Location: Topeka, KS
Started Chasing: 2009
Bio: Hey! I’m Kyle, I am an amateur contracted local chaser from Northeast Kansas. My passion for chasing stems from me being a public safety professional and my interest in communications specifically. With continued experience in the fire service, law-enforcement, communications and emergency management I enjoy working with local media, NWS and emergency managers to better network local chasers while providing ground truth verification reports. I am employed full time with the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office in Topeka, my duties pertain specifically to management of our county-wide emergency communications network. On the side I volunteer with two local fire departments and have actively served in the fire service since age 18. I currently attend Kansas State and Barton County colleges full time as I complete AAS/BS degrees in emergency management and technology management.
Favorite Chase Video
How did you realize your love for weather?
Growing up in Altus Oklahoma I have always had an interest in weather. At a young age we had a tornado hit the local movie theater and ever since then I was hooked. Beyond that we watched DOW’s from OU roll through town, I never had interest to the point of seeking a meteorology degree but I knew I wanted to learn more.
When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?
Around 14 years old growing up in Topeka, storms seem to split and move around Shawnee County. Honestly frustration from never being able to see storms pushed me to get mobile, I began ‘chasing’ at 16 and became more serious about chasing at 17 and 18.
How long have you been actively chasing?
Since 17, about six years.
Do you chase for a reason?
I chase for multiple reasons. One, I like many others, cannot get enough of severe weather – no two storms are alike, sitting under a rotating meso is awe-inspiring every time and the sheer energy of nature astounds me. Two, I genuinely chase to help others; with my public safety experience and HAM license I use these tools to assist where I can. Third, I chase for a local TV station KSNT in Topeka and (while sparingly) try to hone my photography/videography skills with KDR Media.
Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?
Absolutely a good thing. I think I have a healthy balance between my ‘normal’ life and my chasing. My friends and family know me as the chaser, they always have and support me. If you don’t have a passion in life, what kind of life do you have?
Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?
Absolutely with a group, I feel uneasy chasing alone – I don’t feel it’s safe. Some may feel safe, those are the folks that have a vast amount more experience than I. I prefer to have a dedicated person looking at radar and maps to make those split second decisions for escape routes and chasing decisions. When we stop we both forecast and bounce ideas off one another but I can’t realistically drive, forecast, navigate and watch the storm visually at the same time safely.
Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?
I’ve certainly always wanted to, someday I hope to. I consider myself a hobbyist chaser, by no means do I make a living or consider it a profession and quite frankly I could learn so much from an experienced tour guide. Being able to sit back, not drive and not have to make those stressful split second decisions would be pretty enjoyable I think!
How do you feel about the current state of storm chasing?
This is where I stand on a soapbox. The term ‘storm chaser’ is becoming dirtied, everybody who stands on their porch with a cell phone seems to call themselves a chaser because of that. In addition the chasing community has had some interesting events unfold which did not shed positive light on ‘storm chasers’ as a group. By no means do I feel elevated above others, I’m simply a local chaser; though I strongly encourage everybody who chases to act professionally and make sound decisions – when you append the title of chaser to your name, get plastered on the news for a poor decision it echoes upon us all. With the advent of chasing TV shows we saw a dramatic increase in ‘chasers’ because it was the cool and ‘in’ thing, I’m very glad I became involved prior to some of these airing though it seems to be settling slightly, we’re now back to the regulars who run into one another throughout the seasons. This flock of chasers is very similar to the fire service, we call these folks t-shirt firefighters – they join because it’s cool and they want the title. Chase for yourself, chase because you enjoy it and chase with a meaning – don’t chase to appease others or because it’s cool, enjoy that common bond. Overall – chasing as a community is healthy, we have a tight knit community of those who trust one another, see each other often during and outside of chase season.
Which era of chasing would you prefer to exist? Old-school or new-school?
I don’t have a choice, I sure would have loved to have been old-school however I’m a geek and love my technology. One of my other hobbies and professions has been vehicle upfitting, I require specialized radios and emergency equipment for the fire service that can roll into chasing – turns into a rolling customized office for me.
How far are you willing to travel for a good set up?
I’ve been known to travel 200-300 miles, though I only do this for high confidence setups and with a partner. If I’m hopping in as the passenger and don’t have any responsibilities for the day or next day, I’ll go wherever and split costs.
What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?
Honestly my favorite is my own backyard. I haven’t found a better road network, visibility and let’s be honest – cell coverage than Kansas. I’m more comfortable here with road options than I am Oklahoma or Nebraska, I won’t mention Missouri…
What is you favorite type of set up to chase? Least favorite?
I will honestly chase just about anything with severe potential. I’m a very novice photographer only having purchased a decent camera in 2014 so I will take the opportunity to photograph anything from a squall line/shelf cloud to a tornado on the ground. Lately I’ve grown very interested in lightning photography and enjoy heading out to grab shots locally when possible. Least favorite is hard… I guess I’ll say I won’t chase rain, not an HP fan.
What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?
Most memorable chase by far has to be April of 2012, Rice/Ellsworth EF4 and Dickinson Co EF2 (I believe was the final rating). This day will forever be one of my favorites as it couldn’t have gone much better, the tornadoes were amazingly photogenic with a great road network and textbook behavior. Least memorable… is that a fair question, because I don’t remember it J
Have you ever feared for your life?
I was on the edge at Bennington. I made poor location decisions chasing alone and broke my cardinal rule of not having an immediate escape route, I became complacent because that storm seemed to stand still when it could’ve made a move at any moment. This further underlines my opinion on wanting a second experienced chaser with me to assist in navigation and forecasting decisions.
Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing? (I.E core punching/hook slicing/living in the bears cage)
Not terribly, though I don’t like to core punch huge hail (bad idea with a sunroof) and I’m not terribly comfortable in the bear cage yet. I like to be close but 1 mile to ½ mile is about my preferred range back on the SW edge with known escape routes.
Do you have any superstitions?
Nah not really. The going joke in Topeka is that Burnett’s Mound causes all of our storms to split around Topeka congealing back east of Topeka.
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?
Nope. Two weeks to chase is not worth 46 other weeks of paycheck to paycheck living. Would I be unhappy? Sure, but there’s a balance to be had in life and plenty of other hobbies.
Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?
Not directly. My job can assist in the preparation for severe weather and response to disasters from a communications and fire/rescue standpoint, but no; I am not actively involved in forecasting or weather directly. I don’t consider my position within KDR Media or KSNT News as my primary jobs.
Have you ever been to ChaserCon?
Yep, a couple times. I haven’t been the last couple years due to jobs and the distance for just a couple days. Life took precedence the last couple years.
Are you more likely to hang out with other chasers while waiting for initiation, or sit alone on a country road watching the sky?
Hanging out, with the caveat that folks aren’t bolstering about decisions they’ve made or trying to tear down other folks for poor decisions. I really enjoy the comradery that comes with chasing, those of us who do this regularly (I like to think I’m a local regular) are kind of a rare breed, we share interests well beyond chasing that bring us all together. Those chats or football games on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere while watching a developing CU field are about the best around.
What is your favorite storm chase and why?
Similar to what I discussed above, 4/14/12 was my most memorable chase to date. It was an incredible day for me especially, as this was my first large tornado and “forecast” that I worked on. I’m novice in forecasting, always learning more each year, this was just incredibly photogenic chase that went well the entire time with a target I chose a couple days in advance.
What date burns in you (think bust) and why?
I really don’t have a specific date, I’ve had some drives to SW Kansas on blue sky busts but we just chalked it up to a road trip with friends anyway.
Do you always know why you made the wrong or right decisions to chase a particular day?
No, sometimes it just feels like a gut instinct to make a decision. There have been times where I see two potential targets with similar forecasts and I choose one over the other, with my elementary understanding of forecasting it’s for no scientific reason – just luck of the draw until I understand those decisions further.
How did you learn what you know about forecasting and meteorology?
I started with a NWS spotter class when I was younger, just to test the waters and see if I was interested. From that point it’s all been self education, fortunately there is soo much material available to read through, videos to watch, case studies and many books to read. With a culmination of videos and case studies I’ve reached the point I have at least some basic parameters that I look for and at, when making a target decision.
Do you consider the day a success even if you don’t witness a tornado?
Absolutely. I’m not a tornado chaser, I consider myself a storm chaser – many things occur within a storm. I’m a sucker for good structure and lightning, I’ll chase those two things specifically even if there’s not a major tornadic potential.
Do you feel short changed if you see a tornado from a greater distance to you than you prefer?
Well sure, I think we all would. Seeing a tornado is seeing a tornado at the end of the day – but we’d sure all prefer to be up closer.
How do you feel about the post “Storm Chaser” generation?
Touched on this a bit in my big paragraph above, I’m torn on this generation. Similar to those of us who are in the fire service with t-shirt firefighters, we saw “Storm Chaser” storm chasers grab that title and flood the roads simply because it was on TV and cool. That mentality is frustrating and a double edged sword, what standing do I have to challenge them? I don’t. I can’t challenge their interests, however this generation has made me question their true intentions. Fortunately in the last year or two we seem to be grinding back down to the regular chasers, which is nice.
Do you feel like the scientific community should get the same respect as emergency vehicles around storms?
Yes and no. For major research institutions just communication with local emergency crews stating they understand the risks and wish to be close, is one thing. I certainly don’t agree with local LE or emergency crews blocking access close to the storm for legitimate research, these folks know the risks more so than anybody involved. Now you get into the questions of what makes somebody qualified for this? Who has the authority to question their research validity? Similar to “Storm Chaser” storm chasers, we’ve all seen the guy who throws a mesonet on his car and calls himself a researcher – has he ever published anything, or does he do anything with data (if he even collects data)? No. Those are the folks that we must be careful of, they clog the roads for no reason and with no validity. When it comes to actively responding to an emergency with persons injured – (U)move(/U) and let us certified emergency responders through, end of discussion.
How you do you feel about the media in regards to the weather and chasing?
National sometimes can be frustrating, everything these days is so blown out of proportion just to get attention with “SUPER EXTREME WEATHER CENTER” and “EXTREME WEATHER LAB”, why can’t it just be called “Weather Desk” or “Weather Lab”? I chase for local media so I’d be a hypocrite if I said anything otherwise, I just grow frustrated with the over sale and blowing everything out of proportion. At the end of the day those descriptions and behaviors develop complacency amongst the public, they feel they can ignore warnings and other indicators unless it’s laced with “EXTREME” or other synonymous adjectives.
Who are the most influential people to you out in the field?
The public and public safety professionals. My career has been and will continue to be dedicated to public safety in law-enforcement, fire/rescue, communications and emergency management – I enjoy providing that ground truth verification to the NWS while participating in my biggest hobby, it’s a win win.
Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?
Absolutely! If my fiance’ and I decide to have kids some day and they’re interested, lets go.
If you didn’t know anything about storm chasing, how would you react if your child said they wanted to be a chaser?
I guess I’d have to base it on their overall life decisions. Do they regularly get in trouble? Do they make dumb decisions placing them in danger? Or, do they take the time to educate themselves and take calculated risks? Chasing is dangerous, we’ve lost some amazing folks I wish I would’ve known better and who made ground-breaking discoveries in meteorology – it’s all a risk.
What do you fear most about a storm?
Lightning! It’s a double edged sword, I love photographing it but you don’t know it’s coming until it’s too late.
What type of storm do you prefer to chase? (Ugly HP/sculpted LP/classic/squall line)
I really am a sucker for any of it, though HP would be my least favorite – I just can’t get much out of it except a free car wash. A beautiful low base LP with multiple striations will just about make me drool.
Do you stop your progress toward a storm for a great photography opportunity?
Sure thing, I’ve been known to stop a few miles back of a gorgeous supercell to grab a structure shot then continue closer to the meso. I’m fortunate in the fact those I chase with normally aren’t crazy adrenaline junkies, they too appreciate good photo opportunities.
How do you feel about law enforcement immediately around a tornadic supercell?
I’ve touched on this above and a bit below, I’m on the fence. I can’t generalize every situation with my thoughts, it really depends on what they’re doing. Being in law-enforcement with sworn experience I understand the crazy world we live in these days where we (public safety) can be sued or lose our jobs for allowing folks to make poor decisions, resulting in them injuring themselves. We in public safety don’t know the intentions of those around us, we assume the worst and react as such. We may not know folks have decades of chasing experience and know what they’re doing. From a chasing standpoint I do grow frustrated when LE sits miles away from a confirmed tornado with a rolling roadblock slowing everybody down, I don’t see the point in that…
Should storm chasers feel more entitled to be around storms than law enforcement or locals?
No! Being in public safety I understand that mentality, both sides of the fence. Fact of the matter is local responders have a job to do, that job is to ensure public safety – if we (speaking from a public safety standpoint) feel folks are endangering themselves potentially calling us to action as a result of their actions, we will try our best to mitigate that potential. Now, we (speaking form a chasing standpoint) have the right to drive roads as we please but must keep an open mind of those doing their jobs around us.
Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?
As of last year, yes. For the last few years I have had jobs which did not support chasing, first due to an inflexible boss who evidently didn’t appreciate hobbies or two being a 911 dispatcher doesn’t exactly allow me to step away for the afternoon. 2015 will truly be the first year since I have began chasing that should remain flexible, I am stoked.
Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?
Absolutely. My fiance’, soon to be wife, is fairly new to my hobby though extended family has known I chase and that I will drop just about anything to chase at any time.
How long do you plan on chasing?
As long as I can drive.