Storm 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.
Occasionally, 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.
Vasquez 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."
According 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
Storm 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.