Jeff Duda

Location: Norman, OK
Started Chasing: 2008
Tornadoes: 48
Web site: www.meteor.iastate.edu/~jdduda/chasing/chasing.html

Bio: I’m an academic/researcher. Although interested in chasing storms as a little kid, it wasn’t until I began studying meteorology at Iowa State University in 2006 that my passion exploded. I was fortunate to be able to chase with TWISTEX from 2008-2010. It was with that program that I witnessed about 50% of my tornadoes, gained a lot of practical experience chasing, and began forming relationships with those in the storm chasing and severe weather research community. I have obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees in meteorology, and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma is coming soon in 2015 or 2016. In general, I have been driven by a desire to learn how the world works, in all its glorious detail. I am also driven by the pursuit of truth.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

Do you chase for a reason?

I chase to see the laws of physics that drive Mother Nature in action. It just so happens that thunderstorms and their ancillary phenomena are an extreme example of atmospheric physics, and the rarity of these phenomena make them more intriguing to witness and document. As a meteorologist, I also like to see if I can forecast well enough to predict where a tornado will occur on a given chase day.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Like most things in life, it’s a good thing as long as it’s in moderation. I don’t agree with those who will give up having personal relationships, miss/abandon family activities, or put their health or finances in danger just to chase. There will always be chase opportunities, but if your passion is so intense it causes you to harm yourself in any way, you won’t be able to chase as much. I believe life is best lived as a balance between indulging and resisting the urge to indulge, as the contrast enhances the sensation of any activity. As the saying goes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

I prefer to chase in a group – it enables you to distribute duties such as driving, navigating, observing weather measurements, and keeping an eye on the surrounding environment more evenly instead of doing it all yourself, which can be dangerous since the amount of attention you can give to any one particular duty is limited otherwise (this includes driving, the most important part of chasing).

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

While I don’t have a very long record of firsthand experience to recall, from what I saw in storm chasing videos when I was a kid, and from what I’ve heard from veterans, storm chasing is very different today compared to what it was like before. Some of the changes are good, while others are not so good.

Good changes include increased success rates due to a higher quantity and higher accuracy meteorological data used to forecast, detect, and document tornadoes. Improved autmotive and photography/videography technology have made it possible to chase more often, farther away, witness tornadoes that may be at a large distance, and obtain high resolution/quality photos and videos of tornadoes. It is also easier to store and quickly share large quantities of photos and videos.

Not so good changes include the sociological changes regarding peoples’ attitudes about storm chasing. No one used to try to chase to become famous or make a profit. It really did use to be about the science. Nowadays there are more than a few chasers out there to get their 15 minutes of fame or make money. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, what it causes some chasers to do isn’t so good. I have witnessed many poor driving maneuvers and behaviors from some chasers, including stopping and standing in the middle of a highway and not pulling all the way off the road when parking. Also, since the popularity of chasing has grown so much, the roads near storms are frequently clogged with drivers, which reduces the enjoyment of many chasing experiences. Now one must pay more attention to the road and those around them than the sky, even when Mother Nature is putting on a show.

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

While I’m considering starting a new tradition of taking a chasecation to circumvent problems with chasing in Oklahoma, I currently chase on a one-day leash, meaning I’ll only go so far out such that I can get back later that day. That usually amounts to about 400-500 miles from home. The latest I have ever returned home on a one-day chase is 5:30 AM.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

My favorite chase territory is central/eastern Nebraska. I just wish more tornadoes would happen there. My least favorite is northwest Oklahoma and south central Kansas (essentially the region bounded by Alva, Medicine Lodge, Coldwater, and Buffalo). There are very few roads and data coverage is pretty bad. Since that area is embedded within otherwise outstanding chase territory, I frequently find myself having to traverse that area.

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

Most favorite: dryline – more isolated and slower moving storms Least favorite: cold front generally fast moving and grungy storms

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

Most memorable: getting hit unexpectedly by a weak anticyclonic tornado while sitting in a mesonet car in Kansas on 29 May 2008 after we had already abandoned the storm of the day. My ears popped suddenly and sharply (it hurt) and the back end of our car was pushed over a little bit. Scared the shit out of me. Least memorable: I don’t know…I don’t remember it!

Have you ever feared for your life?

See my response to the question above…yes. I would not intentionally do that again.

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

Yes, and it annoys me when someone does it and gets away with it (i.e., ends up seeing a tornado that I don’t see because I’m properly positioned on the southeast or east side of the storm and rain has wrapped all the way around the tornado on the south/east sides and the backside ends up clearing out).

Do you have any superstitions?

For a time in 2009-2010 I had a lot of luck on chases when I ate lunch at Taco Johns. That stopped working after awhile, though, so I stopped thinking about it.

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?

No the best chasing is generally only possible for 3 or 4 months out of the year. That leaves 8-9 months of time to need something else to do. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck before and it is stressful and takes the fun out of life. I could live only getting to chase a few times per year.

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

The three-day stretch of 18-20 May 2013 haunts my dreams. I made the wrong decision on either which storm to target or whether or not to even leave home (from Norman) all three days. Cost me three days of quality tornadoes. I only ended up seeing one small weak tornado in Kansas on the 19th.

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

I will consider a non-tornado chase a success if I see a supercell storm in my target area and it either has impressive cloud structure or large hail.

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

I suspect media interest has largely driven the increased popularity in storm chasing, especially since Discovery’s “Storm Chasers” series aired. Since I’m not a fan of how many chasers are out there nowadays, I would prefer the media pay less attention to chasing (not necessarily science or meteorology, but the “EXTREME” aspect of it).

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

Yes. If I ever have any, I will certainly take them out on some chases (assuming I still chase storms years down the road).

What do you fear most about a storm?

I fear being caught in a zero-visibility situation such that I can’t move and don’t know what may be coming. This has happened both during a chase and on the drive to/from a chase.

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

Classic – they seem to provide BOTH excellent cloud structure AND a tornado.

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

Annoyed when they’re all over the place. I have had multiple excellent positioning opportunities during bigtime chases ruined by a law-enforcement vehicle blocking my path. They may just be trying to serve their community and keep people safe, but I’m pretty sure most chasers know more about what they’re doing around storms than most of the law-enforcement officers blocking roads. I think their lack of knowledge and situational awareness combined with their authority can actually cause people to get hurt, such as if a law-enforcement officer blocks a chaser’s escape route. I heard accounts of that in Oklahoma on 31 May 2013.

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

No, no one has the ultimate right to be in position on any given storm. Storm chasers need to keep in mind that if they are using public roads and traveling through towns, they don’t own those roads or towns. They are guests in someone else’s community, and they must share the right of road. Sure, having to give up position may be annoying, but doing so is consistent with not infringing on the rights of others.

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