The Hordes Can’t Stop Me!

Veteran storm chasers and spotters are growing ever more disillusioned at their inability to find seclusion afield anymore. I understand this. Few experiences are more awe inspiring, more reducing of self and more immersive into the greater, than to stand alone in the inflow, a tiny speck of human insignificance before the incalculable power of a giant, thundering supercell out on some remote Great Plains roadway.

Those days are not over, but have been relegated to serendipitous rarity — anomalous storm days when hardly anyone else is chasing, or to the “surprise” storm well removed from the target area where throngs of chasers and chaser “wanna-bes” congregate around every deep convective cloud.

The accessibility of relatively uneducated and untrained people to severe storms is greater than ever, thanks to:

1. The Internet, where even the most weather-unaware can have a decent forecast of severe storm locations delivered for free, and
2. Years and years of wild, sensationalistic storm video often shot or bought by irresponsible media elements.

Many of the worst offendors are untrained locals who rush out toward a tornado warning, clogging the roadways and creating unnecessary risk for their own communities and neighbors in the process. And of course, yahoo chasers cause danger and havoc far out of proportion to their relatively small numbers. Most storm spotters and chasers are not in it for the ego and glory; but their video and their stories are not the ones shown on the broadcast news. Afterall, the harmless, low-hanging outflow cloud I am reporting to the NWS isn’t as good for ratings as the “large wall cloud, about to tornado!” report to the TV station from the guy in his antenna festooned pickup, parked 50 feet from me and looking delusionally at the very same thing.

Death and destruction, and the potential for it, sells. It also attracts ill-advised gawkers in the same manner as train wrecks and six-alarm fires. Hence, the storm hordes gather, and the roads around supercells grow ever more congested by the year.

I still find a great deal of fulfillment and enjoyment in one-on-one experiences with the sky, but it’s often not very easy. Dodging all these open car doors and ignoramuses running randomly across the highway is getting more difficult to do. I figure that I’ll accidentally mow down someone’s thoughtlessly placed video camera and tripod in the middle of the road before too long. Oh well…their loss.

In some ways it’s miraculous we haven’t had a major casualty yet, with all those wannabe’s, pretenders, this year’s fly-by-night “storm tour” operators that nobody ever heard of, locally based ad-hoc chasers and self-proclaimed storm experts clogging the roads of OK and north Texas. That British yahoo who sped past me at over 100 mph toward a dark storm core, last May in Southern OK, proves the attraction of the reckless now has gone international. Furthermore, the chase crowds are spreading surely northward aross Colorado, the Dakotas, Iowa and Illinois.

But there is something far more important to me than who else is out there. While I and other veteran chasers do complain about the trends, the hard cold fact is that we can do very little to run the roaches back into the walls. There’s no “chase Raid” that will make them go away. So we must tolerate, however begrudgingly, the added danger posed by the stormy roamings of untrained Joe Sixpacks, uneducated know-it-alls and shameless thrillseekers, hoping we don’t get killed through their acts of selfishness and negligence.

I know this, though: I refuse to let the “chase roaches” and hordes stop me from being where I want and need to be — in a position to behold the awesome grandeur of a storm, to see, hear, smell, feel that majesty and power, spawned by none other than God himself. I belong beneath the supercell skyscape as salt belongs in seawater, as dust in the wind, integrally and inseparably interwoven. And every day I can, that’s where I shall be.

Thanks to Jeff Draper for stimulating my discussion on this topic.


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