Storm chasing from an EM perspective

This article, about how amateur storm chasers are getting in the way of emergency response, makes me a little sad. With the increase in mobile technology, it’s easier than ever for an average citizen to hope on the road and follow a developing storm, but emergency management agencies are saying these chasers are blocking roads and possibly putting themselves in danger.

Confession: I’ve wanted to chase storms since I was young. I love storms, and especially tornadoes, but I’ve been reluctant to take off after a storm for several reasons

1) lack of experience/knowledge
2) lack of equipment
3) My location, which has never been prone to much tornadic activity*, and my student budget, which wouldn’t allow for driving/flying to Tornado Alley.

While 1) is still true, numbers 2) and 3) are starting to change. Technology has evolved so that it’s now possible to follow developing storms from my iPhone, even just using Twitter. In the last few years, there has also been an increase in severe storms (including some that spawn tornadoes) in Ontario, as well as the rest of Canada. It would be easier than ever for me to hop in my car and chase down a promising storm (assuming I had an income to pay for gas, which I currently don’t).

So why haven’t I? It’s interesting how my emergency management experience has changed my perspective. I’ve become more interested in helping people prepare for tornadoes, in figuring how to effectively respond to severe weather, and discovering how social media can help (and hinder) both planning and recovery. I’m also more aware of the enormous hurdles that can challenge emergency response.

While I would still jump at the opportunity to see a tornado, I would only ever go with experienced storm chasers. I’m unsure of the reputation of tornado tours within the storm chasing community, but I’ve considered signing up for one before, and I feel like they would be a safer, not to mention more responsible option, than chasing on my own.

There are also several unofficial storm chasing “rules” lists around the internet, that could help make sure that I wasn’t exacerbating the problem. They also highlight how storm chasers can help with emergency response, by keeping officials updated and knowing basic first aid and CPR.

Even with those precautions, however, I’m definitely more reluctant to join the hundreds of other chasers on the road than I was before. Maybe as technology improves, it will be easier to predict what storms will do, and possible to safely watch these storms from a distance. Until then, I’ll settle for watching tornado videos on YouTube.

Note: After writing this post, I came across this blog, which really brings home what I was trying say, that storm chasing can help emergency management, if practiced responsibly.

*It’s also a lot more difficult to storm chase in Canada, mostly due to fewer roads and less technology, and therefore, storm data. That being said, this guy seems to do okay.