Skip Talbot

Location: Springfield, IL
Started Chasing: 2003
Tornadoes: 87
Web site: http://www.skip.cc

Bio: Skip Talbot is a software and graphics developer originally from Bolingbrook, but now resides in Springfield, Illinois. Deeply impacted by the 1990 Plainfield F5 at a young age, Skip began roaming the Great Plains and Midwest in search of supercells and tornadoes in 2003. As of 2014, he’s logged over 100,000 storm chasing miles and has documented 87 tornadoes. Skip has applied his programming and graphics skills to his passion for storm chasing, developing radar visualizations with video and data overlays to study different events. He’s currently working with meteorologists on a crowd sourced survey of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado and also helps run a non-profit charity for storm victims called Storm Assist.

Favorite Storm Chasing Photos

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

The Plainfield, IL F5 of August 1990 deeply impacted me at a young age. I’ve been obsessed with tornadoes ever since.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

Although I had long been fascinated by storms and tornadoes, seeing the movie Twister in 1996 inspired me to become a storm chaser. I was just a kid at the time and it would be years later before I actually started chasing, but it kick started my research into the hobby.

How long have you been actively chasing?

My first chase was May 10, 2003 so the 2015 season will mark my 13th season.

Do you chase for a reason?

Chasing is how experience life to its fullest.

Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?

Having passion for something is a precious gift. You should chase your passions.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

I prefer to chase with my regular chase partner, Jennifer Brindley Ubl, but I enjoy solo chasing as well.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

I’ve driven for two different tours. They’re a fun and engaging experience, but quite a bit different than when chasing on your own. You are committed to the group and everything revolves around that group.

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

Storm chasing is what you make it. You can make it a rat race, competing with others for the closest, most dramatic shot that is quickest to market. Or you can just go out there and enjoy the scenery and weather of the Great Plains. There are more chasers out there today seeking fame and attention, and doing reckless stunts, but these types always existed. I think we see more of it now because there are simply more storm chasers and more coverage of chasing through popular and social media. There are days with gnarly chaser convergence, but even in 2014 there are also still days where you’re the only car on the road, watching a tornado on the plains.

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

I’m a bit of a techno geek so I prefer chasing the latest technology. Again though, there’s nothing stopping you if you want to chase old school with just some paper maps and a film camera.

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

I don’t really set bounds on my chase targeting. I’ve chased from close to the Mexican border to the Canadian border and from New Mexico to Ohio, but I’ll go farther if the setup is right.

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

My all time favorite place to chase is eastern South Dakota and along the I-90 corridor into southern MN. I could get lost in the gently rolling hills and endless sea of green grass. The supercells up there in late Spring are epic beasts and several of my most memorable and dramatic chases have occurred there. Otherwise, with flat farmlands, and a road grid that can’t be beat by any chase worthy state, my home state of Illinois is my next favorite place to chase when we get the storms. My least favorite places to chase are central Arkansas due to the terrain, and near Oklahoma City due to the nightmarish amounts of local traffic during storm events. I’ll no longer chase either of these locations no matter how good the setup.

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

I’m a sucker for the triple point when there’s a deep surface low and a warm front that bows up to the north. I prefer a high cape/low shear day over a low cape/high shear day. My least favorite type of setup is probably a low instability/extreme shear event when the cap is wide open and lapse rates are weak. You always wind up with a weak, watery mess of storms that are socked in by low clouds that are moving too fast to chase.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

May 22, 2010 is probably my most memorable chase. It was my first time in South Dakota, and I got to tour the Black Hills, Badlands, grasslands, and then caught the Bowdle, SD supercell from birth, witnessing a half dozen tornadoes of varying size and shape. Standing in front of the Bowdle wedge, the roar rattling my chest, pressure drop popping my ears, and the funnel filling my vision is still one of the most awe inspiring moments of my life.

I’ve had way too many least memorable chases to count, but I have chase logs for all of them. I drove to Peoria once for some McDonald’s in a blue box that failed to initiate. How’s that for least memorable?Have you ever feared for your life?

I’ve been scared on a few chases, starting with my first chase. We core punched a tornado warned left split after dark during a high risk tornado outbreak. I always take these incidents as learning lessons.

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

I am and hope I always am. I fear losing that fear, because that’s what keeps me safe out there. I’m an aggressive chaser and routinely core punch, have hook sliced, and pushed the bear’s cage. However, after many lessons learned and after the El Reno tragedy, I don’t attempt these maneuvers without great caution, escape route planning, and careful consideration

Do you have any superstitions?

None. I’m far too rational and skeptical to entertain any superstitious beliefs even if they’re fun chase traditions. They always just seem silly to me.

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’ve worked hard to have the flexibility and availability to chase as much as possible. It’s what I live for, so I’ll always take the option that lets me chase more.

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

I’m currently doing some web programming for the El Reno Survey, a crowd sourced survey of the 31 May, 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma event. This is a grant funded project that has gathered video and data from dozens of chasers to create research tools for studying the largest documented tornado and the most dangerous storm chasing event: (URL)http://el-reno-survey.net/(/URL)

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

2015 will be my fifth trip to ChaserCon.

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’ll do either really just depending on the situation. I usually wind up by myself in the middle of nowhere unless I happen upon some friends.

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

5 June 2010 and June 7 2008 both come to mind for heart wrenching, agonizing busts. On both events I was lured into Iowa and missed an epic tornado outbreak in Illinois. 13 May 2013 was my most gut wrenching chase though. We were chasing in an airplane and I got violently airsick, so sick that I didn’t even care that we were missing the gorgeous Rozel, KS tornado.

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

I think we usually have enough data to go back and see why things happened the way they did in hindsight. Would I have been able to make the perfect decision again under the same conditions though? Probably not.

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

I took Intro to Severe Weather in college. That was a good meteorology primer. I’m primarily self taught, however. I studied up through the wealth of material that’s available online including journal papers, storm chaser logs and essays, and forums. Otherwise, it’s all trial and error and learning the hard way in the field.

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

The day is a success if the chase was enjoyable or memorable. I don’t need a tornado and some of my favorite chase days didn’t have one. Some beautiful chase scenery, gorgeous skies, an amazing storm, and fun with friends make for a great chase day.

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

I refer to watching tornadoes and storms as “the show”. Your seats to the show do matter, but they don’t always have to be front row. It is disappointing being in the back row when something epic is happening though.

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

The influx of beginner chasers is a mixed group of dedicated and passionate hobbyists, aspiring meteorologists, fame seeking newbies, and reckless yahoos. I don’t think there’s a particular stereotype that can be applied to a whole generation.

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

All storm chasers are equal regardless of motive. Emergency services always take precedent. Scientific research is not an emergency with lives at stake.

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

The media is also a mixed group. Unfortunately, some in the media have been perpetuating the stereotypes of the reckless, out for profit chaser and fear mongering, over hyping forecaster out for ratings.

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

There are many pioneering and legendary chasers that I look up to and aspire to be like including Tim Marshall, Tim Samaras, Jon Davies, Dave Hoadley, Chuck Doswell, Roger Edwards, Rich Thompson, and many more.

Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?

I’ll take my daughter chasing as soon as she’s old enough. She’s just a baby now, so it might be a few months (or years depending on what mom says).

What do you fear most about a storm?

Lightning does some really spooky and horrific damage. It can hit anytime and without warning too. I also fear losing situational awareness. Not having my bearings underneath a storm is always cause for alarm.

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

Who prefers ugly HPs and squall lines over sculpted classics and LPs? A high based LP that produces a fully condensed drillbit is pretty much the dream catch, or a classic with a high contrast wedge.

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

Sure. Don’t pass up the moments that are worth stopping and enjoying.

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

We’re all equals out there besides those whose duty and job it is to protect lives. Saving lives is not why storm chasers are out there. The primary reason for chasing is to witness and document storms and tornadoes. Everything else is incidental and it’s a lie when chasers do claim they’re out there to save lives.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

As a software developer I’ve had a variety of gigs that have been pretty flexible toward chasing.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

I’m very fortunate to have a family that supports my passions and lifestyle.

How long do you plan on chasing?

Until I die.

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