Friday, April 10, 2015

No, Mr. Sheriff, Your Job is Not to Keep Storm Chasers "Safe"

Screen capture from KWCH TV
You know it is April in Kansas when the Wichita media reports two stories: It is busy at the main post office on April 15. The second is that some Kansas official has his panties in a bunch because storm chasers had the temerity to drive into his region to watch a tornado. Sheriff Justin Rigg says, in the KWCH story, his "job is to keep chasers safe." You can rest easy, sheriff. Fact: Number of tornado chasers killed by a Kansas storm in the five decades of storm chasing? Zero. The reason for the admirable safety record is that every one of these chasers knows more about storm safety than you. All you were doing was getting in the way and throwing around your 'authority.' If you were smart, you'd ask for the latest on the storm and enlist their assistance in keeping your constituents safe.

Forget the fact the chasers weren't bothering anyone. Forget they sometimes provide crucial information to the NWS that can save lives. Forget the fact that I was there and didn't see a single vehicle "blocking" the road (yes, we saw the sheriff drive by) either on US 160 or on the side road which was our second location in Barber County. Forget there was no "traffic jam." And, finally, forget that the money out-of-state chasers spend boosts the local economy. This is important, by golly, because Sheriff Rugg just doesn't like storm chasers. There are news stories here and here.

The photos I have seen and what I saw with my own eyes that evening do not back up the Sheriff's contention chasers were "blocking roads" and causing a "traffic jam." Below are two photos of the traffic on U.S. 160 with the tornado in progress. It is a lightly-traveled U.S. highway.

The photo immediately above was taken seconds after the sheriff drove by. I wish I had taken a picture of him.

Below is a photo of the chasers at our second Barber County location.
The pickup truck at the top of the hill seemed to be able to drive through just fine with four chasers on the side of the road (us and the three in the photo).

If a chaser actually breaks the law (i.e., runs a stoplight, speeds, actually blocks a road) by all means write a ticket or whatever is appropriate. Otherwise stop the griping and welcome these visitors and their money to your county.

It is stories like this that give rural law enforcement a bad reputation. Sheriff Rugg, a traffic jam is what occurs when a high school football game is over. This wasn't a traffic jam. Your job is to enforce the law, not to gripe about storm chasers.

UPDATE: Within ten minutes of posting the above article, I received a comment from a Barber Co. resident stating that chasers do not provide information to the National Weather Service. Really?

The Dodge City NWS has warning responsibility for Barber county. Mike Umschied -- one of the heroes of the Greensburg tornado -- and on duty Wednesday evening posted this photo of his work area as the tornadoes were in progress.
The white arrows are pointing to the monitors displaying Wichita TV stations. They air reports from chasers. The gold rectangle shows the feed from -- video from nothing but storm chasers. Of course, the NWS uses information from chasers.


  1. This story sure gave me a laugh! Thank you, and your fellow storm chasers for all that you do!! 😬

  2. Is Severe Studios the preferred location that NWS (and other weather forecasting companies) go to watch what chasers are seeing/doing? I assume there may not be a standard at each office but in seeing this picture, I can understand how much they have to watch - wow!



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