cloud canopy that may have also sported mammatus.

Anyway, I was hooked. Too bad Jon hadn't been with me because I know he would have loved it. Still I
think in some way perhaps he was there. That was the beginning. On my next chase under a similar
situation and set up I managed to go east and north of Colorado Springs and intercept an incredible,
slowly rotating tower of fog. This thing reminded me of a Stephen King story and it too was an
adventure, but that is a different story. Since then there have been many, many storms and
intercepts along with many tornadoes. I'm pretty sure I am close to 100 by now but haven't completed
my count. Meeting Gene Moore at a tornado in Oklahoma in 1997 the day before the Jarrell F5 was also
a landmark in my chasing career. As my interest grew, Gene became a regular chase partner who shared
many words of wisdom teaching me both safety, technique, and skill. Today, I combine all that with
my own skills and abilities by creating my own forecasts, and challenging myself to pick a spot and
find a tornado. Chasing has been very interesting, fun, and rewarding for me. Probably my only
complaint is that now when I look at clouds and storms I no longer see just the poetic wisps of
vapor I once did in my youth. Instead I also see it's destructive potential, and things such as
forecasting parameters, and sometimes I have chase anxiety about being able to make the storm even
if it is going to be on the other side of the country. March, April, May, and June have never been
the same for me since. Plans with friends and family, and even business often take backseat to my
ongoing obsession with chasing. No doubt I have been bitten by the 'bug'.

Perhaps someday I will be able to return to a more simplistic view of storms, and be able at times
to just sit back with a cup of coffee and take in the beauty and grandeur which is the storm.
Perhaps I can find a way to integrate that with the often hurried, rat race which chasing can become
and enjoy both worlds.

I am reminded of older lyrics from Joni Mitchell of Both Sides Now.."I've looked at clouds from
both sides now. From up and down and still somehow, it's clouds illusions I recall. I really don't
know clouds - at all".
Being born and raised in Oklahoma sparked my passion for severe storms. Seeing the 4-10-79 SPS tornado on television sparked my passion for tornadoes. Never seeing a tornado for 17 years living in Oklahoma drove me to chase the first time. Seeing my first tornado on my first chase ignited my insanity for chasing and documenting tornadoes on video.

The rest, as they say, is history.
I'm told by my mom that my interest in weather was sparked in 1993 when I was 3 years and there was tons of flooding in my area. Apparently (none of this I remember because I was 3) I was constantly looking out the window at flooded feilds and was simply amazed, but I was also scared because my mom says that I would never get in a swimming pool for like 3 years, and that whenever I would see water in the gutter I would say "Drowning pool,Drowning pool". I suppose drowning is still one of my greatest fears guess it was sparked from that. Eventually after watching storms from the field behind my suburban house for 16 years I slowly grew in Knowlegde of storms and that led to the prospect of chasing.