Michael Laca

Location: Miami, FL
Started Chasing: 1984
Tropical Cyclones: 44
Tornadoes: 15
Web site: http://www.tropmet.com/

Bio: Hi! I am a native South Floridian and veteran hurricane chaser with over 30 years experience. I have directly intercepted over 40 named tropical cyclones, and countless other severe weather events. During my career I have been fortunate enough to have experienced, and documented, some of the most amazing and dramatic hurricanes in the Atlantic basin. Most notably Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, Opal, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. My photography and videography have been used worldwide in numerous text books, magazines, advertisements, television programs, marketing campaigns, and other media including “Weatherwise”, The Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, BBC, Duracell and others. For the last nineteen years, I have maintained a website, TROPMET.COM, dedicated to hurricanes, severe weather, and storm chasing. During the last twenty years I have also worked as a Sr. Web Producer for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Aside from storm chasing, in my spare time I also enjoy movies (especially horror and sci-fi), music, reading, fishing, historical hurricane research, South Florida history, nature photography, video games, comics and animation.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos


LEFT to RIGHT: Tropical Storm Fay crosses the central Florida Keys at Sunshine Key, Florida on August 18, 2008;
Tendrils from a developing multi-vortex tornado reach to the ground beneath a large, violently rotating wall cloud over Garfield County, Oklahoma on May 24, 2008;
An ominous “wet” microburst of rain and hail (with hail/rainbow) approaching Olton, Texas on May 6, 2008;
Storm surge from Hurricane Kate inundates South Roosevelt Blvd. in Key West, Florida November 19, 1985;
Hurricane Elena’s well-defined eye moves inland over Biloxi, Mississippi – September 2, 1985

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

My life-long fascination with severe weather began after experiencing a severe thunderstorm in central Florida in 1978. That same summer I began using my family’s newly purchased VCR to videotape news reports and specials on hurricanes and severe weather. The first recording I made was of Tropical Storm Amelia’s formation in late July, 1978. One year later, in the summer of 1979, Hurricane David devastated portions of the Caribbean before turning northwest, skirting Miami, and making landfall near Palm Beach, Florida. All the excitement and anticipation of that event cemented my love of severe weather, particularly hurricanes.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

When Hurricane David just missed Miami in September of 1979, it made landfall about 75 miles to the north near Palm Beach, Florida. At the time, my family had a condo very close to where David made landfall, and I realized that if I had been there I would have been able to experience the storm. It was the first time I made the association that I could actually “chase” a storm. It was a number of years after that, before I was actually old enough to storm chase, but 1979 is really when I made the decision that I wanted to do it.

How long have you been actively chasing?

This year (2015) will be my thirty-first year of actively chasing tropical, and severe, weather.

Do you chase for a reason?

I chase almost solely because I love to experience extreme weather, particularly violent tropical cyclones.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

In my opinion, passion is a very good thing, it’s one of the most important aspects of chasing, and one of the most important aspects of life in general. Obviously, given how dangerous storm chasing can be, a chaser also needs to have a deep knowledge and understanding of meteorology, and learn as much as they can from experienced/veteran chasers about the specific type of severe weather they’re planning to chase. Passion can’t replace knowledge… but, without the passion, chasing wouldn’t really be as meaningful to me.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

I prefer to chase with one partner, but tend to avoid chasing in large groups. I’ve chased alone, when necessary, but for safety it’s always better to have someone with you.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

Not really, as I prefer to stay away from groups when possible. Also, since I primarily chase tropical weather, there really aren’t any chase tours (that I’m aware of) that offer tropical cyclone intercepts.

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

Chasing today is very different than when I started, 30 years ago. The incredible advancements in technology (data accessibility, cameras, etc…) have really changed how we chase and, with chasing becoming more mainstream over the last 20 years, the number of chasers (especially for severe weather) has really exploded. It’s really amazing to see how many people share an interest in weather and chasing, and to make so many great new friends… but it also makes me nostalgic for the smaller storm chasing world I remember from many years ago.

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

Having experienced both eras, my ideal would be ‘old-school’ chasing ethics with ‘new-school’ technology.

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

Since I primarily chase tropical systems, the decisions that factor into how far I’ll travel are a bit different than those for a severe weather set-up. The farthest I’ve seriously considered traveling for a chase is to the Western Pacific.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

I absolutely prefer the tropics for chasing, especially the deep tropics. My least favorite locations (in the Atlantic Basin) are the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

After more than thirty years of chasing it’s hard to narrow things down to just one most memorable chase, but Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico, in September of 1989, does stand out as one of the most amazing experiences of my chasing career. There is truly NOTHING like intercepting the core of a violent hurricane, in the deep tropics, in daytime, on the immediate coast. My least memorable chase was probably Hurricane Florence, in Louisiana in 1988. Other than remembering the ridiculous amount of money I spent getting there, the storm itself produced 30-40 mph winds in the middle of the night and was a complete waste of chasing time. Luckily, within a few days, I was in the Yucatan peninsula chasing Hurricane Gilbert, one of the most amazing experiences of my career.

Have you ever feared for your life?

Yes! During my second intercept of Hurricane Kate, on November 21, 1985, my chase partner (legendary storm chaser Jim Leonard) and I got stuck in a direct coastal location in the Florida panhandle, while storm surge surrounded our car. Eventually the car stalled with water mid-way up the doors of the car and we feared that we were going to be swept off the road. We were lucky enough to get the car started again, and escape the deepest water, but the road ahead of us had been undermined and washed away, trapping us. It was several hours before a utility crew, found us and showed us an alternate route out of the area. Back in early 1986, David Hoadley drew an amazing cartoon version of Jim and myself (I’m on the left) looking perplexed as Kate’s storm surge surrounds our car.

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

Dangerous maneuvers in a tropical chase are quite a bit different than those with severe weather chasing… but yes, whether for tropical or severe weather chasing, depending on the situation, I will absolutely try to avoid dangerous decisions, or maneuvers, unless they’re an absolute last resort. I strongly believe in being well prepared, and planning as far ahead as possible, to maximize the chase experience, while remaining as safe as can be. Chasing is always risky, knowing ‘when’ to be afraid of something can definitely save your life.

Do you have any superstitions?

Nope.

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?

If I could see a realistic way to support myself living paycheck to paycheck, I would certainly consider it. But, for the last 20 years, I’ve chosen to remain with my corporate position, paid my dues, and now have four weeks of vacation, which is usually enough to cover most of my tropical chasing needs. I do dream of a day when I’ll be able to chase 100% of the time.

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

No. Unfortunately.

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

No. Unfortunately.

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

With a tropical chase, waiting for initiation isn’t something you have to worry about… but, there’s still a lot of waiting as a storm is approaching. During those times I do like to hang out with other chasers and share our experiences and stories. For my severe weather chases, absolutely… hanging out with other chasers while waiting for initiation is great.

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

If I have to pick just one, from a tropical (and overall) chase perspective, Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico is probably my favorite. That one chase encompassed almost every aspect of intercepting a classic, and violent, tropical cyclone in the deep tropics. To this day Hugo produced the strongest winds I’ve ever personally experienced at my location (Hurricane Andrew was a close second), with the worst of the storm occurring in daytime. From a severe weather perspective, May 24, 2008 in Garfield County, Oklahoma is my favorite. I intercepted an intense, and slow-moving, cyclic supercell that produced more than 10 individual tornadoes, of all shapes and sizes, during its five-hour lifespan.

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

August 15, 1995. That’s the date of the biggest tropical chasing ‘bust’ I’ve ever had… Hurricane Felix. Jim Leonard and I drove from South Florida to eastern North Carolina, anticipating the storm’s landfall along the east coast, as it pushed westward under a strengthening ridge. Defying our own forecast, as well as the official forecast, a weakness developed that allowed the hurricane to stall well offshore, followed by a sharp recurve back out to sea. It’s the farthest I’ve ever gone on a chase to see virtually nothing.

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

The vast majority of my forecasting, meteorology, and chasing skill came from two major sources. First and foremost, the late, great Jim Leonard who was my mentor, chase partner, and friend for more than 30 years. Jim’s vast experience, and success, with chasing both tropical and severe weather gave me an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the legends of the chase community, as well as one of the very first tropical chasers. My second major source, was the National Hurricane Center, and many of its staff over the years. Living close to the NHC for all of my life provided me with access to a pool of information and people who were the absolute experts in the field. I spent innumerable days hanging out at the NHC, becoming friends with the Hurricane Specialists, and some of the directors, learning everything I could glean from them. To this day, many of NHC’s past and present staff remain good friends. The last major source was, of course, my own undergraduate schooling.

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

For a severe weather event, yes, absolutely! I happen to love structure and, even if I don’t see a tornado, the day can still be a huge success.

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

Several of the best chasers out there today are from the younger, post “Storm Chaser” generation. I think they’re all awesome, and embody the passion and drive that reminds me of myself at that age.

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

A violent tropical cyclone.

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

Absolutely. Unless there’s an urgent reason, such as a time constraint (i.e. a roadblock has been announced that would prevent me from getting to my chase target).

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

In my opinion, no… but, at the same time, chasers shouldn’t feel any less entitled. As long as the chaser isn’t breaking any laws, or on private property, they have every bit as much right to be there as law enforcement, or locals.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

To a large degree yes. After working here for 20 years, my co-workers fully understand and support my storm chasing, and I have enough vacation time annually for my chasing. The only challenges occur when projecttimelines overlap with dates that I need to be out… or, when I get stuck in locations longer than anticipated.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

Absolutely! All of my family, both immediate and extended, have always supported me fully. My mother loved severe weather and was the biggest supporter of my desire to chase. She allowed me to start chasing at a fairly young age, 16, and even flew to Texas with me for one intercept, when I wasn’t old enough to rent a car yet.

How long do you plan on chasing?

As long as I’m alive!

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