The date was 11 June 2010, a fun and rewarding storm intercept adventure in eastern Colorado; see the full chase account here on our Storms Observed BLOG.
While I was shooting storm backgrounds ahead of a tail-end supercell, and on the grounds of the famous Genoa Wonder Tower (with permission, see above photo looking N), a driver came up to me and introduced himself, admitting this was his first solo chase, and asking if “that part” was about to produce a tornado. “That part” was a ragged, very obvious (to me anyway) shelf cloud surfing the gust front well to our SW. I didn’t even take a photo of that part of the storm complex; it looked so lame.
Rather unnerved that he was out there trying to chase while armed with so little understanding, I kindly gave him a quick 3-minute tutorial on storm structure in the atmosphere’s real-time laboratory class. Before the appreciative fellow left, I asked him how he got into chasing, and his response was that he had gone out the last three years with two different chase tours — run by people with whom I am familiar, both having a well-earned reputation as high-adrenaline thrillseekers. While knowledgeable chasers, neither seem particularly inclined toward education of their clients, and it showed!
What is the ethical responsibility of a chase tour to instruct its guests, to get them prepared for their own chasing endeavors should they wish to do so, and to discourage them from going it alone until they are ready? Are some tours collectively spawning a legion of ill-informed chasers who really aren’t any more prepared after than before, because the tour leaders are inclined more toward “nabbing the nader” and providing “XTREME INSANE” rushes of excitement at any cost, while neglecting the intellectual needs of their clientele? Do some relatively inexperienced (say, less than 10 years) tour operators simply lack the meteorological understanding to explain, accurately and insightfully, the storms they chase? In such cases, how unsafe is such ignorance on the part of tour staff for their clients while on tour — much less later? These are valid questions.
I do know of one reputable, longtime field operator — not a meteorologist himself, but certainly skilled and astute at storm observing — who conducts a “lecture tour” with a famous, well-respected chaser and Ph.D. in atmospheric science. It’s a great idea. In a similar vein, maybe having more teaching-inclined experts riding along on these tours — a select few folks with deep, deep experience and understanding of violent storms and the ability to teach about it — is the solution. [Note that experience alone is not sufficient and does not necessarily mean much; someone without solid meteorological understanding, doing the same thing for 21 years, might only have one year of ill-informed experience repeated 20 times over.]
I’m not going to endorse or bash any particular tour by name; instead, this is intended to stir up discussion on a broader issue pertinent to them all, and perhaps, give potential tourists another tool to use when choosing whom to provide big bags of shekels for services rendered.
This storm-observing greenhorn at Genoa seemed well-educated otherwise, smart, and curious; indeed, he was not much different in age than me…but also, unsafely unenlightened about storm structure and behavior. After 3 years and many thousands of dollars of high-priced touring, how does that happen?