Storm chasing is incredibly dangerous. Surviving tornadoes and severe weather requires adequate coverage and careful planning. To think that some people willingly, purposefully stay out in a storm may seem careless, but in reality, when done by meteorologists, storm chasing and storm spotting provide valuable information that helps us better understand severe weather.
"As a professional storm chaser myself, I know all too well the things people associate with storm chasers," wrote AccuWeather meteorologist Cory Mottice in an article. "Why do meteorologists chase storms? Simply put, we do it to save lives. "
AccuWeather's Senior Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and fellow storm chaser Mike Smith points to the May 1973 Union City, Okla., tornado as an example, calling the storm chase that tracked it as "probably the most important in history."
Storm chasers were able to give warnings to the public of the storm because of their on-location observations. As Mottice explains, "When we are out chasing storms, we have the best forecasting tool available, our eyes. Unlike radar and satellite imagery, we can see what is going on in realtime. We don't have to wait five minutes for the next radar scan to come in, instead we are watching it as it is happening."
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Not only did storm chasers' warnings for the Union City tornado result in zero fatalities from the storm, it was the first validation of the Doppler radar system, leading to the Doppler system that meteorologists use today.
Aside from warnings, meteorologists chasing storms can gain valuable research information. By studying the storms, we gain to understand more about how tornadoes form, which could lead to better advanced warnings that could save lives.
"As meteorologists, we have a responsibility to keep the public safe in any way possible," Mottice said.
It is important to note the very real dangers that storm chasers face and why it is essential that getting close to storms should only be done by professionals. As Smith emphasized the importance of meteorological storm chasing to improve warnings, he also strongly cautioned against the dangers of unsupervised, amateur storm chasing. Not only is it dangerous for those who are under-equipped for dealing with a storm to be on the road with one, they also pose a significant threat to storm spotters. Some weather-enthusiasts recognize storm chasers on the road and try to follow them, which can create traffic jams that block essential escape routes if a storm's path takes an unexpected turn.
For amateur storm chasers who may want to see a close-up of extreme weather, Smith recommends reputable, professional storm-chase touring companies. One should never go alone and unexperienced into a severe weather area.