The Lords of Norman

Years ago, I wrote an essay about a storm chasing e-mail list called WX-CHASE, to which I once belonged. In the early-mid 1990s, three phenomena changed the face of storm chasing in general, and of discussion on open forums:

1. The movie Twister and all the unwanted attention it attracted to what had been a small, self-regulated hobby of people who all knew one another, and

2. The Internet got commercialized and was infested with clueless, poorly educated parasites (many with too-readily accessible accounts from such outlets as AOL, Web-TV or Yahoo) who couldn’t spell, punctuate or write complete sentences. This element, not limited to storm chasing, flooded almost all open lists with stunningly ignorant and selfish requests for the experts to spoon-feed them all knowledge in simple, easy to understand form, in just a few sentences. They revealed a gaping lack of understanding of the effort and learning necessary to become both good and safe at any outdoor hobby, for example: “where (sic) can i (sic) purchass (sic) equiptmant (sic) to become an amature (sic) tornadoe (sic) hunter ?
As I mentioned in the essay, that person needs to be working on his G.E.D., not endangering others by his mere presence on the stormy Great Plains roadways.

3. Flame wars — open, public pissing matches between a few individuals on a list, many of which got intensely personal and hateful. Flaming is related to (1) and (2) above, but stands apart as a prime motivator for the exodus of expertise from the open forums. This still happens, as evident in a venomous exchange on WX-CHASE and on web pages last year between a female storm chaser from Nebraska and/or San Antonio, and a Lubbock couple with whom she had a falling out over (what else?) money, from video sales. [This was no surprise either; and some of us saw the potential for such ugliness many years before it happened. See my essay with Rich Thompson, Cancer Within, on the video-driven greed element in storm chasing.]

About the time the ignorant, whiny and spiteful posts inundated the open lists, most of the veterans and experts sought refuge in subscriber-only forums. Others formed heavily moderated, closed groups, where one could join only by invitation or nomination, followed by voted acceptance of the list or its leaders. I was one who did so, but abandoned WX-CHASE very reluctantly and after several years of trying to help the open list save itself from the malignancies festering within.

I do not regret leaving one bit. Although I don’t subscribe to WX-CHASE anymore, various snippets of it are sent to me from time to time by folks who do. It’s enough to keep me informed from afar, and I deeply appreciate their patience and filtering! They send me anything useful or interesting, and the remaining 98% of useless, irrelevant, superficial, trivial, redundant and/or hateful rubbish doesn’t waste my time.

Shortly after the first draft of that essay, I got in a mighty and prolonged intellectual struggle with someone who was on such an open list, but who, unlike most there, both could and did match me volley for volley in written debate and argument. He would have needed to. Otherwise I would have either overwhelmed the antagonist and sent him scurrying for cover, or frustrated him into personal attack and an abrupt end to any communication from me.

He was a professional fiction writer and hobbyist storm chaser with a streetwise urban attitude every bit the equal of mine, and a polemic writing style that admittedly filled me with with envy at its masterful and effective composition. Fortunately, and as it should, the powerful and protracted debate stayed offline from WX-CHASE, never got personal, and brought out the best in creative thought and writing in both of us. During this struggle, in which we broadsided each other with enough philosophical torpedoes to sink a fleet of well-armed debate professors, we gained enough respect for each other to become great friends for life. [It didn’t hurt, either, that we discovered in each other a crucial commonality: rabid fanship of the Dallas Cowboys!]

The subject of that battle? Why the experts were abandoning the lists. He saw this as the high-and-mighty sneering down upon the lesser and the weak, the ivory tower thumbing their noses at the common man, the arrogant dismissing the humble. To him, these “Lords of Norman” (then and now, the world’s greatest concentration of severe storm expertise) needed to be humbled, put in their place. Instead, I saw it as the besieged retreating to safer harbor, themselves eschewing the arrogance of the ignorant and selfish who wanted to have everything handed to them without taking the time and effort to learn and gain experience.

In some ways we were both right, it turns out. There are haughty, conceited experts who look down their noses at nonmeteorologist storm chasers, or even at those without Ph. D. degrees; and that is sickening to us both. Education matters, for sure, but attitude matters more. And no degree in the world can confer on its recipient the degree of deep appreciation necessary, beyond all academics and far removed from self, to most fully understand violent weather or any other beloved avocation.

And still today, there are the flamers on the open lists, devoting so much effort to trashing each other. These folks don’t realize that it makes them look like absolute whack jobs, despite all those ridiculous claims of, “We were *forced* to take this action…” or, “In order to defend ourselves from such accusations…” Buffalo-cookies! Nobody *forced* them to do anything. They *chose* to put up that attack-website, exposing their antagonist’s sordid personal background and police record.

Now my friend is happy to be off that list also, equally disgusted now as I was then by the ugliness spewed from the keyboards of the screaming Chihuahuas, loud but truly feeble little wimps who hide behind a computer monitor while vomiting their poisonous hate for all to see.

Dear reader, these are new times in the world of storm chasing, and of many other hobbies online. And when the blabbering masses (the flame-war participants, their partisan allies, and many of the rest of the whiny little backstabbers on the open forums) gripe about us “veterans” not being there, this is the reason.

Who wants to put up with the petty sniping, inanely ignorant and badly misspelled dribble, and flamewar rubbish, when it’s supposed to be (in the case of my deep avocation, storm observing) about the STORMS. [Substitute TRAINS, PHOTOGRAPHY, PLANES, COINS, STAMPS, etc. for other hobbies. For even wilder examples of flaming, see RELIGION!] Yes, it’s supposed to be about the storms, and learning and appreciation abut them — most definitely not personal attacks, ignorant selfishness, self-promotional publicity mongering and commercialistic greed.

That’s what it all boils down to. And that’s why I’ve lamented the state of WX-CHASE, the other open forums and much of the chasing community in general.

Now do you see some of why the supposed “chaser elites” or “Lords of Norman” have withdrawn themselves from the bulk of the lists, and either gone to more tightly regulated discussion groups or removed themselves altogether from view?

Yes, some of the Lords (of Norman and elsewhere) have behaved like arrogant bungholes toward the “commoners” and that’s wrong. But many others simply are good smart folks who prefer not to waste valuable time slogging through the slop on the lists and forums, and have better things to concentrate upon.

Good for them!

While no one’s ignorance, hate or recklessness will discourage me from engaging in the hobby I love, it is my choice to decide with whom I shall associate and engage in this hobby. And if someone doesn’t like it, tough. Deal with it.

Finally, and quite ironically, my friend now is one of those Lords, at least by his broadened initial categorization; and he is considering living in Norman at some point. You bet I’ll keep needling him about it, too! 🙂


2 Responses to “The Lords of Norman”

  1. Kevin Scharfenberg on April 13th, 2005 5:32 pm

    I think the next-to-last paragraph really sums it up. Even ten years ago storm chasing was much more difficult and required much more patience than it does today. Back then it was hard to regularly pick good targets more than about a day in advance and we didn’t have the world wide web to provide easy access to information. We didn’t have any clue about things like using dewpoint depressions or washed-out boundaries to pick out which supercell might be tornadic. Getting data on the road was difficult. These things, I think, tended to turn off the impatient thrill-seekers and the people who didn’t want to take the time to learn about the atmosphere, so they didn’t stay around in the hobby long enough to invade the open forums. After “Twister”, the advent of the world wide web, deployment of 88Ds and the results of project VORTEX, chasing got much easier and has evolved more toward an extreme sport to some. In a sense, we are a victim of our own success!

  2. R.J. Evans on April 15th, 2005 11:12 am

    Well done Roger! Needs a sponsor though…

    “This public service message brought to you by Alsup s Burritos and Rogelio’s Butt Gas Emporium! We now return you to our regularly scheduled 2005 chase season”

    Just a thought 🙂

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