Saturday, May 5, 2012

chasing life

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In this day and age there are literally hundreds of professions a person could

choose to participate in. However, there are few professions that can provide the

excitement experienced in the area of meteorology, in particular, that of field

meteorology which is also called storm chasing. For more than fifty years, storm chasers

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have been the first line of defense against deadly tornadoes and hurricanes. Chasers

provide critical information about the storms; It is this information that has helped to

save countless lives over the years.

I am one of the lucky few that has gotten to experience storm chasing first hand. I

have spent two summers chasing tornadoes with my uncle. My uncle is a meteorologist

employed by the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. He has

spent almost every summer for the past fifteen years chasing tornadoes and braving the

winds of hurricanes. My uncle does this to provide information that will hopefully save


During my experience in storm chasing I have learned quite a bit. For example,

there are many misconceptions about storm chasing. For the most part, these

misconceptions come from movies such as “Twister”. While these movies are very

exciting, they also distort reality. Chasers never, under any circumstances, race along

side a tornado or intentianally get within the path of a tornado. Also, chasers are never

happy to see a tornado form. Tornadoes are among the most violent natural phenomena

on earth and they kill a countless number of people every year. Of course, when it comes

to scientific or historical accuracy, Hollywood has never pretyended to be faithful.

While the primary task of a storm chaser is to chase storms, they must also work

to analyze their findings. It is only through analyzation and research that we can better

hope to understand these thorouhly unpredictable storms. Storm chasers also must have a

basic understanding of photography. Documenting these massive storms is one of the

most important parts of chasing. Often the pictures or video is sent directly to local

television stations in order to better warn the people in the path of the storm. After the

pictures and video have been studied, they are copied and sold to various networks. This

is one of the chief sources of income for most non-agency based storm chasers.

Why chase tornadoes? This question is frequently asked of storm chasers. It is

not a question that can be answered while waiting for an elevator or in small conversation

at a cocktail party. It toches many levels and requires time to answe. If my experiences

are characteristic of other chasers, there are at least four levels that relate to the storm.

First is the sheer, raw experience of confronting a force of nature. It is a force that

is uncontrollable and unpredictable. However, at the same time it is magnificent,

awesome, and picturesque. Few life experiences can compare to the anticipation felt

while watching a tornado form. The gusty inflow of warm, moist air sweeping up into a

lowering, darkening funnel, and the low grumbling of thunder as a great engine begins to

turn creates an almost surreal surrounding.

Second is the challenge of locating and forecasting where these deadly storms

may occur. Even though there is state of the art technology at work, a chaser almost

always relys upon personal experience and intuiton to guide them. Every day is a new

puzzle, completely different from the day before, the week before, or the year before.

There is no texbook for what chasers do. Even the most experienced meteorologist

eventually get one wrong.

Third is the sense of participation in a great event that comes with experiencing a

tornado first hand. The knowledge of the storm itself provides for some of the

excitement. To know of the winds that stream over and through the towering

thunderheads from their source in the jet stream makes the chaser almost become part of

the storm itself.

Fouth is an associative level. With each spring and each new storm, memories of

other storms and of other places begin to surface. The memories and exhileration of

seeing your first tornado makes it seem as if you haven’t aged at all. The first hand

experience of storm chasing makes it seem as if time is standing still and that nothing

exists except for you and this monster of nature.

I can only describe storm chasing as the chance to experience something infinite.

The sense of power and the scale of the storm overwhelms the senses. This gives you the

feeling of something eternal and at the same time of something etherial. Such as when a

fifty-thousand foot wall of clouds glides gently away and goes golden in a setting sun.

One can only pause and look in wonder at what God has created.

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