Stormchasing: Worthwhile Profession or Dangerous Thrill?
For many people spring frequently brings a flurry of activity. After months holed up indoors, awaiting winter's chill to fade, spring's weather brings welcome warmth and the chance to spend more time outdoors.
This year, however, the season's recent spate of violent weather has meant that many folks, including emergency personnel responding to devastating tornadoes and those who track severe weather activity, are busier than usual.
This includes Warren Faidley, a professional storm chaser, who has had his hands full lately chronicling the string of volatile whether that has struck the southern part of U.S. in recent weeks.
Faidley says the recent storms that have ravaged the South, creating the second deadliest storm outbreak in U.S. history, are caused by a combination of increased atmospheric energy and moisture, a trend that emerged in February as many parts of the country were winding down from an unusually cold and snowy winter.
Faidley, who chronicles his adventures on his blog, StormChaser.com, posted this entry in late February.
In what has been a dynamic winter weather season, the first severe, and possibly dangerous, weather outbreak may occur today. Areas of the lower Mississippi and Tennessee valleys need to be on guard. There is also an enhanced possibility of one or more major severe weather outbreaks in the upcoming weeks and months, as jet stream energy, moisture and powerful storm systems merge.
The Arizona resident got his start in weather journalism more than 20 years ago as a newspaper photographer. Unlike some storm chasers portrayed on TV, who seemingly risk life and limb by testing the limits of their own fortitude pursuing tornadoes or withstanding hurricanes, Faidley says he isn't out for a thrill for thrill's sake.
"I'm not trying to create drama," he says, adding that he views his job more akin to that of a war correspondent reporting from the front lines as a witness to the action. Faidley says that during his two decades of storm chasing he's had many fearful moments that "you can't extract from what you're doing."
His hair-raising encounters include one in 1992 when he drove right through the heart of a tornado that had descended on north-central Kansas. Faidley attempted to outrun the funnel cloud and chronicled the effort in his book, 'The Ultimate Storm Chaser Survival Handbook':
At full speed I pressed on, not daring to waste precious seconds looking for uncertain shelter. Even so, I expected the car to be lifted away at any moment ... Suddenly, as the car was about to pass under the last dark cloud, my ears popped. A fierce gust of wind rocked the car ... A deep rumbling of thunder echoed. Bright sunshine filled the car. Sunshine! Glorious sunshine. I had, at last, escaped the storm's grip. I drove another mile or so before pulling over to take another look. My hands were drenched with sweat.
Faidley faults the tendency by some TV programs to glamorize storm chasing and give the average person a false sense of security. Such dramatization may anesthetize people to the dangers of storms and prevent them from seeking shelter when potentially life-threatening weather strikes.
But Dan Robinson, another seasoned storm chaser, says he isn't aware of anyone who has been seriously hurt or killed pursuing storms since the activity began gaining popularity in the 1970s.
Robinson, whose comments can be read at StormHighway.com, won't go so far as to say that a storm won't ever kill a chaser, because, someday, one probably will. "But they are a negligible danger to the average chaser, and truly not something to worry much about."
That's also true of himself, Robinson says. From his blog:
I've actually never felt threatened by a storm or a tornado. The hazards of driving are the most dangerous thing I face on a storm chasing trip, and therefore I give extra caution to that aspect.
Both men say childhood experiences with extreme weather played a big part in pushing them toward their careers. And while they disagree about whether novice weather watchers should observe or chase storms, both say people should put safety first and foremost.
Further, Faidley says that it's foolish for people not to heed warnings about dangerous weather, such as the more than two dozen F4 or F5 tornadoes that flattened parts of Alabama, and to seek shelter. "You need to go underground," he says.
Storm Recovery: How You Can Help
Major storms and tornadoes ravaged cities and towns across six southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee). Survivors of the storms require emergency assistance before the rebuilding efforts can begin. Please consider making a donation to one of the organizations providing relief.
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