Location: Richmond, VA
Started Chasing: 1997
Tornadoes: Many. I don’t bother to count them.
Web site: http://www.harkphoto.com
Bio: Bill Hark is a 47 year old physician from Richmond, Virginia specializing in allergy. He has a life-long interest in severe storms, nature, wildlife and photography. Dr. Hark started chasing regularly across the Plains and the Mid-Atlantic after being with Cloud 9 Tours in 1997. Dr. Hark has intercepted numerous tornadoes in Tornado Alley and Virginia. His video and photographs have been seen on The Weather Channel, National Geographic, Travel Channel, Fox News, CNN and other local and national networks along with many magazines including Weatherwise. He has been interviewed about storm chasing and tornadoes for several television shows. He is married to the love of his life and has two beautiful daughters. Dr. Hark and his wife enjoy travel, dining out, attending the theater, outdoor festivals and events.
Favorite Storm Chasing Photos
Favorite Chase Video
How did you realize your love for weather and when did you decide you wanted to storm chase?
I have always enjoyed the weather since childhood, and I had a special interest in tornadoes. I had dreams about tornadoes. I used to read every book that I could find on tornadoes. I would find old Weatherwise issues and look for the tornadoes. Sometimes, I would watch AM Weather on PBS. During a tornado watch, I’d go to the windows looking for the tornadoes instead of being ready to head for the basement. I was an official Bob Ryan Weather Watcher for Channel 4 News in D.C. Later, I’d watch the old television specials on tornadoes including In Search Of and Nova. By the 1990’s, I was purchasing compilation VHS tapes of tornado videos from Warren Faidley, Tim Marshall and other chasers. I finally got online in 1996 and that opened up the whole world of chasing for me. I researched storm chasing, and signed up for WX-Chase and StormTrack. I attempted a few chases on my own in Virginia, but always wanted to go out west. I wanted to be safe, learn and maximize my chances of seeing a tornado. My schedule improved, and I was able to chase with Cloud 9 Tours in late May 1997 including the May 25-26 outbreaks. I was hooked and started chasing on my own in 1998.
How long have you been actively chasing?
Although I chased a few times in Virginia prior to 1997, I started chasing regularly in 1997 across Tornado Alley.
Do you chase for a reason?
I chase to experience and document severe storms including tornadoes.
Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?
I think passion for anything including storm chasing is a good thing as long as it doesn’t adversely affect one’s life.
Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?
Sometimes, I prefer to be totally by myself. Other times, I enjoy being part of a group. I always prefer to be in my own vehicle so that I have independence to choose a different route. After the chase, I enjoy getting together with friends.
Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?
I learned how to chase with Charles Edwards and Cloud 9 Tours. I wouldn’t go with a tour now as I am an experienced chaser and value my independence.
How do you feel about the current state of storm chasing?
When I started, I walked to the tornado uphill, barefoot and in the snow. Seriously, I really don’t have much of an opinion. There are many more chasers, and it’s more difficult to have a sense of community. We all chase for different reasons and have different chase styles and techniques. I am not going to judge,
Which era of chasing would you prefer to exist? Old-school or new-school?
I have chased Old-School when I didn’t have a laptop and data was obtained from morning charts at the National Weather Service and maybe a rare library internet connection. It’s easy to romanticize that era but the success rate was much lower. I’ll take my smartphone, laptop with Verizon MiFi and Wx-WORX Threatnet any day over those old days.
How far are you willing to travel for a good set up?
When I am on my chase vacation, I’ll chase as far as necessary to reach the storms. Otherwise, I am limited to a few hundred miles from home due to work and family.
What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?
I really enjoy chasing the Texas Panhandle though my best successes have been in South Dakota and Kansas.
What is you favorite type of set up to chase? Least favorite?
I really hate chasing with a rapidly advancing cold front threatening to undercut my storms. My favorite is along the dryline though I usually end up on the warm front. My absolute least favorite and most miserable setup is northwest flow.
What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?
I have experienced some amazing chase days including Quinter, KS, Bowdle, SD, Howes, SD, Ada, OK, Oilville, VA and May 19, 2013 Shawnee, OK. They are all extremely memorable. If I had to pick one, it would be Quinter, Kansas 2008. It was the first of my recent great storm chase successes. The day was well-executed, with multiple photogenic tornadoes that I observed from a relaxing and safe distance and I experienced the day with good friends.
Have you ever feared for your life?
Yes, on a few occasions. I was caught in the tornadic circulation of the 2013 El Reno tornado and was almost blown off the road. I barely escaped only to later find myself stuck in traffic as more tornadic circulations approached. I later discovered that I was even in more peril than I realized based my GPS positions and radar overlays. A few years ago, I came too close to the developing EF5 Piedmont, Oklahoma tornado on May 24, 2011. On May 22, 2004, I was almost overtaken by the Hallam, Nebraska tornado. Luckily, I turned around and blasted south before it reached my road. In general, I worry the most about lighting as it can be a threat even far from a storm.
Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing? (I.E – core punching/hook slicing/living in the bears cage)
With a wife and two girls, I am much more careful and less likely to core punch or perform other dangerous maneuvers. It’s not worth the risk.
Do you have any superstitions?
Not about chasing.
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?
No, I must have the stability, and I have learned to live with the limited chase vacation.
Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?
Weather does have some impact on my job. My patients can be adversely affected by the weather due to changes in pollen and mold levels. I monitor the weather for better patient care. I also derive a small amount of income from video and photo sales.
Have you ever been to ChaserCon?
Yes. I have been several times.
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 like to do both depending on my mood. I definitely must have some alone time.
What date burns in you (think bust) and why?
June 4, 2005. Ughh. I flew out of Virginia to Kansas city for a one day chase. I was on the right storm but missed a turn for the best intercept route. I got behind and didn’t want to core punch causing me to miss a very photogenic tornado. I saw nothing worthwhile and flew home the next day in disgrace.
How did you learn what you know about forecasting and meteorology?
I learned chase forecasting through a combination of internet research, books including the Weathergraphics series, Tim Vasquez’s forecasting class and day to day chase experience and discussions with other experienced chasers. I also would compare Tim Vasquez’s Chase Hotline to my forecasts. I have no formal meteorology training.
Do you consider the day a success even if you don’t witness a tornado?
I prefer seeing a tornado, but a chase can be successful with images of great storm structure, gorilla hail, lightning or even a sunset.
Do you feel short changed if you see a tornado from a greater distance to you than you prefer?
It depends. In many cases, a greater distance can give a better photographic perspective.
How do you feel about the post “Storm Chaser” generation?
Veteran chasers used to be asked about the “Post Twister Generation.” I have no specific feelings. There are many ways that one can be introduced to storm chasing or to foster an interest that is already present. No way is any more or less legitimate. The “Post-Storm Chaser” generation is likely younger and less experienced but that will change. Their chasing careers will obviously develop under different circumstances than I experienced including larger crowds and better data. Their culture may be different, but the storms will be the same. I hope the younger and newer generations will find success and chase responsibly and safely.
Do you feel like the scientific community should get the same respect as emergency vehicles around storms?
Emergency vehicles should always have priority over any chaser including those collecting data for an official scientific study.
How you do you feel about the media in regards to the weather and chasing?
I have mixed feelings. The media is very important in the warning process and to educate the public about severe weather and paying attention to the warnings. At the same time, there are those in the media that over sensationalize the weather. I get annoyed when some in the media give unflattering and one-sided reports about storm chasing behavior and then do the same things themselves and/or benefit from those behaviors.
Who are the most influential people to you out in the field?
There are many in the field that have influenced me either directly or through their writings, photography and video. These include, but are not limited to Dave Hoadley, Charles Edwards, Jim Leonard, Tim Marshall, Tim Samaras and Chuck Doswell.
Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?
I certainly am not going to encourage my girls to storm chase, but I hope to foster an early interest in science including meteorology. They will have to develop their own interests, and I will support them.
What do you fear most about a storm?
Even after my El Reno experience, I still fear lightning the most when storm chasing.
What type of storm do you prefer to chase? (Ugly HP/sculpted LP/classic/squall line)
I love a classic cyclic tornadic supercell but will chase anything that is available.
Do you stop your progress toward a storm for a great photography opportunity?
Absolutely. There are photographic opportunities close and far from a storm.
How do you feel about law enforcement immediately around a tornadic supercell?
They have a job to protect locals. I don’t mind law enforcement as long as they don’t block my intercept route to a storm or more importantly, impede my escape route. Sometimes in a zeal to block roads, they can inadvertently make the situation more dangerous for chasers and locals.
Should storm chasers feel more entitled to be around storms than law enforcement or locals?
No one is more entitled to be around storms except law enforcement and emergency response doing their jobs. I don’t think storm chasers are any more entitled to be around storms than locals even though locals are much more likely to cause problems. Trying to differentiate a storm chaser from a local could be difficult. Does the vehicle with the most lights and antenna get a free pass? Law enforcement should be able to do a suggestive roadblock, but if I want to continue my chase (or some local), I should be allowed.
Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?
Yes, my wife also married the tornadoes.
How long do you plan on chasing?
As long as I am able though I may cut back some due to family obligations and finances.