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Jesse Risley

Location: Colchester, IL
Started Chasing: 1999
Tornadoes: I don’t actually track the number, but somewhere between 100-200
Web site:

Bio: Jesse Risley is a high school social studies teacher who hails from the western part of Illinois. Having an interest in severe weather that was sparked largely by the Plainfield, IL tornado in 1990, Jesse took a Skywarn spotter class in the spring of 1999 and began chasing storms on a local basis immediately. Realizing that prospects are limited locally in Illinois, he began taking regular trips to the Plains in 2007 and started investing in videography equipment to document his storm chases.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

I can recall being fascinated by weather from a young age, but after watching all of Tom Skilling’s local summaries on the aftermath of the Plainfield, IL tornado in August of 1990, I really became fascinated with wanting to better understand and actually witness tornadoes in nature.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

I opted to a take a Skywarn class in the spring of 1999, and immediately on the first active spotting endeavor for that season, I was already at odds with the local spotter net for “chasing” the storm well outside of my assigned spotting position. It was really at that moment that I decided to engage in what we would consider to be “chasing” the storm, although at that time I would only go 60-70 miles from home, at most.

How long have you been actively chasing?

I started chasing around my hometown in north central Illinois in the spring of 1999, but have only been chasing out of state since 2007.

Do you chase for a reason?

I primarily chase because I have an intrinsic desire to experience nature at its worst, so it is a self-fulfilling hobby for me. If my being out there and passing along reports is able to assist in the warning process, that’s an added benefit from a social standpoint, but my main motivation remains satisfying a personal curiosity with nature’s most extreme atmospheric phenomena.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

I see passion as nothing less than a good thing.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

I prefer to chase with a group, both for the companionship on long road trips and also for the cost-saving benefits of chasing with others.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

Yes, but I haven’t felt it would be a worthwhile investment because of my own personal abilities and flexibility to do whatever I want sans the direction or limitations of leading or joining with a bona fide tour group.

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

I don’t particularly like the hordes of not-so-serious chasers that clog up the roads, but the availability of modern data, radar, and road software maps, among others, has made chasing easier in that regard.

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

I like the challenge of old school chasing, but from a purely probabilistic standpoint, new-school chasing makes the odds of success quite a bit larger.

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

I’ll go as far as I can travel for a potential reward, in so far as I am able to balance the distance with other life obligations.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

My favorite areas to chase are the northern Plains and the Texas panhandle. I’d have to say my least favorite areas are Dixie alley and large parts of my home state, due mostly to terrain difficulties and/or the oftentimes highly precipitable storm modes that make viewing less aesthetic in these areas.

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

My favorite setups include cold core setups and spring or early summer setups that feature strong dynamics and potent low pressure systems, although I’d be remiss if I neglected the rewarding potential of a classic warm front with all other parameters falling into line.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

My most memorable chase is probably the Yazoo City tornado in April 2010, with the least memorable being a complete bust in early May 2012 up near the NE/SD border. That setup had capping issues, looked quite epic, and ended up being a rather late, linear junk fest.

Have you ever feared for your life?

Yes, most notable when Henryville, IN was hit on 03/02/2012. I stopped right in the path of the tornado as it was churning through a forest with some difficult elevation. The tornado was rapidly approaching me and was so massive that, due to the terrain, I mistook the tornado for a large, rapidly rotating wall cloud until it bore its ugly head on the other side of a wooded holler. Had I not moved immediately, I would have been right in the past as it crossed I-65 just 2 minutes later.

Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing?

(I.E core punching/hook slicing/living in the bears cage)?

I tend to be more conservative in this regard, yes, although I have taken risks on occasion.

Do you have any superstitions?

Not really, no.

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, I like the balance of a stable career and a steady income, with the realization that my chasing endeavors are sometimes limited, especially in the spring, although I do have the entire summer off to chase.

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

I do teach physical geography, but no, I am not employed in a bona fide weather-related field.

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

Yes, I have attended every year since 2009.

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 usually end up congregating and visiting others.

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

June 17, 2010 in northern Minnesota. never have I seen so many tornadoes from a slower moving, cyclic supercell that were so photogenic.

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

The Litchfield, IL tornado in April 2011. We made a series of decisions that cost us an otherwise photogenic tornado on a day where we were in perfect position and missed the tornado by less than 10 minutes.

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

Hindsight is usually 20/20, but there are times that I never really understand why one cell produces while the one I picked, in the same environment, fails to do so.

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

A combination of message boards, blogs, and reading forecast books like those from Tim Vazquez, though learning the nuances of forecast models is not a spectator sport either.

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

Yes, as long as I target a storm and am able to see something worthwhile and photogenic.

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

No, not unless it’s so amorphous that it wasn’t worth talking about.

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

There is too much reliance on technology and not enough understanding of the atmospheric dynamics, i.e., too many chasers majoring in the minors when it should be the other way around.

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

Yes, though the emergency community should take precedence.

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

The media plays a valuable roll in warning the public, at the very least.

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

Tim Marshall, Tim Vazquez, Rich Thompson, Chuck Doswell, and the late Tim Samaras

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

I don’t plan to have children, but if I did, yes.

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 be supportive and probably the guy who wanted to become part of the teaching experiences.

What do you fear most about a storm?

A situation like El Reno, where a storm makes an abrupt deviation on a volatile environment with perhaps limited road options, putting me in a precarious situation for emergency exits.

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

Classic supercell

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

Yes, though I am more focused on video as opposed to photography

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

They have a job to do, but I don’t see the need for forced road closures unless there is an actual road hazard from debris. I don’t need to be protected from myself just because a tornado is 3 miles up the road.

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

No, I think the general public is equal in this regard. I’m not a fan of LE blocking roads, but if there is an emergency and they have a job to do, they get priority. Otherwise, treat people as adults but be respectful of others too, including private property and yielding the right-of-way on roadways.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

I have a sizable discretionary income that allows me to chase freely, yes.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

My family has always been very supportive, as a whole.

How long do you plan on chasing?

Until I am either dead or no longer physically or mentally able to continue pursuing this passion/hobby.

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