Today: Storm Chasers, Heroes or Hotshots? You Make the Call

There’s been no shortage of twister footage on cable news the past week…

Not only have CNN and other news organizations run a ton of footage, they’ve interviewed the storm chasers on camera as eyewitness experts. Raising the question, are these dudes community heroes or mrely thrill seekers?

"No, they’re not heroes," says KSHB TV weather wonk Gary Lezak. "I would say there are legitimate meteorologists who have a knowlege of what they’re doing and understand the science. And then there’s a whole lot of thrill seekers who go out there and risk there lives."

Is storm chasing even legal?

Probably not, given the likelihood they’re out there breaking the law by speeding and commiting other traffic violation,s Lezak says. Then again, who’s gonna go out there in the middle of a tornado and bust ’em?

Tornado chasings have "increased in the last 30 years," Lezak says. "And in the last three years it’s exploded. And now the networks actually pay them. So perhaps storm chasers make a few hundred dollars here and there."

Some storm chasers have likened themselves to Paul Revere – saying they’re out to warn the public.

"That’s what they all say," Lezak says. "And I do think that’s part of their motivation. But I think it’s mainly that they’re thrill seekers."

Now a confession…

"I’ve been tornado chasing myself about 50 times," Lezak says. "I’ve seen one tornado up close and I don’t want to see any more. I saw it and it ended up chasing me and my brother. It was an EF 3 and it was a perfect funnel – a perfect tornado. My brother wanted me to get out and look at it and I wish I had. But I was so afraid I just kept driving down the road."

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10 Responses to Today: Storm Chasers, Heroes or Hotshots? You Make the Call

  1. TIAD says:

    Close But No Cigar, Huh?
    Jr., I don’t smoke. But feel free to smoke in your Fiat – it’s like a big ashtray, anyway.

  2. Harry Balczak says:

    I’m Just Itching to get out there and chase a storm
    Intensely itching

  3. Kicky says:

    THEIR lives. Gah.

  4. Karen St John says:

    Whither Spotters?
    There are plenty of amateur spotters, part of the Skywarn program, who do go out and provide ground truth to the radar reports. Many storm chasers also call in to the National Weather Service, reporting what they see. As for their motivations, couple them with their actions before tarring them all as “thrill seekers.”

    Oh, and the police officer standing in the window of his vehicle is asking to be killed by lightning, high winds, or hail. To say nothing of the actual tornado coming toward him, if the debris path is any indicator. Any chaser would know not to do that.

  5. bschloz says:

    Chasers
    I love storm chasers…photographers….videogrpahers[sic] bring it on!
    Yes the dude in Joplin who got the CNN Shot is a hero…I think he tells police something to the affect ” Tell JOPLIN to turn on the sirens ….I’m tellling You ..I see “DEBRIS”—Killer Tornado is heading……..
    During our event on Wednesday ..I was listening to Storm Watch or whatever they call it on 98 radio at the office.
    So they are taking calls egging people on…. “Where are you and what to do you see?” “Do you see damage?”???????
    Caller: I’m at the Starbucks drive thru at 135th and Roe and I see a funnel cloud coming towards me it’s rotating and black as night”
    Darla: “Thank you for calling you really need to take cover… put your seat belt on and duck under your windshield.”
    Than it’s always– “Boy– that guy is an idiot for being outside right now”… love that concept.

  6. chuck says:

    Starbuck’s Drive Thru… heh, heh. TORNADO!!!!!
    HUSBAND: “I gotta get some coffee.”

    WIFE: “JESUS GOD IN HEAVEN!!! THERE IS A FUCKIN TORNADO IN THE PARKIN LOT!!!!”

    HUSBAND: *while dialing 98 KMBZ Radio*

  7. Hearne Christopher says:

    How insightful

  8. Hearne Christopher says:

    Like Lezak says, there are some serious guys in this game.

    Is it legal? Probably not. Are cable networks like CNN legitimatizing them just to get the footage? Of course they are.

    Are tornado chasers smarter about what not to do than police or everyday, average human beings? Probably. But what’s your point? That chasers should train police to stay out of harm’s way?

  9. Mike says:

    I’m not sure I completely understand Mr. Lezak’s perspective here, being that ch. 41 has had tons of chasers calling in live reports for them over the years (some of which I know to be rather suspect from other chasers’ point of view).

    When I started chasing, my reports were a valuable part of the equation. I can name several storms that would have gone un-warned had it not been for a phone call to the NWS from me, particularly in NW Missouri/NE Kansas, the further away you get from Pleasant Hill’s radar.

    However, now the problem is the saturation level that has been achieved. There are ridiculous numbers of people chasing for every reason in the book … who is to say that a media chaser is any more or less value than a conscientious thrill seeker who calls in reports? I’m tired of the media trying to validate itself, when the reality is that 41, like every other station, thrives off of reports from its chasers. I’ve done call-ins for several stations around here and in Kansas, and they are eager to take reports from every Tom & Harry chaser on the planet, with nothing offered in return but notoriety. Meanwhile, the station is quite happy to turn a profit with the video it gets in return.

    I’ve stopped chasing the past couple of years, simply because it is an activity that is choking itself. Chasing is continually over-glorified, which feeds the numbers of people (most of whom really don’t understand weather) out there trying to catch something. It’s to the point that you can’t even drive around a ten mile radius of a storm. Ridiculous. I’m honestly hoping that law enforcement crack down on the issue, as it has started creating more of a public hazard than anything.

    Heroes? Nope. Not even close … but just be sure to count Mr. Lezak and channel 41 into the “not even close” department while you’re at it.

  10. Drew says:

    Grammar and Sources
    Next time you choose to write an article on storm chasing, do some actual research. Your grammar is terrible, your punctuation is even worse. I’m not sure what college allowed you to graduate with a journalism degree, but they should be embarrassed and ashamed to have allowed you to do so. I’ve seen 3rd grade students write better than this crap.

    Finally, don’t ever use Gary Lezak as a source for anything pertaining to storm chasing, if a meteorologist can only get 1 tornado in 50 tries, he clearly fails at the weather and he should pick another profession. Go talk to a real storm chaser, who goes out in the field, and has seen more than 1 tornado. Maybe someone like Dr. Josh Urman or Dr. Steve Forbes. Not some TV Weatherman, who sounds as phony as a used car salesman every time he gets on tv.

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