"Wall Street Journal" On Storm Chasing

The Wall Street Journal just posted an article on the storm chasing "controversy" that has been a tempest-in-a-teapot through the Great Plains states the last few days. If you'd like to read the article, click here.

Some perspective: The amount of traffic local officials are talking about is roughly the level of traffic of a high school or small college football game. Having interacted with several local officials the last few days, it seems the level of traffic is not so much the issue. The issue seems to be that they are not expecting it.

One other item of perspective: There were hundreds of chasers out last weekend and not a single accident occurred involving chasers.

That said, there is a genuine problem and that is what I call the gawkers. Here is an example from WRAL-TV that I would consider a form of child endangerment. While I apologize the video is rotated and not vertical it is so shocking that it illustrates the issue better than I ever could.

Please, please do not attempt to storm chase or go out watch a storm if you are under a tornado warning. People were killed doing it in Alabama last year and in southern Indiana earlier this year. It is not worth your life. 

Update: 7:30am Friday. The Wichita Eagle has an article on this same subject here. Two comments:

  • If people are "driving crazy" give them a ticket. The (numerous) chasers I saw Saturday drove very well with one exception. It is nonsense that they don't "have time." 
  • "Kingman County Sheriff Randy Hill said his attempts to track and report developments of an intensifying thunderstorm moving toward Reno County were thwarted by chasers who were blocking roads." I was there. Frankly, we didn't need the Kingman Co. sheriff to "report developments." We chasers are better qualified to do that! Local authorities should focus on responding to damage, assisting the injured, etc. Perhaps, in this era of storm chasing, the idea that local law enforcement is needed to track tornadoes is outmoded. 


  1. Oh, but Mike ...

    http://kc5fm.blogspot.com/2010/11/chasing-is-not-skywarn.html spells out that CHASERS are not SKYWARN and why CHASERS need to be SAFE. It's two years old, part of a post to the Chaser list, and it's not getting better.

    In my jurisdiction, I have reports from MY spotters that the CHASERS are not providing solutions. In 59 months at this duty station and 20 years of Skywarn experience, I had ONE chaser call me with meaningful, actionable information last week. I get meaninful, actionable information from my trained Skywarn spotters.

    I am surprised at the "they are not expecting it" comment about chaser convergence. I watch chaser convergence, i.e. the "ant stream" right along with the radar and lightning displays.

    The comment "not a single accident occurred involving chasers" is not supported by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWqnJuchyRc and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577352180788089746.html?mod=googlenews_wsj .

    Chasers taking over the role of Law Enforcement is not going to happen until the appropriate state laws are changed. Those laws won't change as long as the CHASERS continue to stream video of themselves following too close, speeding in excess of conditions, passing in no passing zones, not stopping at stopsigns and traffic lights, and distracted driving, etc.

    MY goal is that everyone, Skywarn participants, CHASERS, LEO, Fire, EMS, Emergency Management, goes home in the same shape as they left that chase morning.

    I am hoping more communities will endorse SKYWARN so the chasers don't have to come here from out-of-state to wreck their vehicle.

  2. Lloyd, thank you for your comment. Lloyd is an emergency manager from Oklahoma. I'd like to comment on your remarks.

    #1. "chasers taking over the role of Law Enforcement.." I don't know what we you mean. From where I sit, the role of law enforcement is to enforce the law, not chase storms. I suggest you leave the storm chasing to us as we are better equipped and have more expertise than MOST (not commenting on you personally) law enforcement.

    By all means, if someone is speeding, running a red light, or blocking a highway, ticket them! The laws should be enforced equally (i.e., it doesn't matter whether someone driving 20 mph over the limit is from Lawton or Lawrence).

    #2. "out-of-state" You know, Kansas officials (3 to be exact) are complaining about out-of-state. What does it matter?!

    #3. Traffic. It is no worse, and often better, than when a high school football gave is over. As long as everyone is driving legally what is the problem?

    #4. We report to the appropriate NWS office and I, and many others, were doing Saturday. You are correct, we generally don't report to local officials because they do not issue the tornado warnings. However, on at least one occasion (Lyndon, Kansas, tornado, 2003) I called local officials to report damage and power lines down on the road.

    #5. Having stated #4, chasers were CRITICAL in what little warning Joplin actually received of the May 22 tornado. One chaser, an emergency room physician, started treating drivers in overturned cars on I-44 then went to Freeman Hospital where it worked treating injured all night and until 9am the next morning.

    I'm not saying there is no issue. But, I think it is being blown out of proportion. If there is anything I can do to help facilitate solutions, you have my word that I will attempt to do it. You are welcome to call me at my office is (316) 266-8000 if you would like to discuss it further.

    Thank you again for your perspective and comments.

    Thanks again for your comment and for the important work you do!

  3. Lloyd, forgot to comment on one item.

    I said there were no traffic accidents last weekend, even though hundreds were chasing in four states.

    You are correct about Andy's accident.

    Since I have been chasing 40 years, I've been surprised how few accidents there have been.

  4. Mike, et. al.,

    I called and was told you were out of the office for a period of time. I left a message with your secretary.

    Like you, I am interested in meaningful dialoge, based more on fact and less on feeling. I can be reached at (510) 545-2536.

    1. I got the statement from your "Frankly, we didn't need the Kingman Co. sheriff to "report developments." As for Oklahoma, the Law is quite specific who is responsible for life-safety issues. CHASERS are not included by title. Firefighters, LEO, EMS and Emergency Management have specific roles in this arena.

    2. "Out of State" refers to the tags of the chasers who come to the local area. My assertion is that local governments have the obligation to protect and serve their citizens. Skywarn has proven itself as a viable program that partners with the National Weather Service to SAFELY provide ground truth information from the local program to our State and Federal partners.

    3. Traffic is about what the CHASERS are complaining too. However, CHASERS don't own the roads. The public owns the roads. We must all learn to play well in the SANDBOX or we will have legislation, ex. don't honk your auto horn around a horse. I, on the other hand, don't think we need MORE legislation. We need better BEHAVIOR in public.

    4. According to KI5GT, "a volunteer fire department ... alerted the National Weather
    Service ... information prompted a
    tornado warning that gave residents of Woodward about 20 minutes advance warning."


    Lets not focus on who has the best technology, who's been doing this longer, who's got the best tornado proof vehicle.

    Lets focus on public safety and warning the Citizen SAFELY.

    Lets focus the local government on the Skywarn, StormReady, and Weather Ready Nation initiatives.


    These programs, enacted at the local level, would make CHASING obsolete by asking the local government to take action to protect their own turf.

    5. Your emergency room physician was well within his knowledge, skills, and abilities to treat the injured in Joplin. I am sure his efforts were appreciated. However, that has nothing to do with CHASING.

    As the video showed, a popular storm CHASER trapsing around a debris field in shorts and flipflops without the proper skills to render help to the injured there, I have not seen much video of the chaser actually alerting the local authorities who have the best chance of getting local warnings to their residents.

    IPAWS and CMAS tools are going to greatly enhance the local authorities' ability to generate local warnings to area citizens AND visitors.

    http://www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/ ... Integrated Public Alert and Warning System
    http://www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/cmas.shtm Commercial Mobile Alerting System

    As I mentioned on the CHASER list, please don't tell me how safe one is while streaming video that shows you are not.

    Bottom line: I hope we can agree that SAFETY is the number one concern. You are surprised "how few accidents there have been". I am not. My first year here I got a report of a spotter accident. That turned out to be a media CHASER who hydroplaned and tackled a power pole sideways. The next year, there was a CHASER overturn in a nearby Texas county. Last year, there was the Kansas vehicle crash when a CHASER lost control of his vehicle at an unfamiliar intersection.

    Can you work with me to tell the CHASERS to not only SAY they are safe but model SAFETY when they are on the public roadway system?

  5. Lloyd,

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

    Yes, I agree 100% that SAFETY is the number one priority. I just spent nearly two hours earlier this afternoon with a Kansas EM discussing this very topic.

    I also agree with you this is a behavior issue, not a legislative issue.

    Thank you for the call to my office, I was meeting with the EM.

    I have some time Monday and I will call you.


  6. Mr. Colston,

    My reply is concerning this comment you made:
    "5. Your emergency room physician was well within his knowledge, skills, and abilities to treat the injured in Joplin. I am sure his efforts were appreciated. However, that has nothing to do with CHASING."
    I disagree, the physician who assisted in Joplin, MO has everything to do with storm chasing. Mike didn't mention names or details, but I will. That storm chaser (the physician) was Jason Persoff. Jason is a veteran storm chaser, and at the time of the Joplin tornado he worked for Mayo Clinic as a physician. Jason is now working at the University of Colorado Hospital.

    What Mike didn't mention was Jason's storm chase partner who was with Jason that day when Joplin, MO was hit by the tornado was Robert Balogh, also a physician. Both storm chasers, both who are physicians, were in Joplin strictly because they were storm chasing that day, May 22nd, 2011. There was no other reason for them to be there. They were storm chasers who were storm chasing. That has everything to do with storm chasing.

    After the tornado passed, both storm chasers being ER doctors, went into action on I44 treating injured people. Because of having those two storm chasers in the area, you now had two extra physicians on hand who could provide medical care to those injured by the tornado.

    Both Jason and Robert reported to Freeman Hospital where they worked overnight treating people and assisting the staff at Freeman Hospital in Joplin and treated patients throughout the night. Keep in mind, these two physicians are storm chasers, storm chasers who are now being criticized. Had Jason and Robert not been storm chasers, they would not have been in Joplin, MO. They would have not been on hand to assist patients during a time of crisis. They wouldn't have been on I44 assisting and providing care to motorists hit and injured by the tornado.

    It was a direct result of them being storm chasers. It has everything to do with storm chasing. If not for storm chasing, they would have not been in or around Joplin, MO on May 22nd, 2011.

    Mr. Colston, I encourage you to read this link I'm about to post. This is a firsthand account, from Dr. Persoff himself (a storm chaser), describing the details of May 22nd, 2011 when Joplin was hit and the time him and Dr. Balogh (also a storm chaser) spent at Freeman and the hard decisions they had to make that night.


  7. Mr. Ketcham,

    Thank you for your reply. However, I contend that chasing is chasing.

    There is no requirement for any level of medical expertise in the Skywarn program. https://www.meted.ucar.edu/training_course.php?id=23 is only one of the courses and is quite basic at that. However, SAFETY is one of the modules.

    Obviously, the physicians provided a valuable benefit to those they treated.

    However, that action would have been no different than driving down Rangeline today and observing an automobile accident with injuries.

    Again, there is no requirement that physicians chase (though if that were a requirement, the number of CHASERS would drastically decline). However, I've been one to encourage EVERYONE to get BASIC Emergency Medical Technician training, if for no other reason than taking care of themselves and their loved ones during an emergency. If the famous CHASER had had those skills while trapsing around a debris field in shorts and flipflops, the video would have been drastically different.

    Thank you for your response.

  8. Lloyd, you are the voice of reason in chaos. I am a newly certified SKYWARN spotter and a retired command level police officer. Everything you have said is valid and on point. My only involvement with Chasers is having seen them on tv/movies. While I am sure there are Chasers who are after the science, I feel like most are thrill junkies. The point behind SKYWARN to be able to identify and report WX observations to the local WFO. An injurred or dead or arrested spotter is of no value to the NWS or the public at large and is a detriment to a valid and life saving program


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Hilary's Forecast Path Shifts West; Updated 9:20am PDT

Dangerous Travel Conditions - People Reportedly Stranded

The East Coast Severe Weather Threat is Over