Posted by: pyeager | June 2, 2009

Tornado Chasers–Scientists or Thrill Seekers?

I love the weather as much as the next person–probably more based on the fact that I’ve made the weather a 20-plus-year career and am currently writing a book on the subject (Perigee Publishing).

Perhaps understanding the fanatical love of the weather is what makes me so annoyed when people mask their desire to see deadly tornadoes with a thin veil of science. Many storm chasers are chasing for the thrill, not for the science.

True Scientists
Don’t get me wrong–not all storm chasers are unsympathetic geeks who care more about seeing a monster tornado than they do about the safety of people on the ground. There are plenty of serious researchers whose main goal is collecting data that will help to save lives in the future. Their storm-chasing research might prove to be invaluable, and I applaud their work.

Thrill Seekers
Many others aren’t.

It’s easy to live in Atlanta or New York City or Los Angeles and want to spend a couple of weeks in the Plains, paying a meteorological guide/businessman a significant sum of money, in search of the thrill of a tornado. Who doesn’t want a little adventure in his life? After a couple of weeks in tornado alley, they can go home and re-live the adventure, especially if they were lucky enough to get a shot of someone’s home being blown into a million pieces and transported into the next county.

It’s much different for people who have to live through the risk of tornadoes.

Many storm chasers are the ambulance chasers of science–and there are plenty of them running around the Plains right now, being heartily disappointed when “the cap doesn’t break” or “supercell formation doesn’t seem likely.”

A day without tornadoes is like a day without sunshine.

Vortex 2
I’m not commenting on whether the people at the Weather Channel belong in that group–I haven’t watched enough of the  Vortex 2: The Great Tornado Hunt coverage to know whether coverage is being handled with respect or with the uncontrolled zeal of a self-centered thrill seeker…but…the “hunt” is certainly not lacking for promotion.

I’m sure the promotion is all about the science.

–Paul Yeager

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