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View Diary: Legendary Stormchaser, Son, and Partner killed chasing during Oklahoma tornado outbreak (127 comments)

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  •  I honestly don't know much about this, but (14+ / 0-)

    what is the difference between "professional" storm chasers and, i dunno, "amateur" or "civilian" storm chasers?

    Is there a dividing line, like a degree in physics or other scientific qualification to understand which measurements would be scientifically helpful and which are simply another gadget?

    Is there any information about data gathered by storm chasers actually feeding into better forecasting?

    I know, for example, that hurricane spotters fly planes into the wall cloud of hurricanes with specific instrumentation to gather specifically helpful data.

    Are professional storm spotters in the employ of the National Weather Service or other scientific organization?

    "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

    by YucatanMan on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 09:28:55 AM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  I don't know what people who follow this (7+ / 0-)

      view as the dividing line, but to me, professional means just that, you do it for a living, be it for industry, government or academia. Anyone who does this as a hobby is not a professional, even if they have all the expertise and equipment (although I tend to doubt they can afford the latter), likely isn't insured for it, and is needlessly endangering themselves and their assistants and putting their families through emotional and possibly financial hell.

      "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

      by kovie on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 09:46:03 AM PDT

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      •  I wonder if profiting off of 'extreme videos' (5+ / 0-)

        is any factor?  

        In other words, are the instruments a means of promoting the videos?  (we survived at wacky low pressure inside the tornado!!! Look at this gauge! Now look out the window!!! In-cred-ible!!)

        Are there any examples of data gathered being useful in scientific circles?  Are the videos bought or given away free?

        If I were pressed, I'd guess "professional" meant that they spent full-time employment studying weather phenomena and were doing so for research or forecasting institutes in government, universities or private weather services.

        Or does "professional" mean "earning money from extreme videos?

        "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

        by YucatanMan on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 10:39:45 AM PDT

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        •  Storm spotters are invaluable (13+ / 0-)

          All the stations here use them---they often spot tornadoes before the data shows up on radar.

          They have to be trained, however, to be of any use.

          Chasing storms is nothing new here---we used to do it when I was a kid. Doing it professionally, however, is a new phenomenon, and not a bad one, when done properly. It is extremely dangerous work, though.

          •  My daughter wanted to chase storms. (7+ / 0-)

            She just graduated with a BS degree in atmospheric science.  She and some of her fellow met majors thought about spending their spring break chasing storms in the midwest.  They ended up going to Myrtle Beach instead because they were so sick of snow by spring break.

          •  The problem with glamorizing it on TV (4+ / 0-)

            is that no matter how many times you say "Kids, don't try this at home," people will emulate what they see.

            Jon Husted is a dick.

            by anastasia p on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 03:13:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  At the local level (7+ / 0-)

              It isn't particularly glamorized. They go out, tell us when funnels are dropping, when they're lifting, what the circulation patterns are, whether we're dealing with wall or shelf clouds, which roads the storms are traveling, what landmarks they're headed for, extent of damage, etc., and do all this often before any of it hits radar and/or when the data sent by radar is contradictory or difficult to interpret. They work hand in hand with the meteorologists.

              They're not Handsome Bastards, like so many of the reality show stars. They look like your old grampa or the guy who sacks your groceries (if you'll let him) or the lady who lives next door---plain ordinary people.

              Yes, at the national level, it does get glamorized, but we don't watch those guys because, if they're here, they're  looking for different kinds of data than what we need at the moment. We watch the ones who are boots on the ground and know how to read these storms.

          •  Yes, I know what storm spotters are: (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            indubitably, La Gitane, crose

            trained individuals who are available on short notice to seek high ground or other vantage point and scan the skies for signs of downspouts, calling in sightings to law enforcement or weather authorities.

            I was one while a federal law enforcement officer.

            Storm chasers - getting close to a tornado on purpose - that's what I am curious about. I'm not sure they are as invaluable as spotters, which is why I'm asking.  

            Perhaps there is some aspect of chasing storms that I'm simply not aware of.  I get the adrenaline rush, the daring, the video that makes it on every station, etc.  What is the scientific and civil benefit?  Are they connected with scientific institutions?  Or rather, how many are connected with research and how many are simply "doing it as kids" or otherwise?

            "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

            by YucatanMan on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 05:38:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Don't know (5+ / 0-)

              We have both here. Or they're relatively interchangeable terms for many of us.

              When I was a teenager, we were chasing them like crazy, but not a one of us was a spotter by any stretch of the imagination ... even though spotting them is why we chased them.

              It was fun! Of course, we were teenagers, meaning our frontal lobes hadn't really kicked into high gear.

              The spotters and chasers here all have training. Many are meteorologists. Some are law enforcement or similar. Some are associated with university programs and some are simply certified.

              I think maybe people identify chasers as people who travel long distances, but maybe not.

              I guess it could be said they're all gathering scientific data, but not really, not in the same way Samaras and Young did, not by a long shot. But it's scientific in the sense that it does contribute to a poorly understood body of knowledge.

              They're very, very helpful people and we heart them here. That is a good thing you were doing.

            •  Chasing storms (6+ / 0-)

              consists of incredibly long days in the car racking up thousands of miles, eating bad food (Allsup's burritos, anyone?), getting little rest and staying in crummy motels--and some of the most beautiful natural phenomena in the solar system. Many if not most chasers want to get footage of the perfect storm and few would tell you chasing is anything less than a big rush. But since there are so many "amateur" chasers taking so much footage, little money can be made by selling footage to the news outlets. There is simply too much of it. The work of really great photographers has been featured in galleries and coffee table books. However, some long-time chasers have found a way to make at least a partial living by offering chase tours. Driving for a tour group allows chasers to do what they love while making some money at it. They are kind of like river rats in this way. River rats get to spend their summers rafting big rivers as pilots and outfitters and they love doing it. Chasing is the same--for some reason the miles become dreamlike and the long hours are spent in a humming trance. Target areas may be several hundred to a thousand miles away from those of the previous day. The routine creates a kind of robotic state that can burst like fireworks at the first sighting of a tower rising. Like kids as they approach the promised roadside attraction, chasers wake up, stretch, and break into chatter as the telltales begin to show. NOAA weather radios are switched on, nowcasting friends make contact, simplex frequencies crackle to life. GPS tracking? Check. Gastank full? Check. Batteries charged? Check. Like any hunter following an animal, the excitement is not only in the bagging of the quarry, it is in the chase and the methods used.

              A case in point: I once spent a broilingly hot and humid day at Wichita's El Dorado Lake in the company of my own little chase group and probably 50 other chasers as we waited for storms to fire. Some towers went up but quickly went glacial and eventually everyone headed back into Wichita to cool off in a motel pool. Ours were the last three vehicles in the caravan, far enough behind everyone else to notice a tower going up in the rear-view mirror. It was mutually agreed upon to turn around and chase. The wild, swift-paced ride took us nearly to the Missouri border before we gave up--the cell was moving too fast to catch. We stopped and pulled off the highway onto an apron leading down into a newly-mown pasture. It was late by that time, well-past 11PM, and we were tired but reluctant to head back. As we milled around in the warm night, we were rewarded for our chase with a gorgeous lightning-lit supercell (that later decayed into a MCS), a fragrant pasture alive with fireflies, a meteor shower and the rising gibbous Moon. It doesn't get any better than that. Truthfully, big storms are so beautiful--like enormous unpredictable wild beasts--that we long to be in their presence. Every streak of lightning, every rolling boom of thunder, every seething meso, every dancing column inspires awestruck worship. And we want to do it over and over again.

              •  What you've just written is prose poetry. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                YucatanMan

                Especially -

                We stopped and pulled off the highway onto an apron leading down into a newly-mown pasture. It was late by that time, well-past 11PM, and we were tired but reluctant to head back. As we milled around in the warm night, we were rewarded for our chase with a gorgeous lightning-lit supercell (that later decayed into a MCS), a fragrant pasture alive with fireflies, a meteor shower and the rising gibbous Moon. It doesn't get any better than that. Truthfully, big storms are so beautiful--like enormous unpredictable wild beasts--that we long to be in their presence. Every streak of lightning, every rolling boom of thunder, every seething meso, every dancing column inspires awestruck worship. And we want to do it over and over again.
                How lovely, crose.

                Thank you

                "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

                by Onomastic on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 07:47:03 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                YucatanMan, Onomastic

                for explaining why weather fascinates so many of us so. Beautifully written.

              •  A fascinating accounting of your experiences. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Onomastic

                You're a talented writer - the imagery readily comes across.

                "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

                by YucatanMan on Mon Jun 03, 2013 at 12:30:32 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Except that government and industry is much more (11+ / 0-)

          likely to fund that latest weaponry than they are scientific research. Just look at the cuts in funding NOAA and The National Institutes of Health have had to endure over the last years.

          Storm chasing is not a get rich quick scheme for those serious about the science.

          This is how Tim described his financing in his last interview for National Geographic.

          How do you make a living at it?

          That's kind of the tough part. If I had this great idea to build a weapon to put on a tank, I would have all kinds of money.

          But for weather research, it's tougher to get funding. I survive on some small snippets from government funding, media funding. I try to make the dollars stretch.

          These instruments are expensive, but I do a lot of the design and building myself. All the instruments I use I've designed and built myself, with the exception maybe of high-speed cameras. (Watch a video of Samaras talking about his work.)

          http://news.nationalgeographic.com/...

          "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

          by Onomastic on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 02:05:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Was he doing his own free-lance research? Who was (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Onomastic

            using his data?

            Storm chasing is not a get rich quick scheme for those serious about the science.
            Was it going into some overall scheme of weather research?  I seriously am curious how the data was being used.

            "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

            by YucatanMan on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 05:41:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  From Dr. Jeff Masters' honoring of Tim today. (5+ / 0-)
              Tornado science loses a pioneer
              Tim Samaras had been a tornado scientist for over 25 years. He was the founder of TWISTEX, the Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes Experiment, a 2011 field experiment designed to help learn more about tornadoes and increase lead time for warnings, which resulted in many peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. One of Tim Samaras' most widely recognized contributions to tornado science is his placement of an aerodynamically-designed probe in the path of an EF-4 tornado near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. The probe measured a world-record pressure fall of 100 mb over a 40 second period.

              One of the publications from the TWISTEX program, "Near-Ground Pressure and Wind Measurements in Tornadoes" recounts this close call Tim had in a tornado in 2011: "As the storm approached, the crew noted that the supercell was moving more sharply to the right of its former course, placing them near the projected path of the low-level mesocyclone. The crew drove south on Highway 259, attempting to position south of the low-level mesocyclone before it crossed the highway. With considerable tree cover in this region hampering the visual observation of the storm's features, TWISTEX crews could not position south of the mesocyclone on Highway 259 before the mesocyclone reached this road. Thus, the two mobile mesonet stations, M2 and M3, had an unplanned tornado encounter with a developing tornadic circulation while the mesonet was traveling south on Highway 259."

               photo samaras_pressdrop_zps57452fc5.gif

              Figure 3. One of Tim Samaras' most widely recognized contributions to tornado science is his placement of an aerodynamically-designed probe in the path of an EF-4 tornado near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003. The probe measured a world-record pressure fall of 100 mb over a 40 second period. See the NWS article and conference paper on the event. Thanks to wunderground member Scott Lincoln for this link.

              http://www.wunderground.com/...

              It's an excellent tribute and there is much more if you are interested.

              "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

              by Onomastic on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 07:37:43 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  And here is the link to the NWS article on (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              YucatanMan, CA ridebalanced

              Tim's recording of a record pressure drop within a tornado.  

              **Below is an account from Tim Samaras, an electrical engineer who has been working on a tornado research project with the assistance of NOAA, The National Geographic Society (NGS), and Applied Research Associates, Inc.  
              http://www.crh.noaa.gov/...

              "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

              by Onomastic on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 07:43:30 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  There are those that do it to (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          YucatanMan

          take people on tornado chasing tours. For money. Like some people pay to go whale watching. They aren't so much aimed at research though I think the report spotings.

          I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

          by samddobermann on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 03:39:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  A Co. official said that sirens are activated... (11+ / 0-)

      ...in his area based on three criteria...

      ...when the weather service issues a tornado warning, a trained spotter reports a funnel cloud or his department receives other reliable information that a potentially serious weather event is possible....

      Apparently the "trained spotters" are part of the warning process for at least some areas.

      •  Exactly. (9+ / 0-)

        Weather stations in places like Oklahoma hire them to do just that.

        They provide on the ground information about specific threats that can be relayed to the public.

        Vortices can drop at a moment's notice.  Doppler can't see if they're on the ground or not, only that rotation is occurring. A trained spotter can provide that crucial information, otherwise we're waiting to see if a debris ball is picked up by Doppler.

        "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." Hubert H. Humphrey

        by Onomastic on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 03:02:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You can become a "trained spotter " by taking an (8+ / 0-)

        open to the public weather course or two given by the personnel of your closest NOAA Weather Forecast Office.
        These courses are usually given in the springtime (sum ov yur taks dolers et wrok).
        Good instruction, plenty of material handouts, a/v, and special telephone numbers and text/email info for submitting your observed reports directly to the official NOAA WFO.
        Once they receive a report they verify and crosscheck it, a report from an accredited "spotter" is 'golden' (they keep your contact info) , then they take any necessary actions, such as issuing warnings.
        NOAA encourages as many people as possible to become "trained spotters " .

        And they are not looking for reports on just tornadoes, they want to get spotter reports on any other severe wx conditions, such as visual sky conditions (wall/shelf/mammatus clouds, etc) wind, hail, heavy rain, temperatures, pictures/video, etc.
        They also factor spotter acquired data into any subsequent storm reports they produce.

        If you have any weather instruments to supply readings that will help too, although they cannot be used for "official readings", they can aid them in interpreting wx conditions.
        There is also a growing public rainfall measuring network called Cocorahs sponsored in part by NOAA (I think).

        NOAA only has so many instruments, and weather conditions cover, natch, a lot of space, so they welcome as much accurate data as can be made available.

        So y'all take a spotter course and start doing, instead of just watching!

        "Double, double, toile and trouble; Fire burne, and Cauldron bubble... By the pricking of my Thumbes, Something wicked this way comes": Republicans!!. . Willkommen im Vierten Reich! Sie haben keine Bedeutung mehr.

        by Bluefin on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 04:17:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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