Storm Chaser  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotStorm chasers often put themselves in harm's way for the sake of science and to keep the public informed about threatening weather brewing on the horizon. They observe, document, measure and judge all elements of a storm and report their findings to organizations such as the National Weather Service or the weather department of local television stations.

Storm chasers and storm spotters are not the same thing. Storm spotters are usually volunteers who are positioned around a city, and who observe and report to a local civil defense agency via hand-held receivers. Unlike storm chasers, storm spotters do not "chase" storms; they remain in the same spot and do not often take photographs like many storm chasers do.

dotOccasionally, storm chasers are called "research meteorologists." But although a degree in meteorology could be helpful to be a storm chaser, it is not required.

Tim Vasquez of Storm Track magazine defines a storm chaser as a person who pursues "imminent or existing severe thunderstorm activity." He says storm chasers can either work independently or as part of a research effort.

In addition, Vasquez notes that "chasers are generally people from all walks of life who are very knowledgeable about meteorology and forecasting." He estimates that the average age is about 35, "but probably ranges from 18 to 65." Women comprise about two percent of this group, says Vasquez, and a large segment of them have a college education.

dotVasquez notes that the last half of May is statistically the best time to chase. A small window (about a week) of severe weather also occurs in Tornado Alley in late September or early October.

Storm chaser Joey Ketcham defines Tornado Alley as "a broad belt in the United States that gets more tornadoes in a year than any other place. Tornado Alley starts in Texas and works its way northward into Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and parts of the Dakotas."

dotAccording to Charles A. Doswell of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, there are three main threats to the safety of storm chasers: being on highways during hostile weather conditions, lightning and the storm itself.

Surprisingly, driving during a storm is the biggest threat to the safety of a storm chaser, not the storm itself. To date, no reported deaths have come from the storms themselves. However, careless driving in rain is a very real safety issue.

Because of the ever-present danger of being struck by lightning, storm chasers should take a class in CPR. These classes are often given by the local Red Cross.

dotStorm chasers often take cameras along with them. Chaser Tim Marshall recommends using zoom lenses for close-up shots of the storm. He also tells storm chasers to use tripods to get the clearest photographs.

At a Glance

Study the eye of the storm

  • They can either work independently or as part of a team
  • Chasers often take photographs of a storm
  • A degree in meteorology is helpful but not required