Industrialized Storm Chasing, Part 2: How Did This Happen?

In many ways it’s sad that a once obscure and little known hobby known as “storm chasing” has gotten so commercialized, and worse, so blasted crowded.

My story from yesterday, and many others, illustrate that in the heat of competition, motivated by greed, some people in the non-reputable tour outfits, as well as some TV chasers and freelance video thrillseekers, naturally will resort to the most scurrilous, vile and deceptive forms of treachery in search of every possible sixpence. Such is the case in any industry; and now, storm observing is no exception.

How has it come to this? Simple. Storms and appreciation of the beauty of the sky have been sacrificed at the altar of the almighty dollar by a lecherous minority whose prime motivation is financial instead of atmospheric. It is just a small sample of what is happening, and will continue to happen, as the direct result of the industrialization of storm chasing. It began, as Rich Thompson and I elucidated and foresaw in an essay years and years ago and which remains online, with chasers selling video for profit and (maybe even more common) ego boosting.

I am not talking about the art market, as with most photographic stills, or the science application, as with video for photogrammetry and factual documentation. I have no problem with anyone’s marketing of professional grade still photography, which (if not showing gruesome scenes) does not promote the yahoo element, and in fact, tends to engender a contemplative appreciation for the beauty of our stormy skies. That’s a good thing!

Instead, the source of the trouble is in years of individual storm videographers peddling their most destructive ten second clips of chase video to the mass media and to “shockumentary” producers, who over glorified it all, and in turn yielded this insane situation we see today.

Boy, didn’t it feel mighty proud to get that disintegrating house uploaded on KRUD-TV that night in the Motel 11, knowing all the other chasers got scooped?

Yes, that great video clip sure bought a few Taco Bell dinners and a gadget or two, didn’t it?

The $50/second forbidden fruit tasted really sweet at the time, didn’t it?

What about bad motivations for chasing? Some say there can’t be such a thing. “It doesn’t matter, whatever floats your boat.” Bull crap! Anyone who thinks that way should get his head out of the sand and look at reality. This isn’t Utopia. As a subset of society at large, storm chasing is chock full of greed, arrogance, envy, materialism, and over-competitiveness.

Yes, too often it’s about notches on the gun, whose tornado was bigger, who saw the most or “best” that day or this year, my tornado’s better than your tornado, my vehicle’s got the best equipment. That’s sandbox stuff for three year olds, carried out on the level of whiny toddlers in adult bodies who have far too much time and money to burn on their gadgets. Some folks — maybe a lot — simply need to grow up and to mature past the point that others’ “conquests” or fancy toys really matter.

Despite the proclamations of politically-correct historical revisionists, there still is right, and there still is wrong. Egomania, greed, overcompetitiveness, envy, recklessness, lawlessness, backstabbing, disregard for safety of others…those aspects of storm chasing are, simply, wrong. There is no gray area.

[So what’s right? Stay tuned! I’ll offer the solution to it all in coming days.]

Greed and egocentrism have metastasized through chasing to the point of a bad Hollywood movie, worse TV movies, bogus websites of “tour ratings,” hundreds of “chase vehicles” festooned with unused or misused instrumentation, tornado-tanks and other increasingly outrageous forms of wholly egocentric showmanship. And now we deal with our own hobby’s “Curse of Adam,” as will all those who follow for the foreseeable future. By means of greed and ego, storm chasing has crapped all over its own nest and now must deal with the messy results.

What is it causing now and in the near future? Consider the lazy, shortcut-seeking “wannabes” and “yellow donut chasers” who just want to spend money and be spoon-fed others’ forecasts on where to go to see the tornado, nevermind understanding anything about forecasting and nevermind about appreciating stormy skies for all they are.

Consider the meteorologically uneducated and untrained locals by the hundreds flocking unsafely into tornado warnings with video cameras, inspired by the footage they’ve seen on TV, impeding local emergency traffic and the efforts of trained storm spotters. Consider “SuperSell SaFury Stormforce” type storm tours, popping up like poisonous mushrooms after a deluge, staffed by no-names with mysterious and/or bogus credentials.

Consider cutthroat competition for the almighty dollar among videographers scrapping over a smaller share of the pie in a market saturating even for the wildest of footage. Consider broken friendships and backstabbing resulting from all the above. They’re real. It exists. Otherwise there would be none of the flame wars that have pervaded WX-CHASE and StormTrack forums (and nearly forced their shutdown) over the past several years.

This is not just the future; it’s the present! How far does this go before we reach a critical mass of some sort, a point where “storm chasers” start dying or committing crimes against one another because of their own excessive risk-taking, or that of others?

Truly I ask, what’s next?

Time for the caveats:

If you’re getting worked up over this, chances are you’re guilty. Hey, in some way, we all are, for not doing more to prevent these problems, for not setting better examples in our own behavior.

I fully realize that neither I nor any of you nor all of us together can put the cat back in the bag this or next year, much as I wish for it. Putting the “Cancer Within” into remission, much less curing it, will take time. Complaints are invalid without solutions. But one must speak candidly and bluntly of the problems in order to justify the need for solutions, and in that sense this is a most worthwhile exercise.

The ailments afflicting chasing aren’t just the plague of neophytes either. It isn’t just the “newbies” that cause problems; indeed, some veteran chasers have years and years of experience doing things the wrong way and set absolutely wretched examples for everyone else.
I’ll take a rookie who wants to learn the art and science of storms through his or her eyes and ears, anytime, over the “veteran” who has practiced for 25 years his ability to behave badly in the field.

I also realize that a lack of formal education in meteorology does not correlate with good chase ethics. Indeed, many of the most respected chasers are not meteorologists, including several great friends of mine. By contrast, some highly degreed meteorologists are the most pompous, conceited bungholes I ever have met!

Now that the anti-whiner caveats are out of the way…

Let the situations and incidents I’ve described serve as examples of the pitfalls of commercialization of storm observation. We reap what we sow. We now must navigate this field of land mines that, with some long-term foresight and self-restraint years ago, might not have been laid. We must decide what to do with this passion we share (or at least did, to a greater degree, before industrialization of chasing got in the way).

That said, if storm chase tourism has to exist as an industry, better to have honest and well known folks like Martin, Dave, Jim and Charles at the forefront, instead of Joe Pretendo, Frankie Fakershyster, Nate Namedropper and their Magic Bluebird Bus full of “renowned storm researcher experts” that nobody in meteorology has heard of. Chase tourism must start policing itself.

And so must chasing as a whole, especially on an individual level, when considering one’s own motivations and in dealing with the masses of unawares. Are we a bunch of loudmouthed, greedy, thrillseeking daredevils, or serious and devoted hobbyists with a passion for the turbulent sky? Which impression do you think we should portray, with legitimacy, to other chasers, to those who want to get started, to the media and to the public at large?

The answer is in the form of a question: Why, exactly, do we chase storms?


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