Location: Waterloo, Ontario
Started Chasing: 1998
Tornadoes: Approx. 22 (I really don’t keep count because numbers are not important to me)
Web site: http://www.laurawx.com
Bio: I’ve been chasing storms in southern Ontario since 1998 and in the US Great Plains since 2006. If I’m not roaming the plains, I’m usually trying to make the best out of what the Ontario storm season has to offer. I love taking photos when Mother Nature shows off, and I have been known to get pretty passionate while taking lightning photos!
Favorite Storm Chasing Photos
Favorite Chase Video
How did you realize your love for weather?
I can’t recall exactly what caused my interest in tornadoes, but my mother recalls when I was just 6 years old, I drew pictures of tornadoes. That was a year after the 1985 outbreak, which included several F4s in which one struck Barrie. When Edmonton, Alberta got hit with an F4 in 1987, I took that newspaper clipping and stuck it to my bedroom closet door. In grade 3, I remember there was a strong storm with gusty winds. I was scared and hid behind my desk, staring out the window and seeing how green-grey the sky was. The next day, our teacher told the class there had been a small tornado. Of course, I got all excited and told my mom. Throughout grade school, I would do projects on tornadoes and hurricanes, and go to the library to read tornado books.
When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?
I’ve always had an interest in tornadoes, and when I saw Twister in 1996, I thought, “Wow, people chase storms? I want to do that!”. I have done plenty of reading about chasing from various materials, including a StormTrack magazine subscription, and saved my first chase for two years later.
How long have you been actively chasing?
Since March 28, 1998.
Do you chase for a reason?
It’s for my personal enjoyment to get away from the mundane, everyday life. I’ve been drawn to storms naturally my whole life, and when I chase, I feel like I’m in my own world. I love capturing Mother Nature’s moments on camera.
Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?
It depends, but for me mostly, it is a good thing. I am always passionate about my chasing. One needs to make that judgment on their own on when they should become passionate in certain situations. There is a time and a place, as they say.
Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?
I went to the US Great Plains for the first in 2006 with my close friend Ron Gravelle. It was more of a private one-on-one “tour”. He taught me some forecasting, how to read the sky, and took me to every setup he could get his hands on. We saw many great storms and a couple tornadoes. I chased with Ron for the next 4 years. As far as large tour groups go… I don’t see myself spending several grand to chase in a large van with a bunch of strangers. I prefer going with friends in a small group and contributing to the forecasting, etc. It feels more rewarding… and cheaper too!
Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?
With close friends. See my answer above.
Which era of chasing would you prefer to exist? Old-school or new-school?
I prefer the old school method more often than the new school techno method, but since times change, I do not mind using my cell phone to check the radar app to see where storms are firing. I still bring my paper map book with me though, even though GPS has been handy (when it works). We pick our general target before heading out and check on conditions while waiting for initiation and fine tune our target from there. I’m careful not to abuse what little technology I have, and read the sky before me. I like to keep things simple and don’t want to get distracted from looking out the window.
How far are you willing to travel for a good set up?
I’m always willing to travel distances to chase a good storm, but whether my wallet allows it or not is another question 🙂 I’m willing to travel a good part of southern Ontario on a good chase day if I get the opportunity. I would love to chase the Canadian prairies.
What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?
Here in Ontario, anywhere west of Waterloo-Kitchener area. Anywhere east of that, it starts to resemble the Ozarks! There are nice flat to gently rolling hilly fields in southwestern Ontario. Anywhere that has a good road grid is also favourable. In the US, my favourite areas would include South Dakota, Texas Panhandle and west-central Oklahoma/Kansas into eastern Colorado. I never fancied chasing in the OKC metro (yikes on a high risk day) or eastern KS or OK.
What is you favorite type of set up to chase? Least favorite?
Any system that seems favourable for severe storms, whether it be supercell or large squall line, I’m game. I usually sit out the grungy/messy setups, and hate chasing storms that are travelling at NASCAR speeds!
What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?
June 5, 2006 is definitely up there for one of my most memorable chases. I try not to remember busts, but they are essential if you want to learn from your (or Mother Nature’s) mistakes and make better decisions next time. If it were not for the busts, we would not appreciate the successful chases.
Have you ever feared for your life?
I have been scared a few times, but never truly believed I was going to die. I hope I never find myself in that situation. The key to chasing is having a big understanding of your storm. It is a living, breathing beast, and it must be respected.
Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing?
It really depends on the situation. Again, understanding what your storm is doing is key. If there is no threat, I don’t see why one couldn’t venture into the core to collect a few hail samples 🙂
Are you more likely to hang out with other chasers while waiting for initiation, or sit alone on a country road watching the sky?
More often than not, I’m on a lonely road, just me and my friend(s) watching the sky. If another chaser happens to swing by and I know them, I am always friendly and will usually say “hi”. So if you see me, don’t be shy!
What date burns in you (think bust) and why?
May 10, 2010, May 24, 2011, and May 25, 2012 because storms went up fast and/or I missed the tornadoes! I did see a nice wall cloud on May 25, 2012 but we called it off after. I felt pretty good until chasers started posting great tornado photos. Can’t get them all, I guess!
Do you always know why you made the wrong or right decisions to chase a particular day?
Usually, I tend to recognize my mistakes the day of. For instance, on May 25, 2012, I realized I should have headed southwest more to get the tornadoes after sunset and not worry about capturing the lightning with the setting sun. I should have paid more attention to the radar.
How did you learn what you know about forecasting and meteorology?
My friend Ron Gravelle taught me what to look for, and I’ve read online articles and read books. And practice, practice, practice!
Do you consider the day a success even if you don’t witness a tornado?
As long as I get a nice structured storm and some lightning, I’m happy. However, if it is a high profile tornado day and all I caught was just the storm structure, I’d feel a little let down, given my expectations. I’d be like, “Why didn’t we just head straight to Canton instead?! Why?!” We’ve all been there, I’m sure. Now I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others as everyone has their own unique experience and we are never alone in these situations, and to not have high expectations going into a chase to prevent big disappointment.
Do you feel short changed if you see a tornado from a greater distance to you than you prefer?
It depends on the visibility. If I can get structure in with the tornado, even better! I’ve been very close, directly hit by a high end F0 once in 2008, and there is not much to see except dirt spinning past your window. Sometimes tornadoes look better further away, while sometimes getting a little closer is best.
Who are the most influential people to you out in the field?
Ed & Jerrine Verkaik, Ron Gravelle, Erik and Neal Rasmussen, Tim Marshall, and Shane Adams to name a few.
What do you fear most about a storm?
Getting hit by lightning, as we all should be!
What type of storm do you prefer to chase? (Ugly HP/sculpted LP/classic/squall line):
Any storm as long as it has nice structure. We get a pot luck of storms here in Ontario. But the less messy rain, the better, of course.
Do you stop your progress toward a storm for a great photography opportunity?
If the view is amazing, I try to, most definitely yes!
Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?
I get 2 weeks of vacation time. I try not to chase during work days, unless it is during the evening or weekends. My boss realizes my passion for chasing, but I would never pick a chase over work. After all, I need money to chase, right?
Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?
At first, my mother was a bit nervous, but has grown to realize this is who I am. My family and friends know I love chasing storms and respect that. They would never try to stop me, and for that, I’m thankful. I’ve gone on multiple Ontario chases with my uncle and sister.
How long do you plan on chasing?
For a while, I hope!