In this day and age there are literally hundreds of professions a person could choose to participate in. However, there are few professions that can provide the excitement experienced in the area of meteorology, in particular, that of field meteorology which is also called storm chasing. For more than fifty years, storm chasers have been the first line of defense against deadly tornadoes and hurricanes. Chasers provide critical information about the storms; It is this information that has helped to save countless lives over the years. I am one of the lucky few that has gotten to experience storm chasing first hand. I have spent two summers chasing tornadoes with my uncle.
My uncle is a meteorologist employed by the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. He has spent almost every summer for the past fifteen years chasing tornadoes and braving the winds of hurricanes. My uncle does this to provide information that will hopefully save lives. During my experience in storm chasing I have learned quite a bit. For example, there are many misconceptions about storm chasing. For the most part, these misconceptions come from movies such as "Twister." While these movies are very exciting, they also distort reality.
Chasers never, under any circumstances, race along side a tornado or intentionally get within the path of a tornado. Also, chasers are never happy to see a tornado form. Tornadoes are among the most violent natural phenomena on earth and they kill a countless number of people every year. Of course, when it comes to scientific or historical accuracy, Hollywood has never pretended to be faithful. While the primary task of a storm chaser is to chase storms, they must also work to analyze their findings. It is only through analy zation and research that we can better hope to understand these thoroughly unpredictable storms.
Storm chasers also must have a basic understanding of photography. Documenting these massive storms is one of the most important parts of chasing. Often the pictures or video is sent directly to local television stations in order to better warn the people in the path of the storm. After the pictures and video have been studied, they are copied and sold to various networks. This is one of the chief sources of income for most non-agency based storm chasers. Why chase tornadoes? This question is frequently asked of storm chasers.
It is not a question that can be answered while waiting for an elevator or in small conversation at a cocktail party. It to ches many levels and requires time to answer. If my experiences are characteristic of other chasers, there are at least four levels that relate to the storm. First is the sheer, raw experience of confronting a force of nature. It is a force that is uncontrollable and unpredictable. However, at the same time it is magnificent, awesome, and picturesque.
Few life experiences can compare to the anticipation felt while watching a tornado form. The gusty inflow of warm, moist air sweeping up into a lowering, darkening funnel, and the low grumbling of thunder as a great engine begins to turn creates an almost surreal surrounding. Second is the challenge of locating and forecasting where these deadly storms may occur. Even though there is state of the art technology at work, a chaser almost always rely's upon personal experience and intuit on to guide them. Every day is a new puzzle, completely different from the day before, the week before, or the year before. There is no textbook for what chasers do.
Even the most experienced meteorologist eventually get one wrong. Third is the sense of participation in a great event that comes with experiencing a tornado first hand. The knowledge of the storm itself provides for some of the excitement. To know of the winds that stream over and through the towering thunderheads from their source in the jet stream makes the chaser almost become part of the storm itself. Fourth is an associative level. With each spring and each new storm, memories of other storms and of other places begin to surface.
The memories and exhilaration of seeing your first tornado makes it seem as if you haven't aged at all. The first hand experience of storm chasing makes it seem as if time is standing still and that nothing exists except for you and this monster of nature. I can only describe storm chasing as the chance to experience something infinite. The sense of power and the scale of the storm overwhelms the senses. This gives you the feeling of something eternal and at the same time of something ethereal. Such as when a fifty-thousand foot wall of clouds glides gently away and goes golden in a setting sun.
One can only pause and look in wonder at what God has created.