Bob Hartig

Location: Caledonia, MI
Started Chasing: 1996
Tornadoes: 12
Web site: http://www.stormhorn.com

Bio: I’m a storm chaser and jazz saxophonist living in West Michigan, where I make my living as a freelance book editor and writer. Besides chasing throughout the Midwest as often as I am able, I also chase locally for WOOD TV-8. Living in Michigan, I also enjoy intercepting waterspouts in September and October. I’ve witnessed approximately forty tornadoes and have documented only a handful, mostly since 2008. Those who know me understand that those modest numbers by no means reflect my passion for this pursuit. I am a student of the sky and a connoisseur of violent convective beauty.

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

I became fascinated with tornadoes at a very early age, around four years old. In those days, I used to wrestle with my dad on the living room floor, and every now and then, the beating-up-Dad sessions would get put on pause as Dad reached for a volume of the old Encylopaedia Britannica set and we would look at pictures. During one such session, Dad pulled out volume T and turned to an entry on tornadoes, which included two black-and-white plates featuring classic photos of a tornado in Jasper, Minnesota, and another in Vulcan, Alberta, Canada. At that moment, a switch flipped in my brain that has never shut off. Once I learned how to read, I grabbed every book I could find about tornadoes. I watched The Wizard of Oz every year specifically for the tornado scene. I did a science fair exhibit on tornadoes. I couldn’t shut up talking about them.

On April 11, 1965, the Palm Sunday tornadoes cut across northern Indiana just twenty miles south of where I lived. I was nine at the time, and that event impressed me deeply. But by then I was already obsessed with tornadoes. Fifty years later, that hasn’t changed.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

In 1996, having followed Gilbert Sebenste’s storm chasing site as it morphed into Stormtrack online for, it occurred to me that I had a job and a car and needed to do something about my lifelong obsession with tornadoes. That was also the year I met fellow Grand Rapids, Michigan-based chasers Tom and Bill Oosterbaan. For the first time, I was with some guys I could talk shop with who understood my passion for tornadoes, and we began to chase together. Then that August, in a rare event for my state, discrete classic supercells moved across the area, and one of them moved directly over my workplace shortly before closing. I looked out the window, and lo and behold, there was a wall cloud! I left work early and chased the storm for a good fifty miles. Somewhere out in the open farmlands northeast of Fowler, I parked my car and watched as the wall cloud tightened up a mile or two east of me, and a beautiful, pencil-thin white tube materialized and spun there for maybe a minute before dissipating.

I was so elated that when a deer jumped me on the drive home and mashed in my radiator, it barely registered as a mild annoyance. I had seen my first tornado! It would be ten years before I would see my next one—years of pounding the Illinois and Indiana flatlands, sometimes by myself and often with Bill and Tom and also with Kurt Hulst, another Grand Rapids-area chaser. My technology consisted of a weather radio and a cell phone. Radar was a matter of stopping at libraries and airports. I saw a lot of storms, but no tornadoes again until 2006. Lots of busts, lots of ignorance fueled by pure, dumb enthusiasm, and lots of fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But there’s a lot to be said for actually seeing tornadoes, which began to happen in 2006, starting with the March 12 six-state supercell.

How long have you been actively chasing?

Since 1996.

Do you chase for a reason?

Passion. That’s all. I love the storms, pure and simple.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Obviously I see it as a very good thing. It’s the only thing that’ll sustain a person through the inevitable busts and dry times. And why sink time and money into something that doesn’t give you joy?

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

As far as my finances will allow. These past few years, I’ve been largely tethered to local chases. That has been hard to take, but life has its realities and responsibilities, and much as I love chasing, I have to keep it in perspective.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

My most memorable chase was May 22, 2020, in South Dakota. That was the day of the Bowdle tornado, and from my perspective, it offered everything I could have asked for and plenty I’d never have asked for. Ipswitch. ‘Nuff said.

My least memorable chase was . . . hmmm, I can’t remember.

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

Given my druthers, I prefer solitude. I like sharing the experience with a good friend or two, and I enjoy meeting friends on the road, but as an introverted personality type, I take a more contemplative approach to chasing.

What date burns in you [think bust”> and why?

June 20, 2011. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong—one delay after another. I missed great tornadoes in southeast Nebraska by an hour and wound up driving 750 miles to intercept a shelf cloud.

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