Mark Ellinwood

Location: Gaithersburg, MD
Started Chasing: 2010
Tornadoes: Don’t have an exact number… around 10.
Web site: www.ustornadoes.com
Blog: madusweather.com

Bio: I got an interest in weather at a very young age, and my passion for weather has only grown throughout the years. After growing up in Upstate NY, I got my Bachelor’s degree in Atmospheric Science and attended a semester of graduate school at NC State before entering the world of private sector forecasting. While my first chase ever was near Albany, NY in 2009, I starting chasing regularly in 2010 on the East Coast. Since 2011, I have made the trip out to the Plains every spring for two weeks at a time. Back in the eastern U.S., I chase all types of extreme weather, from tornadoes to hurricanes to strong snow storms.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

Watching The Weather Channel and watching thunderstorms from the back porch, all the way back before kindergarten.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

In high school, though I didn’t actually go on my first chase until my senior year of college.

How long have you been actively chasing?

Five years.

Do you chase for a reason?

To enjoy weather extremes and capture it on film.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Extremely good, so long as it doesn’t become a detriment to others.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

One or two chase partners are great to have. Two is ideal: One for driving, one for navigation, and one for keeping an eye on the storm and posting to social media. However, I will chase by myself if no one is available.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

Not at all. I learned to chase with an experienced chaser (Jason Foster), and was able to go with others and on my own from there. I would not pay the extra cost to go on an actual tour.

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

It’s alright. There are good people and not-so-good people. I tend to interact with those I consider good and usually ignore the rest.

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

New school 100%. I greatly utilize the modern tools for honing in my target area and navigating during a chase. However, I do appreciate the more old school chasing methods.

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

At home, I will go up to around six hours from home for a chase, unless there is a big setup in the Midwest that I can hit up and then spend one night away from home. When chasing in the Plains, I do whatever it takes to see the storms.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

Favorite: Kansas, eastern Colorado and South Dakota. Least favorite: Anything east of I-35 in the Plains or pretty much anywhere on the East Coast, but beggars can’t be choosers.

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

Favorite: A nice triple-point setup along a dry line. Least favorite: Low CAPE, high shear days with fast storm motion.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

Most memorable: Bennington, KS May 28, 2013. Least memorable: Pretty much my whole 2011 chasecation (late April into early May).

Have you ever feared for your life?

Once, when chasing a tornadic storm closely at night. I was outside of the vehicle when the winds suddenly shifted almost 180 degrees. Got back in the car real quick.

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

Yes, most of the time. “Getting the shot” is not worth rising injury, death, or major damage.

Do you have any superstitions?

No, though I do have a knack of having “storms form in the area I just left” the day after a chase in the Plains.

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?

I’ll keep my good job with two weeks of chasing.

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

Yes. I am an operational meteorologist at WeatherBug.

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

No. I have wanted to go, but have yet to justify the cost given my current position in life.

Are you more likely to hang out with other chasers while waiting for initiation, or sit alone on a country road watching the sky?

A little bit of both. On quieter days, it’s fun to find a few people I know and chat. During bigger events, I prefer to separate from the crowd.

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

The Bennington, KS 2013 chase was quite nice. Decided to hang around a little west of Salina that morning instead of going for structure in Colorado, and it paid off big time.

What date burns in you [think bust”> and why?

Missing the Moore, OK tornado in 2013 because we were in the group that went further south and didn’t see much of anything, while just out of reach to the north was this monster tornado.

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

Yes. Sometimes the decisions are hard to make, but it depends on what the goal of the day’s chase is.

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

By getting my degree in Atmospheric Science at SUNY Albany.

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

Definitely. A good structure day is far better than a brief, low-contrast tornado.

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

Only if I see other people grabbing epic shots safely at a closer distance.

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

Could be better. With all of the resources available online, I would like to see more newcomers spending more time learning and researching before heading out after a storm.

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

No. While gathering data is quite a worthwhile venture, safety is first.

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

They’re just doing their thing to keep ratings and hits up. I can’t blame them for that, even if I don’t agree with all of their practices.

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

The people I chase with!

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

I would love to one day. Of course, I need to have a kid first.

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 go online and look into it, then make an informed decision from there. In the end, I would probably be neutral to it overall.

What do you fear most about a storm?

Getting too close to the tornado or big hail.

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

Classic.

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

All the time. I would rather have a great picture from a distance than a mediocre close-up picture.

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

They mean well, but most of the time a chaser should be able to go by a blockade if the road conditions are good, given they usually have more experience in the near storm environment than the law enforcement and can make their own safety calls. Just don’t speed!

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

No. Chasers are there to witness an event. Law enforcement and locals live there and are the ones ultimately impacted by the storm.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

Not really. The odd hours help facilitate getting out to chase in the afternoons and evenings, though it doesn’t always work out.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

Yes. They know I am responsible and safe enough.

How long do you plan on chasing?

Until I am no longer physically able to do so.

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