Jonathan Williamson

Location: Milwaukee, WI
Started Chasing: 2010
Tornadoes: 28 tornado days. I haven’t kept track of individual tornado numbers.
Web site: http://www.thestormylandscape.com

Bio: My day job is healthcare IT consulting and working with healthcare organizations installing electronic medical record software. Storm chasing is a big hobby of mine that keeps me very busy during the spring and early summer. Since 2010 I’ve chased quite a bit. I travel about 15,000 miles a year commuting from Milwaukee out west in search of severe weather. Although I shoot video, I especially enjoy landscape photography and capturing Mother Nature through still pictures.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

Probably after watching the Wizard of Oz as a kid. This was further reinforced by experiencing severe weather and tornado events while living in Arkansas and Tennessee in elementary school.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

I started becoming fascinated after the movie Twister. I started thinking that maybe I could actually try it out after TV shows like Storm Chasers, Storm Riders, and Tornado Road made the hobby seem more doable for ordinary people. I decided to actually give it a go when I had a lot of free time on my hands in between jobs in 2010.

How long have you been actively chasing?

My first chase was June 1, 2010, and I have been actively chasing since then.

Do you chase for a reason?

I chase for many reasons. It’s exhilarating, it’s challenging, it’s humbling, it’s a constant puzzle to figure out, it’s an appreciation for nature. The feeling of standing in front of the most extraordinary creations of Mother Nature and witnessing that power first hand is a feeling I am now addicted to. It’s a feeling that keeps me coming out again and again to recapture it.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Passion is a great and necessary thing to have on the road towards happiness as long as it doesn’t become an obsession. Although storm chasing is a huge passion of mine, there is much more in my life that takes priority over storm chasing.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

I prefer to chase in small, manageable groups. I chase by myself in my car a lot, but even in those instances I am usually seeking out a friend to caravan with. Chasing in a small caravan is much safer than going alone in case someone in your party needs assistance.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

No. By the time I started reading up on storm chase tours, I had already been chasing myself. If you can connect with someone who goes storm chasing and is willing to take you along with them to learn the ropes, it is a much better experience in my opinion. Cheaper, less people to deal with, more freedoms while chasing, etc.

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

If I was giving a State of the Union address on the current state of storm chasing, I would have to say that it is very healthy indeed. With each year, it seems that storm chasing becomes more and more accessable to the general public. With the continued media attention on severe weather events and storm chasing and the increased ease of access to the tools one needs to chase with, the amount of people becoming involved in the hobby is growing at a fast rate. However, that increase in participation brings both positive and negative side effects. I think now more than ever, it is very important to educate those new to the hobby and connect them with more experienced storm chasers to help shape their growth in a positive way. Stormtrack is a great portal to help with this. I myself connected with more experienced chasers I met through the Stormtrack website, and my experiences with them early on helped me immensely.

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

New school. It’s a good thing to look back and appreciate the past because it gives you a better perspective about the present. However, I wouldn’t trade in the technological advances and advanced knowledge of the present to go back in time. If I had actually chased in the pre-internet age of paper maps and hand drawn analysis I might have a different perspective. That’s not to say I don’t have a huge amount of respect for those that chased back then. They laid the foundation for this hobby that I have come to love. Their passion for storm chasing during a time when storm chasing was not nearly as accessable a hobby is something to be admired.

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

I’m willing to travel from my home in Milwaukee, WI to pretty much anywhere that is “chaseable” for a good setup. For instance, I will drive 1,000 miles from Milwaukee into the Canadian prairies to chase on good terrain, but I am much less willing to travel even 70 miles into the terrible terrain of southwest Wisconsin for a good setup.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

Although I’ve seen more tornadoes out west in Kansas and Nebraska, my favorite area to chase is central Illinois. It’s close to home. It’s flat. There aren’t a ton of trees. The road network is generally gridded providing a multitude of north-south/east-west options. And the majority of roads (even the backroads) are paved meaning you rarely have to deal with slick, muddy roads. It’s a joy to chase there when there is a good setup. My least favorite is anywhere is Dixie Alley. Outside of a couple small corridors, the terrain is hilly, littered with trees, and the road network is often poor. Chasing down there is extremely stressful.

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

My favorite type of setup is one that is located in the Northern Plains on a Slight risk day. This keeps the chaser hoards at bay. It also has to be one that yields isolated tornadic supercells that aren’t travelling at warp speeds. The upper level speed shear needs to be there for tornadoes, but not to an extreme degree. Good CAPE, good directional shear, good moisture, with enough CIN to keep things from getting messy fast. My least favorite are cold front forced chases. Strongly forced, often messy and not isolated. Especially stronger cold fronts with a lot of cold air right behind them.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

My most memorable is probably November 7, 2011 in southwest Oklahoma. I took a big chance driving all the way from Milwaukee for a slight risk in November of all months all the way down in Oklahoma on a day with an early sunset. It paid off with one of the most action packed chases of my life so far and the most tornadoes I’ve seen on one day. The least memorable is hands down May 5, 2012. I drove all the way out to northeast Nebraska to sit and bake under a blue sky all day, eat at Subway, and then turn around and drive right back home.

Have you ever feared for your life?

I wouldn’t say I’ve feared for my life, but I have been in some hairy situations when I’ve lost situational awareness and conditions deteriorated quickly.

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

Most certainly, yes. I am always afraid of what a storm could do to me. If you don’t have a healthy level of fear for a storm, you lose respect for what it can do to you. That’s when you make stupid decisions that can get you killed. That being said, it’s all about having situational awareness. If I can peform a core punch/hook slice/enter the bear’s cage while retaining awareness of where a tornado is and what my escape options are, then I am willing to do it if I don’t feel I am putting myself or my car in extreme physical peril.

Do you have any superstitions?

Not 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?

No, I wouldn’t. The chase “season” only lasts from April through June. The other 9 months of the year, I’d be wishing I had that nice salaried job that made more money and gave me a more secure and guaranteed future. My job allows me to experience chasing as solely a hobby and not a means to make money. I’m not saying making money off of chasing is a bad thing. Far from it. It’s just that for me, personally, if I had the goal to make the most money I could/to be the first video in to the news/etc. in the forefront of my mind while chasing, I would lose enjoyment in it.

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

No

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

Yes, I’ve been three times since 2011.

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 like to have others around to talk strategy with or just generally help pass the time.

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

See most memorable chase answer above.

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

See least memorable chase answer above.

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

Definitely not. I am by no means an expert or perfect.

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

I learned by first reading the blogs of other storm chasers and the Storm Prediction Center website. Those blogs led me to weather model sites like TwisterData or College of Dupage where I began to learn more about various forecast models and their many parameters. From there, real life experience, talking with more experienced chasers, and attending conferences and seminars further improved that basic education.

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

Certainly. If I see a memorable storm, and especially if I am able to document it well, the day was a success.

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

It depends. If I am farther away because I messed up in navigation or was just too late getting to the storm, I would feel a little short changed yet greatful to have experienced something. However, sometimes being farther away can yield the most dramatic of views, especially if the structure of the storm is spectacular. My goal is not to get as close to the tornado as possible. My goal is to experience and document the awesomeness of Mother Nature. If I put myself in a good position to do that, the chase was a success.

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

I am a part of that generation. Like any generation, there are good and bad apples. Especially today when there is a lot of dramatized media and television influencing the decisions of many to begin storm chasing, it is very important that people attain a realistic, nondramatized education on the hobby and on what the general “rules of the road” are.

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

Definitely not. Although the need for scientific advancement could save lives in the future, it does not trump the need of an emergency vehicle to help save lives today. Ideally, both would find ways to exist together without negatively interfering with the other.

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

I think the media, in general, likes to overdramatize things in order to improve ratings. With that being said, most of us play some part in that machine, myself included. Severe weather and its sometimes devasting effects on human life is a naturally dramatic story that is bread and butter for the media.

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

My peers are by far the most influential to me out in the field and off of it. I could care less about geting my video on TV or my picture on the news. However, the opinion that my fellow storm chasers hold for me is very important. My peers that I have chased with and interact with the most are the most influential to me.

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

If I ever had children, sure, I would want to educate them on severe weather awareness just as any human being should be. If they expressed an interest to join me on a storm chase, I would certainly take them along. It’s not something I would force on a child though.

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 nervous. It all comes down to being afraid of what you don’t know. Because of this, I would probably try to learn more about storm chasing if my child was expressing an interest in it. I would want to help them learn in a positive way if I could.

What do you fear most about a storm?

Lightning. I fear the unknown the most, and lightning is something you just can’t predict. It can come out of the blue and kill you in a split second.

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

Classic supercells by far. Although LPs are pretty to look at, classic supercells produce more tornadoes and can also be very photogenic.

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

Absolutely. I’ve often stopped briefly to snap a few pictures because something just looked way too photogenic to pass up.

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

Law enforcement are out there trying to protect and serve their communities. Although their actions may directly oppose my own at times on a chase (like if they create a road blockade inhibiting me from getting to a storm), they still have every right to do their job.

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

I don’t think anyone should feel more entitled to be around storms than the next guy. Assuming I am following the law, I have just as much of a right to be around a storm as anyone else, including locals. That being said, law enforcement also has a right to shut down roads and limit traffic to areas affected by a storm or areas that will be affected by a storm. They are especially trying to protect those in the general public that are ignorant of what is happening with the storm around them. Sometimes law enforcement makes mistakes and oftentimes they are just not as knowledgable as a storm chaser in regards to what is going on with the storm. However, their job is to protect and serve and blocking off routes to get close to a storm is an obvious way to do that.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

Yes. I have a job that is reasonably flexible with letting me storm chase from April-June as long as I am not neglecting anythingimportant at work or missing deadlines. I miss several big severe weather events every year due to work, but I am able to get out there a lot.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

My family supports my hobby, and my girlfriend is also interested in storm chasing. She has been out chasing with me several times and has become a bit of a good luck charm (I realize this contradicts my previous answer about not being superstitious).

How long do you plan on chasing?

I’ve fallen in love with storm chasing and I don’t see myself stopping anytime in the near future. I’m sure the frequency that I chase will fluctuate year to year based on other events going on in my life. Hopefully, I’m still getting out there at least once a year in my old age to marvel at Mother Nature.

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