What inspired you to start chasing?

Anela Hamilton

I'm sure this question has been asked and maybe more than once. But what has inspired everyone to start chasing?
I have been fascinated about storms all my life. My very 1st experience with a tornando was on 4/24/1975. An F4 ripped through and destroyed a trailer park in Neosho Missouri. My parents were with Jasper County Civil Defense and were called there to assist in search and rescue... although I was only 11 at the time, I remember the damage very well... this was the real beginning when I got involved in storms chasing/spotting. I was with the Civil Defense till about 1986, I had then got a divorce and pretty much dropped the spotting and chasing .... then on May 4th of 2003 when Carl Junction and Peirce City Missouri got hit, My current wife (Dee) and I volunteered to help with search and rescue and this sparked my interest back into chasing.

A sheer fascination of thunderstorms started when I was around 13 or so. The beauty of mother nature sparks my interest. I use to and for that matter still do just stand out in the driveway watching the approaching storms come in. My family always can tell when it's about ready to rain, because I will always tell them I'm headed westward, usually to chase or spot, or I just go stand in the driveway and observe them coming in, just depends on how severe the storm(s) are.
Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed the storms, as I grew up in east central Kansas all my life.

May 4th, 2003 really jumped my interest in storm chasing when I decided I would go out and see this tornadic storm only about 20 miles from me at Basehor, Kansas, it turned out to be the fatal Kansas City, Kansas tornado producer (and my first tornado!)
The April 10, 1979 Wichita Falls, TX tornado ignited my passion for tornadoes.

Years of wanting to see a tornado but never seeing one ignited my desire to go chase one down. When I left on my very first chase, I wasn't planning on becoming a chaser, I just wanted to see a tornado. After I saw my first one, that ignited my desire to see more - and my chase career was born. Fortunately for me, it only took that first chase to get my first tornado.
My interest with storms dates as far back as I can remember, with my earliest storm memories being when I was 6 or 7, watching lightning and thunder from my front bedroom in Charleston, WV. A distinct memory I have from those 'stationary chases' was a CG with a loop in it that was shaped like George Washington's head - a phenomenon I called "George Washington lightning".

The 1985 NOVA special "Tornado!" sparked a deeper interest, and from that point on, weather/storm books were checked out at the library on a regular basis - sometimes the same ones over and over!

My prompting to begin actively chasing storms was Dr. Martin A. Uman's 1986 book "All About Lightning" that I received for Christmas during my first years of high school, around 1991-1992. In the book there was a section detailing lightning photography. I received my first 35mm SLR (a Pentax K1000) as a graduation gift from my grandparents in June 1993, and as I already had my driver's license, the first chance I had I went out after a storm in Washington, Pennsylvania. That first chase in July 1993 was spectacular, I came home with several nice shots, one of which to date, ironically, has been my most popular seller in 11 years.


Since that day I've been shooting every storm that is within 50 miles or more of me, with my usual 'home chase territory' being West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky. I cover about 3,000 miles chasing locally every year. As time goes on I've found interest in chasing other phenomena such as tornadoes and hurricanes. My trips to the Plains started in 2001 with the encouragement of Bill Coyle and Dave Crowley to expand my horizons beyond the Appalachian storm.

I hope to continue chasing as long as the Lord wills and I'm able to afford it.
I became captured by the power of mother nature when I was a child watching the storms with my dad and brothers. Growing up in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas you can't help but see the effects of severe storms. Like Shane, the 1979 Wichita Falls tornado got me hooked (as if I wasn't already). Chasing came about once I got my drivers license and has never stopped.
I saw "Twister" in 1998!

I'm joking!!! :lol:

Actually, I had some experiences with severe weather that sort of lead the way when I met David to go along on a chase with him. My first tornado warning, hail storm, and dust storm at the age of 7, after we moved to Lubbock County. A really good hail storm on our way back from a family visit in Dallas. Getting caught out on horseback by a microburst at 21.

Figured "what the heck?" when David asked me along on that first chase....I'd already been the "chasee" several times! He had me using the video camera, and that was that....I'm completely fascinated and in awe of watching towers go up, and mature. I like it all, but that's become one of my most favorite parts of chasing.
I've lived here in Kansas my whole life, as a kid I just couldn't help but take notice to the severe weather. My interest though really was a combination between the curiosity I had in tornadoes as a kid along with the fear of them.

I always had questions for my parents asking what a tornado was, how they formed, what created them. I was in disbelief that something could stretch from the sky and be destructive.

But one thing I remember is when I was about 13 years old I remember a tornado warning had just been issued to the north of our county. I rememeber I was out on the front porch and was looking to the north and I saw absolutely the most amazing supercell with a hard solid structure, anvil that stretched across the sky and an overshooting top. It was just amazing and instantly I took a very serious interest about the structures of storms and what goes on within them... so I began to study.

To this day I still love structures, I love to just watch a supercell form, watch the anvil spread out and just watch it go through the whole life cycle. It's an amazing thing to watch to see this one cloud that started out as a cumulus cloud shoot up to 10,000 - 20,000 feet in the sky.

So I was insipred to see more of these, of course I couldn't at the time due to lack of driver licnese... but as soon as I got my license I began doing it.
I've been fascinated with tornadoes and severe weather ever since I was four years old. My grandfather was a storm spotter and would give me the issues of Stormtrack Magazine he would pick up at his spotter meetings and training courses. I saw my first tornado at the age of six. I had my first uncomfortably up close experience with a tornado when I was 13 as it was busy doing damage a few blocks away from my home. Oddly enough that tornado came through town while I was watching The Making of "Twister" on HBO and it had just gotten to the part with the F5 tornado when the power and cable cut out. I stepped out on the porch and looked down the street to see a whirling mass of stuff down at the intersection of Grant and 6th (at the court house for those of you who have been through Beatrice). I remember that the lighting flashes were green. Not bright white. Green. I also remember how eerily calm it was for something so violent being so close to me.

The damage after that storm was spectacular, though. The State Home (my current employer) lost a ton of trees, some as old as 100+ years, and suffered some damage from a direct hit. I walked around town the next day and saw the supermarket it damaged. There were strawberry splats on the siding of houses surrounding the area. Closer inspection showed the seeds embeded into the wood/aluminum/plastic siding. Some lucky kids found video games that were still playable.

There was also a garage half a block behind me that was destroyed but the apartment building next to the garage suffered no damage at all. Strange thing.
As corny as it is, my fascination with weather started when I was very young and I watched (you guessed it), "The Wizard of Oz". That tornado fascinated me and I've been hooked ever since. I still watch that movie every year and get excited when the tornado shows up!
The Plainfield 1990 F5 was what set off my interest in weather, but what really set me off on chasing was last May's outbreaks.
Always been a weather weenie and storm freak, but internet contact with another chaser, Mark Hill, allowed me to realize that I could really do it.
Think there was always something in the back of my mind...can remember when I was small, that my mom, who was (and still is) terrified of storms would make my dad take us out driving around, I guess to get away from the storms that would come through at night. I would always be wide awake in the back seat looking at the lightning and making comments.
First kind-of up close and personal was an F1 near Knoxville in the Superoutbreak. I was on the disaster team, and we were in the field less than 1/2 hour after it hit...was kind of hoping another one would drop...yeeps!!
The one that got me was an F3 in my back yard (literally!!) in Feb.,1993. I was outside looking to see why the thunder sounded weird and turned around to see the funnel heading straight for my house. Luckily it lifted, and passed over our neighborhood. It did some significant damage a couple miles southeast of me.
Did a couple years of serious studying before I attempted to chase, and now, basically if it's convective, and I'm off from work, I go after it. Had the absolutely best day of my career on May 29 in Kansas this year. I'm just looking forward to finally moving out to Norman in a couple weeks to start school, and start my permanent chase vacation! 8)

Seeing what others had seen on the internet got me into it. The love was there since whever, but I never had any idea how many different shapes storms could actually come in. I wanted to find them all. I think some on here are getting the question confused with what sparked your interest in weather or storms. I don't think anyone decided to actually chase right after these long ago experiences. There is a decent gap between just enjoying weather and actually chasing it. I really do not think I thought about chasing it till I read about others doing it online. I was always on the hill in town though rolling video well before the internet. Chasing never crossed my mind till I read others were doing it though. And I got lucky on my very first chase and got a nice tornado. I wonder how much I would of kept trying had I not done so. Who knows.

What sparked my interest in weather was when my dad would take me out on the front porch when I was real young to watch thunderstorms at night. In 1985 or 86 I saw the National Geographic Special about David Hoadley and the NSSL chase team. I still have that on tape. Through the 90s I would watch storms from home and take video of them. Starting in 1997 we started going to Oklahoma to possibly see storms. It wasnt until June 5 of 2001 that we went on our first chase. We chased a supercell near Vici, Oklahoma. On May 5, 2002 I saw my first tornado near Seiling, Oklahoma. Since I started chasing in 2001 I've seen at least 10 tornados, with a couple possilbes. I have a love for storms of all types. I would love to go on a hurricane chase someday, but that wont be for quite a while.
Great question. It is 105 and sticky, I'm watching the radar so I'll give it the full story here...


In 1992 I experienced some beautiful feathery lightning near Indio while driving through the California Deserts at 4am. It was just starting to get light outside, revealing air strikes over mountains. I enjoyed the lightshow.

What I didn't realize was that the "Monsoon" in the Southwestern United States can really pack a punch, unleashing torrential rain, flash floods, severe wind gusts (when I say severe, I mean, even the potential for 100mph +, like one recorded at Deer Valley Airport at 115mph a few years ago), microbursts and frequent to even constant lightning.

I moved to Arizona in 1994, blissfully expecting fantastic winters and the summers to be what the almanacs say: Hot. And they are. But a month or so after arriving, I looked one summer night across the desert to the south at what appeared to be a solid purple, blackish wall being sliced in half by CGs.

The storm door was open for the Mexican Monsoon (so named because this pattern comes from Mexico). Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued as well as funnel sightings, here comes some intense wind, then a wall of dust followed by torrential rains. I didn't know at that point that I was about to experience one of the most severe storms of my life. This type of severe weather was also new to me as well because I grew up in Northern California, where fog and earthquakes make weather news.

When the wall arrived, the sky blackened and the storm started throwing down lightning like a mad scientist. I didn't know it was even possible for a storm to produce that much electricity, it was like an animation or Tesla coil, hard to describe. The lightning was close as well, hitting objects across the street and right outside. The power goes. Then a CG struck a tree that was touching my roof. It was a deafening crash, like something blowing up. I hit the floor.

Even with all that was going on, the thing I remember most is closing my eyes that night and seeing the afterimages of all the lightning strikes, a blinding effect that didn't go away for about two hours. When the storm finally moved off I went outside to take a look at the damage. Broken pieces of all kinds of stuff were everywhere. The landscaping was rearranged in Cuisinart fashion, there was a patio table set at the bottom of a pool, hundreds of trees were down all over town and power poles snapped in half, tossed upsidedown into the canals. Now in the shape of a giant Y, my lone tree was alive but split in half with a burn mark down the middle. The Mexican Monsoon delivered it's fury to my front door that night, scared the living tar out of me, but I didn't know that it also gave me a gift.

After that experience (and actually, no storm I have seen has matched it to date for electricity, even the ones I see in the Plains), I was shaken and thought to myself "Where the hell did I move to?" At the time I did not understand the Mexican Monsoon.

During the following months, I became fearful when lightning was near. In the desert, lightning is the ruler of the sky, CGs striking at will and touching closeby. No wonder the legends and lore, and that the Giant Saguaro cactus (icon of the desert) is also known as the Sentinel of the Desert. It's a 40ft water-filled lightning rod, taking the strikes on behalf of everything else.

I knew that I needed to do something, anything to decrease my nervousness around storms if I was going to live in Arizona and be at ease with the Monsoon. Life is weird. The whole experience was so ironic for me, because I was the weathergeek of the family, fascinated by lightning, thunder, tornadoes since I was old enough to read my dad's collection of science books. Lightning was always my subject of choice. I would dream about it, read about it, look forward to it and follow it once in awhile in the Sierra foothills. Now, I was the fisherman afraid of the sea.

1995 came so I hit the books, reading everything I could get my hands on about lightning and the Mexican Monsoon, with the strategy of educating my way out of fear. I didn't just want to see the lightning, I wanted to know it, how it works, the various forms of it and learn the lightning hotspots in the Southwest.

I collected a library of weather material, grabbed for "required reading" such as Martin Uman's book "Lightning" (cover is well worn). Warren Faidley's books were in my collection too, particularly because he is an Arizonan. I talked online to lightning afficionados here and in Australia.

Magazine was my career field, and with that, photography. I had hundreds of pictures of all kinds of subjects, just not lightning, not yet. But I couldn't think of a better way to understand my quarry then to photograph it in still form photojournalism, saving the image so I can look at the details later. By now, fear had become fascination.

I started visiting places like the Chiricahua, Mazatzals and Superstitions, to learn the roads and vantage points. (Forest service sign on the wall at Chiricahua Natl Monument: "Lightning index: none, moderate, frequent, constant"). Love that.

I set out to get dirty (and did I get dirty) running the deserts and learning to take pictures of lightning. Shortly thereafter I wanted to extend my season and catch some structure too so included trips to the Plains in the springtime (where lightning is very different, I discovered). Seasons later, I have a lightning collection, storm stories and yet, the passion for stormchasing never wanes (it gets worse LOL) and each year is a new chance.

There are thousands of blink-of-an-eye lightning bolts in Arizona each year and plenty to go for in the Plains. I plan to freeze a few of them in time. Someone asked me once why I go to such trouble to put lightning on film. The answer is simple, "So I can see it."

A very deep consuming lifelong passionate interest in WEATHER! (aggravated in childhood by 4-10-1979 W.Falls tornado, the 1980 heatwave, hundreds of severe thunderstorms, etc.)

My interest in weather goes back for as long as I remember. It was the influence of floods and runoff associated with heavy rain which first intrigued me, and the challenge in forecasting led to my interest in thunderstorms, particularly heavy rain and hail. During 1989, a talk by Chuck Doswell on tornadoes led to the dream of chasing storms and tornadoes. In 1993, I met my website team mate and we began chasing in Australia. There have been a few tornadic encounters in Australia including a storm that has to be one of the favourites with an inflowband at Coffs Harbour. But it was the US 2001 trip and associated tornadoes that became the highlight of my career and dream come true! US chasing is now an important part of my chasing calendar. This year's 2004 US Tornado Alley trip has certainly consolidated that concept.

Jimmy Deguara
Originally posted by KMcCallister
A very deep consuming lifelong passionate interest in WEATHER! (aggravated in childhood by 4-10-1979 W.Falls tornado, the 1980 heatwave, hundreds of severe thunderstorms, etc.)
4-10-79 Lawton OK started it all for me!! I've been obsessed with weather since as far back as I can remember and I used to sit and watch TWC all day long on a day there was RED in our area for severe storms. I'd go out locally and watch them come in always hoping to see a tornado. I dont really know what started me actually chasing them other than I knew the chances of the elusive tornado was not going to just come to me sitting in Omaha.. I chased Eastern NE for a long time then moved to Amarillo where a trip to Pampa June,8 95 for a funeral netted me my first tornado kinda on accident. Hell of a tor to see for your first.. after that I was hooked until I got into the relationship from hell that wouldnt allow me to go.

March 28th 2000 brought my love of storms and tornadoes back to the forefront of my life when it took my roof and I watched till it crossed I-20 and went out of view on its way to Grand Praire. I knew there was no going back after that, its just who I am and here I am.. Now I take time out during the spring to go where the storms are and the rest of the time chase whatever is close to me... I'm just lucky damn near everything has been close to me this year.
I am going to show my age here. I remember when around 3years old in 1960 ( give or take a year ) a flood. We lived on a highway and just down the road a creek had flooded stranding cars. I remember standing at the front fence as my dad went down to help. I so wished to be there, even though I could see it from the front fence.

I guess that must have been the spark. I grew up as the kid who loved puddles, never wore a raincoat and loved making dams.

When I got my first car in 1974 I was immediately chasing storms and flash floods. My scientific knowledge of storms was poor at best, but then again in 1974 nobody in Australia knew much better. Chasing consisted of basicially getting into the heaviest rain and hail I could find, if water was flooding the road that was a bonus , not a hinderance.

I still carry that poor habit today, consistently not stopping at an ideal photo location, but pushing on too close.
I was 6 or 7 years old when the superoutbreak of 74 took place. My parents was really worried about that. And as a young child to see my parents act like that. I became terrified of them as well. In Wizard of OZ, the Tornado scene scared me more than those flying monkey thingys. It was also so bad that when we had the practice tornado drills at school, my stomach would turn itself in and out because i thought one might happen.
But i think I was 9 when I saw this book at school "Hurricanes and Tornadoes". I checked it out, and was so amazed. From that point the fear that my parents instilled to me became of wonder and curious feeling to the Tornado, then as I grew I learned more and more about the storm.
Then in 87 my brother and I started to go out and spot when severe weather would come into the area. Have seen many funnel clouds but have'nt been lucky enough to see a tornado on the ground...yet...
Realizing that if I wanted to see anything interesting I'd have to drive to the storms instead of waiting for them to come to me. In junior high and high school I got frustrated with all the storms that seemed to miss us by 50 miles or less. Not getting my license until I was almost 19 made it tougher - from the time I was 16 to the time I was 18 the area I lived at the time had an unusually high amount of severe weather that I wished I could have chased. After I got my license I tried to chase as many convective events as I could within 100 miles of my town - got a few funnels, some decent hail events, and even a tornado - but there were never as many chances to chase as there were in the 3 years before I got my license.

I figured I would probably make a trip out to the Plains at some point, but didn't seriously consider it until I was invited on a trip out here in 1998 with a group of chasers I had known on-line for several years. A year later I decided to enroll at OU, and although I didn't last long there I ended up getting a job here in Norman and settle here permanently. Five years later I'm still here enjoying the numerous opportunites to chase throughout the year.

Mel - Pampa was your first? :shock:
Nothing like baptism by fire I guess. I have an 8x10 photo of that one that Al Moller had mailed to me. It is an amazing shot. To date, Al's Pampa photo is by far the most vivid example of a violent, out of control tornado that I have ever seen. Somehow he captured it plus the flying debris in detail without becoming a casualty. Pampa makes Twister animations look like child's play.