When the public pictures a storm chaser, they probably imagine a hardened weather scientist putting their life on the line to get the most accurate data they can. However, the main threat to any given storm chaser isn’t wind or lightning.
The real threat to the safety of your average storm chaser is other storm chasers. Or, as some call them, storm tourists. Allow us to explain.
The Changing Landscape of Chasing
In the 80s and 90s, it was much more likely that if you saw someone driving towards a storm, it was a meteorologist or else a die-hard storm enthusiast. Someone who knew what they were doing, had ample experience, and was at less risk of getting killed by the storm than your average Weather Channel viewer.
However, as films like Twister and TV shows like Storm Chasers caught on, it became more and more likely that you’d see casual, tornado-curious would-be chasers driving towards danger. Smartphones, more up-to-date computer imaging, and just increasing populations in general have all led to crowded roads on the way towards storms, not just away from them.
The Dangers of Overcrowding a Tornado
It’s likely pretty clear how dangerous it would be to drive towards a literal tornado. However, imagine all of that danger and multiply it by a bad traffic jam and some jerk parking their car in the middle of an intersection to get the best shot.
In fact, the storm chasing community as a whole has been lucky so far. Few notable incidents of serious injury have occurred involving storm chasers in the last decade. The last major headlines, ironically, occurred due to a traffic incident on an overcrowded rural road where dozens of chasers were trying to catch a tornado on film.
How Can This be Fixed?
There’s no easy way to address this issue. The dangerous, erratic driving of a few amateurs would normally be sorted out by local law enforcement. However, this isn’t the case when local law enforcement is busy handling a weather emergency. During a storm, police and other first responders are typically spread thin addressing public safety.
Change will simply have to come from within the community. Be careful on the roads, no matter where you are or what storm you’re chasing. Be kind, drive defensively, and don’t take unnecessary risks. Remember, storm chasing is a community, not a competition.