How Storm Chasers Work
These swirling storms might also include lightning; damaging, straight-line winds and heavy rain and hail. They damage homes and entire towns. And, of course, there are the stories of humans and animals being hurled through the air, people being crushed under the weight of tornado debris or impaled and killed by objects flung through the air with incredible force.
Why, do you ask, would someone risk their lives to get up close and personal with a killer storm? Is it adrenaline? Is it sheer curiosity? Is it the sheer fact that, despite decades of research, we still don't understand tornadoes and long to know more? Is it a little of all three?
Believe it or not, storm chasing isn't nonstop action and danger. It's actually a very methodical practice that requires lots of time spent studying weather data, driving, waiting and more driving. Storm chasers can spend 12 hours or more driving around and still not see a tornado of any kind. Byron Turk, TIV navigator for the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers series, describes the process like this:
"We find the storm hopefully before it gets dark, and hopefully it produces a tornado, and hopefully there are roads to it," Turk says. "Lots of decisions need to be made on how the supercell is doing, whether another one is more worthwhile, more data comes in and it's just a constant process of making the right decision over and over again. Hopefully."
Who were the first storm chasers?
One afternoon in December 1874, Scottish naturalist John Muir climbed a 100-foot-tall Douglas spruce during a fierce wind storm characteristic of the Sierra region of California to feel for himself what the tops of the trees experience. Muir clung to the top of the spruce for hours, riding the storm out. He later wrote, "never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion".