Zach Elliott

Location: Norman, OK
Started Chasing: 2010
Tornadoes: 30

Bio: While not as active as others, I do enjoy chasing once in a great while. Started chasing while in college and was able to get out almost every spring and a few times in the fall. I’ve seen about 30 tornadoes, with 2014 being the first year since 2010 i’ve not seen a tornado.

Favorite Chase Video

Chaser Q&A

How did you realize your love for weather?

When I was younger (about 8 I think) I started to really enjoy thunderstorms. I started to beg my parents for weather books, VHS tapes, etc. I watched “Twister:Fury on the Plains” tons of times, as well as recorded tornado specials from TLC, TWC, etc. My interest started to wane a bit while in high school. I was tasked with figuring out what to do with my life, and I was really looking to engineering, but then Greensburg happened. After Greensburg, my interest in weather was rekindled and I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?

It was before I went to college, I started to watch a lot of tornado videos on Youtube and I realized that these guys were just driving around in their normal cars seeing tornadoes, and I realized that I wanted to do that.

How long have you been actively chasing (in years)?

4

Do you chase for a reason?

I like seeing cool weather.

Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?

In the past I chased with a few people, but anymore I prefer to just chase by myself or one other person.

Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?

Nope. Have no reason to.

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

People just need to chase and stop worrying about impressing others and just do what they want.

How far are you willing to travel for a good set up (in miles)?

500

What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?

West of I-35 is great. Lots of visibility, great roads, and generally acceptable cell coverage. Also I’ve had good luck in Iowa. In terms of least favorite, I don’t really like Eastern OK/Western AR. Lots of trees, roads can be tricky and visibility is so limited in a lot of places you can’t see much.

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

Favorite is probably slight risk days. Days that take skill in forecasting and observation/deduction. Days that spread people out amongst a target area. I’ve had lots of good slight risk days where cool stuff happened, and the roads weren’t clogged up. Least favorite is probably high risk days. Call me an old curmudgeon but it just loses it’s luster when it’s a traffic jam in rural KS.

What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?

Most memorable was April 9th, 2011 in Iowa. Stephen Jones and I left Norman at 10am for Iowa. Stopped through Topeka and picked up my mom and brother for the chase. Made it to Onawa, IA by the time Initiation started and met up with other chasers. Throughout the night we saw quite a few tornadoes including a lot at night. My mom and brother absolutely loved seeing tornadoes and chasing with us and that made it really memorable.

There’s a ton of non-memorable chases, the past few years i’ve done lots of close to home chases on days where we went out just because something *could* happen but wasn’t likely, but we went out just in case.

Have you ever feared for your life?

There was really only one time that I was genuinely terrified. April 8th, 2011 I was chasing with Stephen Jones in our car, and also the Basehunters (Kevin, Colt, Scott) in their car. We had chased a few supercells that night, hadn’t seen any tornadoes but did see some great structure. We called the chase, and while at Taco Mayo in Perry, OK a storm went up near Tonkawa that was perfect on radar. We bolted and followed it. Saw a cone tornado from a few miles away at night. We got ahead of it in Ponca City and stopped on the north side of town. We both parked at a smoke shop and got out underneath the canopy to wait for the storm to pass. While under the canopy (with no radar or anything BTW) the storm moved over and we thought RFD was impacting us, but the winds started to shift around and rain was started to go horizontal. Trash was flying through the parking lot and hail started to fall. The power went out in town and we ran back to the cars, where in the lightning we could see a tornado about a football field to our north. We hopped in our cars where we headed west and south to get out of the storm. NWS doesn’t confirm a tornado, but radar archives and visual suggests about 90% it was a tornado. I was really scared for a while that we were going to get hit out in the open by a tornado.

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

Yes. I got my wild years riding with others out of the way and now try to stay somewhat far back from the danger zone (Paging Dr. Loggins)

Do you have any superstitions?

For a while I had a shirt that in 2011 everytime I wore it on a chase I saw a tornado, but it stopped working in 2012 lol.

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

Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?

Yes. I work IT for Weather Decision Technologies in Norman, OK. I have a Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Oklahoma in Meteorology but I am happier doing computer work over meteorology related work.

Have you ever been to ChaserCon?

Yes. Only twice though.

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

It depends

What is your favorite storm chase and why?

Definitely November 7th, 2011. Multiple photogenic tornadoes close to home, chaser hordes were at a minimum and we had a lot of fun with friends.

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

I learned a lot from my first chase partner Stephen Jones. He taught me a lot freshman year when I started chasing with him, and after that I learned a ton while in school at the University of Oklahoma through classes and extra ciricular forecasting programs.

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

I think the media is very important for the general public in terms of keeping them informed about dangerous weather. However I don’t agree with the push to use the public as storm chasers for the TV stations. Seeing TV meteorologists urging the public to submit photos of dangerous weather really bothers me, it places a lot of people in dangerous positions.

What do you fear most about a storm?

Lightning. I’m terrified of being struck.

Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?

It *could* support storm chasing, but I choose not to. My job always takes precedence over chasing. My boss is a weather nut and has done a fair bit of chasing, so he understands the desire, but keeping his respect is more important than chasing.

Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?

Yes. My wife enjoys chasing and has joined me on one day (April 14, 2012 KS) and actually saw tornadoes on a day that I didn’t (May 21, 2011 Ada, OK. I was in KS for a graduation and she was chasing with our friends. We weren’t together at that time though) and as mentioned above, my mom and brother have gone with me and really enjoy it.

How long do you plan on chasing?

As long as I can drive I plan on going out once in a while.

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