Posted: 17 June 1999 Updated: 17 February 2008 ... fixed some broken links and made minor revisions. This is my own personal opinion and it is on my personal Website, so the First Amendment applies. Feel free to send comments to me via e-mail at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Clearly, the past few years have seen a tremendous growth in storm chasing. I don't know when or if this growth will ever level off, but there have been some aspects of this growth that make me less than wildly happy about it. Let me try to forestall the inevitable griping and whining about what I am about to say with the following:
1. The genie is, indeed, out of the bottle. There's no way to stop people from becoming chasers if they wish. I can only hope that the realities of chasing will weed out most of the "wannabes" before too long.
2. Nothing that I am about to say applies to everyone. If you think I'm griping about you, then I suggest you look over your actions and decide for yourself whether or not the shoe fits. If it does, then I make no apologies!
Apparently, "Twister" and all of the media attention to tornadoes and storm chasing has resulted in the long-anticipated (and dreaded) influx of chasers. All sorts of "experienced professional storm chasers" are popping up from nowhere and claiming all sorts of things, including having the qualifications to lead others on storm chase "tours". I know about Tempest Tours, Silver Lining Tours, and Cloud 9 Tours - most of the rest appear to me to be folks with dubious qualifications. Let the buyer beware when getting involved with a storm chasing tour group. I'm not willing to endorse anyone who offers a chase tour service - I've seen some things done by some of these tour "guides" that look pretty irresponsible to me.
Behaving responsibly as a chaser is described in some detail at my Website, and I have created a FAQ list about chasing and tornadoes. So what have I been seeing? First of all, it seems to me that certain groups have an enhanced need to behave responsibly; namely, the media and the scientific researchers. I've already noted my dissatisfaction with some of the media's chasers, and have seen no reason to stop being concerned - media chaser behavior continues to look irresponsible to me, at times. In fact, an IMAX crew that apparently was on their own repeatedly violated my responsible storm chasing rules. Several media crews have become "tag-alongs" (see below), as well.
However, for now, I'll focus on the researchers. In 1999 I saw several examples where the "Doppler on Wheels" vehicles were parked directly on the highway, at times blocking more than one lane, and on one occasion parking just over the top of a hill, where an oncoming driver would have little time to see them in time to stop. I appreciate the importance of their mission for the science, but I don't believe that this gives them license to put themselves and others in danger. Everyone needs to pull off the road, no matter what the urgencies of the scientific mission! Plain common sense requires basic safety precautions. I'm indifferent to the argument that this practice is condoned by law enforcement if, indeed, it is. I personally don't believe that law enforcement should condone this practice! If scientists engage in parking on the roadway, it leads others naturally to feel emboldened to do it. Come on, guys - set a positive example, here!
The practice of "tag-alongs" - where non-veteran chasers tag along behind a veteran - can exacerbate the problems of finding space to pull off the highways. If it's difficult for a single vehicle, a chase "convoy" can have major problems getting out of the right-of-way, leading the tag-alongs to feel compelled to break this safety rule, if they even think about it. My sense of these tag-alongs is that many of them are pretty damned irresponsible. Experienced chasers should give careful thought to whom they allow to accompany them on a chase. "Convoys" of chasers are inherently unsafe, especially when many members of such a convoy are inexperienced. Obviously, you can't prevent someone from following you, but I believe that veteran chasers should discourage inexperienced tag-alongs.
I've also seen people get out of their vehicles and leave their doors open, such that their doors are across the right-of-way. This practice needs to be discouraged. Moreover, some chasers this year apparently felt it's their right to wander across the highway, apparently oblivious to any oncoming traffic. Another chaser simply parked his car directly on the highway (only 2 lanes) just over a hill. When we honked at him, we received rude gestures in response!
Note that last year (1998, on 9 June) we observed the aftermath of an accident apparently caused by a chaser speeding in a small Nebraska town. As we drove through town, the local gendarme was writing a ticket and talking to the young men (Colorado tags on their car), who apparently "T-boned" some citizen who pulled out in front of them at an intersection, probably underestimating their speed. We were unable to ascertain if the citizen had been hurt, but the car was pretty much totaled. In 1999, we saw a chase car that had clearly exceeded the safe speeds on a dirt road in Kansas and slid off the road, through a barbed wire fence and into a field. As we passed by, a farmer was discussing the situation with the young men (again, Colorado tags on their car). Both these chasers had bad experiences that probably ended their chasing, at least temporarily. It's only a matter of time, with more and more chasers on the road - someone is not only going to hurt themselves, they're going to hurt some innocent bystander.
Can we do anything to stop irresponsible behavior? Perhaps we have no way to "enforce" responsible chasing, but we certainly should not simply shrug our shoulders, condoning this sort of thing by default! When we see irresponsible behavior, we shouldn't ignore it - we should let these jerks know what we think about their endangering actions. Eventually, if we don't do something about it, some innocent non-chasers are going to be hurt by chaser irresponsibility. Even if law enforcement doesn't crack down on storm chasing as a result, who wants this on their conscience?