News Columns & Blogs

It's only a matter of time...

….before a storm chaser is killed by a tornado or strong winds while pursuing violent weather.

Brandon Ivey knows it. Matt Hughes knows it. So do almost every other serious researcher, photographer or scientist who chases storms.

I’ve been told by some chasers there’s even an informal pool on when it’s going to take place. Chasers are taking bigger and bigger risks to get that piece of video no one else has, or to gather that scientific data that could provide a breakthrough in understanding the trigger for or sustaining mechanism of large tornadoes. That can reduce the margin for error to the size of a sliver.

But I suspect the more likely scenario will be something similar to what Ivey and Hughes described from last April: a cluster of chasers so tightly bunched on a remote rural road that they can’t take sufficient evasive action when a tornado takes an unexpected turn…or someone dies in a collision caused by efforts to flee the tornado.

Law enforcement and emergency management officials have complained to me in the past about the chaser convergences that have only intensified in recent years. But how do you separate legitimate researchers from local yokels seeking a thrill or tornado tourists who have paid healthy sums to come from across the country – or even from around the world – to witness a tornado firsthand?

Especially in the midst of an outbreak, when law enforcement officers are focused on doing what they can to preserve public safety?

It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, and solutions are hard to come by – particularly in a nation that celebrates freedoms.