Aric Cylkowski

Location: Canton, MI
Started Chasing: 2003
Tornadoes: None on film

Bio: I am a Meteorology graduate from Central Michigan University who grew up in the Detroit-Flint area of Southeast Michigan. I am currently a customer service associate for Lowe’s when I’m working but I’m still looking for my big break into meteorology.

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

I would be lying if I said I knew the answer to this, I only know that as far back as I can remember I always found myself fascinated by theweather and figuring I should be upstairs watching it when everyone else was hunkered down in the basement (for some reason, it feels the sirens in Oakland County, Michigan went off a lot in the late 80s and early 90s).

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

In 1992 after getting a VHS copy of “The Enemy Wind” by The Weather Channel for my birthday from my grandparents (along with an autographed picture of Meteorologist John Hope wishing me a happy seventh birthday). After watching that tape until I wore it out before the summer was up, I had made the decision to chase storms.

How long have you been actively chasing?

Coming up on 12 years now, mostly local yokel stuff but since 2010 I’ve been chasing much further from home when circumstances warrant.

Do you chase for a reason?

Ahh, this question! Do I chase to save lives or any of that heroic stuff people like to throw out there when asked why they do it? No. I mainly chase to observe and document, typically nothing more.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Properly guided passion can be a fantastic thing, as it can inspire someone to learn as much as they can and be ready for it when they break into what they want to get into. Unguided passion can be a terrible thing, as one may rush into circumstances they aren’t fully prepared for and may end up paying for their enthusiasm dearly.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

As much as I’ve chased alone recently, I would much rather chase in a group.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

A long time ago when I was younger, but I’d rather bust on my own skill or at least be a part of the process bouncing ideas off of a chase partner.

How do you feel about the current state of storm chasing?

I feel storm chasing is a victim of its own success, that we make it so easy that everything thinks they can just grab a camcorder, go out and video tape a tornado and get home in one piece with little effort. It’s so appealing to the rugged individualist that if cigarette companies could still advertise on TV, the Marlboro Man would be a storm chaser instead of a cowboy. The truth is, it’s a hobby for all types and requires more than a token effort to get into successfully.

Which era of chasing would you prefer to exist? Old-school or new-school?

This is actually a really tough question… one can see how old-school really was in a number of NOVA episodes on tornadoes, particularly one from the mid-80s where research chasers had to call back to what we’d call nowcasters nowadays for information. Now storm chasers have cell phones if there is a need to call anyone, but in really you can get the latest in satellite, radar, observations and numerical forecast guidance without getting up from the driver seat (and the radar part without severely upsetting the FCC). Truth be told, both eras have their upsides, but ultimately I would have liked to have experienced old-school chasing at some point in my life.

How far are you willing to travel for a good set up?

Right now? As far as I can go and still make it back the next day so I can go to work. Typically this limits me to 200-300 miles.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

I haven’t found great chase territory yet… the closest I’ve found to favorable has been Northwest Ohio where it’s flat, but the road network isn’t favorable. The absolute worst place to chase is anywhere in Southeast Michigan, attempt no chasing there.

What is you favorite type of set up to chase? Least favorite?

I like chasing warm fronts… Anything that spins up will be fairly reasonable to chase and have a decent profile to support it. Cold fronts, while they can deliver some of the more widespread potential for tornadoes in Michigan historically also tend to be shrouded with heavy rain or won’t happen at all because the dynamics support non-photogenic squall lines 99 times out of 100.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

My most memorable chase would have to be my first actual chase on June 8, 2003. Had an EF2 touch down behind the car somewhere in the jungles south of Flint, MI and I would’ve missed it if I hadn’t had the overwhelming urge to look behind me. I almost quit chasing entirely because of how bad that scared me, but I realized I just needed to become more seasoned and needed to take safety far more seriously.

My least memorable chase was November 17, 2013… Drove 2-3 hours to the west side of the state, lost a windshield wiper arm for no good reason and drove home on the back end of the line without a single photo or second of footage (even of the line sweeping in across I-94). If I had stayed in Cassopolis where the wiper arm finally came off and had waited for the line to pass me, I would’ve at least had a tornado touchdown on the south end of town, and I probably wouldn’t have tried driving back with only the passenger side wiper working. I will probably forget that one in time for sure.

Have you ever feared for your life?

See the previous question on that one, but a little fear always keeps onesself honest with the danger of what they’re doing.

Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing? (I.E – core punching/hook slicing/living in the bears cage)

After June 8, 2003… Well, I might make such attempts with a group of storm chasers and make sure I have an adequate escape route, but only in areas where the terrain isn’t going to obscure the tornado any worse than what the storm is already attempting.

Do you have any superstitions?

None really.

Would you sacrifice a salaried job with full benefits, but only 2 weeks out of the year to chase for a paycheck to paycheck life with unlimited chasing?

Absolutely

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

Nope, but I at least have my Bachelors of Science in Meteorology so I at least have that going for me.

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

No.

Are you more likely to hang out with other chasers while waiting for initiation, or sit alone on a country road watching the sky?

I am far more likely to hang out with other chasers.

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

I would have to say the June 4, 2010 chase I did with Ben Holcomb near Lansing, MI was by far my favorite chase. We set up down near Coldwater Michigan waiting for initiation, and despite our hopes for supercells things weren’t looking on the up and up until storms started to fire. Despite if we had stayed in Lansing and waited for initiation, we ended up on the south-side of a supercell with a largely non-rotating wall cloud (most of any rotation turned out to be horizontal curls that moved up the leading edge of the wall cloud) that we followed all the way until we were east of Lansing and the storm stopped looking interesting. We swung south to try and intercept another storm and ended up empty-handed as far as tornadoes go, but it was still good fun overall.

What date burns in you (think bust) and why?

July 24, 2005

http://www.spc.noaa.gov/products/md/2005/md1848.html

This event turned me off of straight numerical weather forecast chase determinations and away from blindly reading parameters. Now that I know a lot more, I know that the hodograph looked like garbage, there was a substantial cap that wasn’t going to break at 00z and despite Siggy Tors exceeding 10 that the Siggy Tor only works if there is initiation and the storm type is favorable (and even then it’s not the end all-be all).

Do you always know why you made the wrong or right decisions to chase a particular day?

Not immediately, no. I’ll put in the research until I find out why, otherwise I’ll just keep making the same mistakes.

How did you learn what you know about forecasting and meteorology?

Tons of book learning as a kid, going to SKYWARN classes and going to Central Michigan University for Meteorology (special shoutout to my professors: Dr. Martin Baxter, Dr. Leigh Orf, Dr. Richard Mower and Dr. Ashton Peyrefitte).

Do you consider the day a success even if you don’t witness a tornado?

Only if there is good structure or something ‘weird’ happens.

Do you feel short changed if you see a tornado from a greater distance to you than you prefer?

Absolutely not.

How do you feel about the post “Storm Chaser” generation?

I haven’t had the fortune (or misfortune) to run into anyone whose sole reasoning for storm chasing has revolved around watching that show.

Do you feel like the scientific community should get the same respect as emergency vehicles around storms?

Absolutely not.

How you do you feel about the media in regards to the weather and chasing?

“The purpose of journalism is not to tell the truth, it is to make money.” A journalism professor once said that to a class of mine and after seeing one too many media types cut in front of tornadoes to get the ‘money shot’, I will say this: If your purpose is to go out and make money, and you figure the best chance of that is to take a gamble with your own life by cutting in front of a tornado, don’t expect a whole lot of respect for it from me.

Who are the most influential people to you out in the field?

Chuck Doswell and Tim Samaras (before El Reno in 2013) taught me a lot of why safety and respect are very important in storm chasing during conversations I had with them at conferences.

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

Only if they were interested in it.

If you didn’t know anything about storm chasing, how would you react if your child said they wanted to be a chaser?

I would only hope that I would be as supportive as my parents were for me.

What do you fear most about a storm?

Lightning.

What type of storm do you prefer to chase? (Ugly HP/sculpted LP/classic/squall line)

Classic supercells. Nice mix between updraft and downdraft, good chance of tornadoes and not as high a chance of getting rain-wrapped as an HP supercell.

Do you stop your progress toward a storm for a great photography opportunity?

I would rather get on the storm and take my photos there.

How do you feel about law enforcement immediately around a tornadic supercell?

I understand they have a job to do and I’ll keep my distance when I can.

Should storm chasers feel more entitled to be around storms than law enforcement or locals?

No.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

Retails is terrible like that.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

My mother, father and I have gone on a few storm chases locally when I was younger and overall I would state that they support my storm chasing.

How long do you plan on chasing?

Until I’m physically incapable of continuing.

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