Storm Chasing can be defined simply as the act of intentionally pursuing storms. The primary goal for most is to witness a tornado, but that is not the sole reason that storm chasers are out there.
About Storm Chasing:
There are many reasons why people do this. Scientific research, photo/video opportunities, community weather spotting, or even thrill seeking. Those who engage in this activity often fall under the label of Storm Chaser. No one knows for sure when storm chasing began, but it is accepted by many that it was in the late 1950's by a man named David Hoadley. Since then, storm chasing has gained popularity as a result of increasing exposure from movies, research projects and even reality television.
Storm Chasing is mostly done as a hobby since there are very little career opportunities to choose from. In fact, of the estimated 3000 or so self proclaimed storm chasers that exist, only just a handful actually chase storms as their full time career. Most have other jobs, and simply just chase when they can. Those who do so professionally usually do so as part of a scientific research team, work for local media stations or run tours. Some TV meteorologists also chase, but typically the job requirements of a TV meteorologist often limit chasing.
Most storm chasers have tangent interests related to meteorology. Many of them are self educated and posess a great deal of forecast knowledge. They are often tech junkies, and drive vehicles loaded with cameras, laptops, tablets, scanners, radios and various other tools to aid in the chase. For the truly dedicated, it can be a frustrating lifestyle, as much time is spent waiting for things to happen that sometimes never do. The weather does not operate based on personal schedules, and many chasers distant themselves from personal affairs to be available to chase. A large percentage of others will gamble their entire year during the peak of tornado season (mid through late May in the United States) and go on what is known as a "chasecation" where they simply spend 2-3 weeks living life on the road.
Photography is another common tangent interest found in chasers. These individuals often don't have much interest in the actual meteorology or science. Their primary goal is to simply capture stunning images of weather, and there are endless opportunities to do so! Others are simpy out for a thrill, but these individuals often come and go rather than stick around, as storm chasing can be quite expensive and more often than not, nothing thrilling actually happens. It is very difficult to make money off storm chasing, as the market becomes saturated and the price of video/photos continues to decline thanks to advances in technology making it easy for anyone to capture video simply by owning a cell phone.
The number of chasers increases each year, as new people begin to pursue their interests in it, and those who have been out before continue to be out. In recent years this has caused concerns due to traffic congestion and reckless driving. There have been strong rumors that one day storm chasing will be regulated, but for now those are just rumors, and no official permits or licenses are required to chase storms.
What To Expect While Chasing:
Storm chasing is all about driving. Driving, driving, and more driving. If you don't like spending time in a car, storm chasing is not for you. Chasers drive out to their target area, and then it is typically a waiting game. Waiting, waiting and more waiting. IF (yes, IF storms decide to form) chasers will move into a position to safely view the storm. There are certain strategies chasers use to put themselves in good viewing position.
This is easier said than done though, road options can be limited, and sometimes the storms move to fast. Once in position, if the storm doesn't choke is when the good stuff finally happens. You can expect to see amazing storm structure, incredible lightning, amazing sky colors, and if all goes right, a tornado. Unfortuantely, these experiences are a very small percent of storm chasing (less than 5%) but for everyone, that 5% makes everything else worth it. Then, once the event is over, its back to more driving, sometimes across multiple states, to do it all again the next day.
Storm chasing has risks, but is completely safe if the right tactics are used. Often the biggest risk in chasing is the long miles on the road. Traffic accidents are most common. Gettng stuck in the mud on a dirt road or becoming stranded is another common risk. Sustaining vehicle damage and broken windows from hail or high winds can be another. Lightning also poses a risk. Most casualites are the result of traffic accidents unrelated to weather. Only 3 storm chasers have ever been killed by a tornado.
How To Get Started In Chasing:
If you have an interest in chasing, it is advised to do research before heading out. Knowledge of storm structure and behavior is most important. Attending spotter training classes from your local National Weather Service is strongly recommended. See the resources page for more great places to read up on chasing. You can always contact us here at Illinoisstormchasers.com for any questions and we will be happy to answer them.