XTREME Storm Chasing and Death

Some friends and I have been pondering the occurrence of the next storm chaser fatality. Morbid, I know, but it’s something worth thinking about, much like one thinks about other tragic and terrible things that could happen in life, and how to mitigate the risk. And I don’t shy away from confronting any subject — not even the reaper. What follows are some thoughts culled from that dialog.

The fact is that none of us are immune from making a singular bad decision, and therefore, from tragic consequences. All of us have at some point, admittedly or not. I certainly have.

Then there are the nearly equally shared risks, such as lightning, black cows in the night, etc. I don’t think the first CG that kills a chaser, for example, will care if the electrified flesh is that of a screaming yahoo or a well-respected “gentleman chaser.” [My own track record, BTW, is at neither extreme, though I aspire to the latter.] The next chaser death could be even an esteemed “veteran” — heaven forbid, but let’s not be so arrogant as to exclude that possibility. It could be any of us!

That sobering realization doesn’t and shouldn’t preclude some of us from calling out those who consistently show they don’t give a damn about the safety of themselves or others, thereby magnifying the hazard in an already somewhat dangerous place. Take special note of that word — consistently. There’s a difference between making a regrettable error of judgment and repeated eschewing of common sense. The former can kill you; but the latter significantly boosts those odds.

I (for one) am getting tired of this topic, after almost two decades of discussion. Problem is, it just refuses to go away…so we surely will keep revisiting it this on occasion. Other folks who care about this hobby also have been outspoken in essays, online forums and in-person speaking engagements about the hazards and traps of storm observing for many years.

The reactions invariably have been been one of three modes: agreement and acceptance, silence or defensive whining. In reverse order…

Some folks — most often the “XTREME VIDEO” thrillseekers or their real or imaginary (aliased) allies — scream in hollow and insecure defensiveness about chaser-elites “imposing rules” and other tired, old arguments usually revolving around an imaginary persecution of some sort. Predictably, such messages often arrive with numerous misspellings, horrid grammar and usage, and an apparent lack of awareness that the SHIFT key indeed does exist.

Silence can mean anything: agree, disagree, no opinion, don’t care, care but not enough to respond, too lazy, etc. Who knows but the mute?

Of course, the encouraging part is those storm observers who have told me they appreciate the safety essays and words of advice from me and other veteran chasers over the years. I don’t know how much good it’s done quantitatively, but I’ve got abundant anecdotal evidence to suggest that some people (new chasers) have been positively influenced by those essays in their quest to learn more about storm observing.

Others, however, are tempted to compete with the XTREME VIDEO bunch because they’re getting the close footage — the “good stuff” and the only video that apparently sells anymore in an otherwise oversaturated market. This shouldn’t be a competition. Ultimately it’s about the storms, not us. How can that message be conveyed best so it will carry the most weight? It only becomes about us when greed and ego get in the way of learning and appreciation.

As for the screaming yahoos and their pandering concubine of semi-literate apologists… Clearly the “XTREME VIDEO” daredevils haven’t listened, nor will they, because of the all powerful combination of greed and egomania. These wildmen are going to go down defiant and unapologetic, reveling in some sort of concocted “outlaw” status as a badge of honor. The persecution complex can be a powerful motivator of irrationality. There is nothing the sane can do to educate or change these yahoos’ minds. It will only happen from within, if at all.

Adrenaline junkies seem to be spurred further by harrowing, horrifying experiences — not discouraged by them. If you want any deeper insight into the “XTREME VIDEO” mentality in storm chasing, the closest you may come is to study the world of publicity-seeking motorcycle stuntmen (or in the earlier eras, escape artists)…some combination of Evel Knievel and Harry Houdini, but with both a moving platform (SUV) and target (tornado in supercell) instead. At least Evel and Harry didn’t make bogus claims about saving lives in order to justify their actions, while also putting others in danger.

Is it “every man for himself” anymore? Should it be? Let’s ask that of the families of any storm tourists who may be injured or killed under the watch of an unscrupulous, non-reputable, out-of-woodwork chase tour operator. Or of the grandma and grandpa whose car is t-boned in a little Nebraska town by an out-of-state SUV festooned with antennae. Or of the vacationing family of five who swerves off the road to avoid a chase van making a U-turn across a double yellow line…just over the top of the hill.

Still, what more can be said that hasn’t been already? I don’t know what else there is to do, except

1. Look out for our own safety and do the best we can to keep ourselves out of harm’s way as much as possible. This includes keeping some distance from the throngs whenever road options and storm track are favorable.

2. Be prepared to react, both publicly and amongst ourselves, to the inevitable first few casualties of reckless behavior around storms. Some of those casualties may be innocent drivers/bystanders or other chasers not involved in dangerous behavior (collateral damage).

Agree with me or not, this is where I am with this issue right now. I’m not afraid to take a stand, to confront unpleasant topics, or to challenge people. And so it is.

One thing is for sure, mother nature isn’t going to tolerate this hypercompetitive, kiss-the-vapors, XTREME VIDEO bulls___t forever without exacting a morbid price.



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