COLUMN: Chasing horror, other natural phenomena

Farm Forum

Are daredevil storm chasers to blame for their own injuries and deaths?

Wannabe meteorologists chase storms, hoping to snatch a glimpse of the ultimate tropospheric power.

When conditions are ripe for tornadoes, I scan the very little bit of sky I can see from my pathetically dense residential neighborhood, looking for rotation.

If alarms go off, though, I’m in my basement. I’ve heard stories of people being sucked out of basement doorways. That little bit of fear is enough for me.

Still, I admire storm chasers who risk all to follow and record capricious, forceful, awe-inspiring actions of large rotating storms. Three former Discovery Channel “Storm Chasers” were killed in an Oklahoma tornado last month.

Storm chasers now do more than chase tornadoes. They film them up close, and they post clips and stills of storms and damage, right from the heart of a storm.

As technology improves, we huddle with those taking shelter in basement closets. We read tweets from eyewitnesses as terrifying events unfold. But it’s the chasers who allow us to understand what we really want to know: What it’s like up close to twisters.

Chasers film tornadoes from scarier and more dangerous places than ever before. We can now watch debris swirl and crash without having to dodge it ourselves.

While technology helps weather experts warn of storms at earlier and earlier times — saving lives — it also has a downside.

One tornado chasing tool I recently discovered is an interactive radar site, This site not only includes high quality, crystal clear radar imagery, it also provides car icons that move along the map, pinpointing various storm-chasing teams. If your mouse hovers over an icon, you discover the chaser’s name, whether a chaser is streaming live video and how many others, like you, are watching his or her video stream.

If you click on the icon, you are treated to a front-seat view out the chaser vehicle’s windshield. In essence, you are chasing right along with each team, from the comfort of your living room. You can become armchair tornado paparazzi!

When I accessed this site during the Oklahoma tornadoes, I watched as more than a half dozen chasers zoomed toward the warning area.

One chaser may only broadcast a view of rain and drizzle, while another may actually be showing funnels. You can switch from one chaser’s view to another’s, just by clicking.

You can sometimes predict where the storm will turn next and determine which chaser is likely to provide the best video stream.

If you’re a chaser, you might try to position your vehicle in a better spot than rival chasers. Can you drive the closest to the storm? Can you get the coolest video? Will networks purchase your clip for the 10 o’clock news?

Perhaps competition for the best angle and the best video leads chasers to violate their own tornado safety rules. If so, it’s public thirst for information that drives that competition.

But something else could be at work.

Technology can offer a false sense of mastery over the elements.

When radar is right in front of you, you might suddenly feel in charge. You’ve calculated distances, made guesses based on instant information. You “know” the path of the storm. But sometimes, storms are bigger, more unpredictable and deadlier than we expect.

Even the best of the best can be taken off guard by the sheer force and caprice of nature at its worst.

It’s the very erratic nature of tornadoes that makes them attractive. Their power is nearly irresistible, and no earthly science, however advanced, is a match for nature.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at