Answering Reader Questions About Storm Chasing

Several readers, via Twitter, have asked questions about storm chasing in light of the controversy ignited by Dickinson County officials Saturday. I thought I would answer them here so everyone, not just Twitter followers, could read them.

Q: Is it time for storm chasers to be licensed?

A: I believe the answer is "no" for two reasons. The first is that it would be practically impossible to identify a storm chaser from a driver that happens to be in the vicinity of a storm. Second, who is going to make those rules and enforce them? Bona fide storm chasers know far more about storms than either law enforcement or majority of emergency managers.

Licensing is completely impractical and would do more harm than good. As you'll read in my soon-to-be-published When the Sirens Were Silent chasers played a vital role in keeping the Joplin tornado from being even worse. If you make chasing harder to do, fewer qualified people would chase and society would lose those benefits.

Q: What are your thoughts on articles climbing chasers clogged roads on Saturday?

I think, first, there was some irresponsibility on all sides. While most all of the chasers I encountered Saturday were very courteous and safe in their driving, I've already commented about the very poor driving by the "Dominator," the armored vehicle seen on Discovery's (now cancelled) Storm Chasers. 

Law enforcement has every right and duty to enforce the law which includes ticketing speeders, illegal U-turns, etc., if and when those occur.

However, citizens have the right to "peaceably assemble." If chasers want to pull (completely) off less traveled roads (and that is what everyone I saw Saturday was doing, not stopping even on the section line roads) then fine. They aren't hurting anyone.

Q: What do I think of Mr. Homman's comments?

That question was asked of me by KSNW TV last night but they did not air my answer. Here are his comments:

And Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman, from Solomon, said he saw bumper-to-bumper traffic near Solomon...

Holman went on to comment about the storm chase tour companies:

Homman doesn't see it that way.
"He's out making a living off of other people's demise," Homman said. 

My opinion is Mr. Holman was way out of line. What the storm tour companies do is:

  • legal (which should be Mr. Holman's only concern), 
  • beneficial (would you rather have the 5 more inexperienced people paying the tour company driving their cars watching the storms?) 
  • contribute to public safety (by calling in reports of damage and tornado locations)
I think Homman and some law enforcement overreacted Saturday and has already started backing off its comments per an email sent to the storm tour company in question, reproduced on Facebook.

I also this journalists initially behaved poorly by printing a number of comments from local officials without getting sufficient background information to balance the story

Now, a comment: As I've pointed out a number of times, storm chasing brings badly needed money to rural Kansas and other states. They fill up with gas, get cars repaired, buy tires, stay the night in small town hotels and eat in restaurants in rural America. Maybe it is time for rural America to embrace storm chasing. 

Here is an example, local officials in Colorado many decades ago did not like rafting down rivers. Now, it is embraced as it brings in tourism dollars. Another example was the "Rails to Trails" program was disliked in many communities. Now, take Dallas' Uptown neighborhood as an example, restaurants and other businesses have grown up along the trails.

So, here is a challenge to rural Kansas chambers of commerce: Find ways to work with the storm tour companies to everyone's benefit!


  1. Sadly, it seems that government officials reflexively reject any activity they can't regulate, license, and tax to death. The idea that anyone but a duly sworn law-enforcement/emergency services officer should be responding to storms really rankles these guys.


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