Saturday, June 01, 2013

Can We Tone Down The Antics, Please?

Mike Bettes, who works for The Weather Channel, said this in 2011 about the chasing mentality and about the proliferation of storm chasing.  This makes for a good baseline for what is to follow.

Let's put that in writing, for posterity:

“Chasing can be an educational and exhilarating experience, but it also is inherently dangerous. An increasing trend I see happening is chasers trying to get as close as possible to one-up their competition, and cash in on dramatic video. And the one thing I always hear from professional chasers is how safety is their number one concern, and warning the public is their number one priority. Me? I call B.S. on that one. When you’re being hit by debris, and you’re flipping your car while pursuing a tornado, you’re not very concerned about your safety, or anyone else’s. You’re setting a bad example for a younger generation of chasers who follow your lead.”

If you haven't heard yet, Mike Bettes was chasing yesterday in Oklahoma and got caught off guard by a tornado that made a directional shift that caught him and his chase colleagues off guard.  The result was the crew getting swiped by the tornado.  The car's aftermath is below.

I freely admit that this site has posted tornado footage, including footage of chasers who drive into tornadoes...either posted here on the site or on Facebook.  We usually tell you this is why you shouldn't be driving into them and don't try this at home.  We also think you have enough common sense  to NOT chase severe weather.

At one point yesterday, there were several dozen "chasers" in and around Oklahoma City chasing severe weather, noted with red dots on the radar graphic to the left.  A relatively large number of them were around Oklahoma City, with others situated out to the west of the city near the supercell that spawned the tornado that impacted Bettes' crew and then gradually morphed into the complex of straight line wind and tornadic thunderstorms that swept through Oklahoma City later on last evening.

The Oklahoma City area got pounded -- as much as eight inches of rain in some places, pretty epic flooding, five dead and over a hundred injuries from severe wind and a few tornadic touchdowns as the supercell morphed into a line of thunderstorms.  It was a rather rough night and those storms meant business.

That said, the proliferation of storm chasing, filming the storms, and them profiteering off of the footage by selling it to media outlets in the last few years is leading to significant problems.  Inexperienced chasers, those who lack understanding of the fickle nature of tornadic storms and of supercells in general, are drifting closer and closer into the paths of these storms and trying to get a "good shot" and capture the thrill of the chase. As evidenced by the Kansas stall tornado a couple of days ago, storms can do things that aren't the norm....tornadoes especially as they can change track and not always plow a straight line of damage.

Tornado chasing is a bit of a cottage industry but increasing numbers of individuals who lack experience and knowledge and are doing this more for fast cash and video memedom are putting themselves at risk...and ruining it for the chasers whose primary focus is scientific research.

Meteorologists and meteorology students who chase for research purposes rarely put themselves in harm's can happen in fickle storm scenarios but the vast majority of the research-based chasing doesn't involve hype, ratings, or back pats from the weather community.  There's knowledge and understanding of storms to be gained.  These folks rarely will drive head on into a tornado simply to get cool video and them post it over the internet...or sell it to the first outlet who is willing to pay fast cash.

Bettes' crew is lucky to have gotten through that with just scrapes and bruises. However, at some point it could be much worse for a chaser should they get in the middle of a tornado and get nailed by damage. Some day, someone may very well lose their life all in the name of a great video and the thrill of the chase.

The weather community, collectively, needs to own this.  TV stations that tell people to drive away to avoid a tornado, which can lead to increased traffic jams and people at risk, should be shamed and have to own this.  The chaser community needs to own what happened yesterday.  The internet weather community, including us, needs to own this.  We need to reach responsible behavior in severe weather, not driving up the ratings or hype simply because of the need of dollars, revenue, and oneupsmanship.

There will be plenty of gnashing of teeth and calling out Bettes but until we stop celebrating s--- (stuff) like tornadic damage, the pursuit of hype and breathless coverage over merely reporting facts will continue.

With someone probably paying the price with their life at some point.

Safety, and minimizing risk to life and property, matter a helluva lot more than getting thirty seconds of great footage while putting yourself in the risk of injury or loss of life.