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Photo agency boss: ‘The myth that most storm chasers are thrill seekers’

A tornado tracks across rural corn country in Iowa on June 28, 2017. Photo: Martin Lisius/StormStock

A recent story on the BBC: Weather Channel sued for storm chase death prompted us to contact PAN reader and Storm Stock photo agency owner Martin Lisius for his reaction to the news.

Hi Will:
Thank you for sending this. I’m familiar with the incident.

I’m a big proponent for safety, especially as it applies to storm chasing. Driving is far and away the biggest risk in storm chasing.

Martin

Martin has allowed PAN to reprint an article he posted online last week:

The myth that most storm chasers are thrill seekers

To many people, storm chasing may sound like a risky endeavor, but the reality is that it is a discipline that can be pursued in a safe and responsible manner, if you know how. My wife has been chasing with me. She doesn’t like it because it’s “boring.” Yes, boring. There are two sides of storm chasing. The irresponsible and the safe. The irresponsible are far more interesting, make the news often, and get lots of views on YouTube and are featured in movies. The responsible are boring. Those are the guys you hear little about.

Would a safe and responsible storm chaser make a good character in a movie? Heck, yes. But, it would require more research and creativity on the part of a writer and director. I have never seen a movie that comes even close to portraying the complex character of a serious storm chaser.

I have been a (boring) storm chaser since 1987 and have met and observed every type of chaser. I’ve even created categories for them. They are:

  1. “Real” storm chasers. I call them ‘real’ because these are the people I associate with the most. So, from my perspective, thay are the real, or ‘normal’ variety. Afterall, everything is relative, a well known physicist once said. This is my benchmark. They are safe, responsible, serious, and friendly. They are photographers, researchers, forecasters, emergency managers, and educators. They all give back to the community in some way – as storm spotters, lecturers, or mitigators. All of them. They are boring.
  2. Media chasers. This is a person who works for a media entity. They shoot footage either live, or recorded, to be shown on a local TV channel, a TV network, or the Internet. Sometimes, they work for a radio station. Their job is to gather content and deliver it in a timely manner. Most are safe, some are not.
  3. Research chasers. This group gathers data in the field to learn more about storms. As an example, the University of Oklahoma at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma houses a collection of storm chasing vehicles used for research. Most are safe, a few have not been.
  4. “Citizen” chasers. A person with little knowledge of severe weather who tracks a nearby storm. These are typically residents who get in their car and chase when they see a storm approaching. They are typically distracted, weave, and drive very slowly. I’d rather they be taking cover in a shelter and not on the road.
  5. “Crazy” chasers. There’s actually another term for this, but basically it could be any chaser from group 2 – 4 above. It’s more of a type of person than a group. They are so focused on one task that they lose their sense of situational awareness. They may be attempting to get the “big shot,” obtain a better view, or have simply gone mad as if the world is ending. Panic, stress, astraphobia, and narcissism may all play a role. They are generally harmless until they get behind the wheel of the car. At that point, they become crazy motorists.

That leads me to driving. Driving is the single biggest risk in storm chasing. It has less to do with weather than the fact that a lot of driving is required. It is the same level of risk as a delivery driver. There are aggressive drivers, distracted drivers and bad weather in both. There is no difference. So, when there is a traffic incident involving a storm chaser, it is really the same as any other traffic incident. Legally, it’s a traffic incident involving a motorist, not a chaser since there are both safe and unsafe storm chasers. In our big world of driving, there are safe and unsafe motorists who just happen to be accountants, lawyers, bakers, shoemakers, and…storm chasers.

Other common risks that exist in storm chasing include severe weather, snakes, spiders, barbed wire, obesity (lots of sitting), and bad food.

Storm chasing is something that occurs outdoors, and being outdoors doing anything involves additional risk. In my honest opinion, storm chasing carries the same physical risk as a full time delivery driver. A delivery driver delivers packages, pizza, groceries, or kids to a soccer game. Those things don’t seem dangerous to most people because, to most people, those are “normal.”

This is not to say chasing is completely safe. It can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, To operate in a safe manner requires a safe, single tasking driver. Two hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road. No texting, no filming, no anything except driving. And, of course, a thorough knowledge of storm evolution. In short, a good, safe storm chaser is an experienced, skilled, focused driver who understands how to operate safely around storms.

Which leads me to this disclaimer. I am by no means suggesting anyone chase storms. It requires a highly skilled person, fully dedicated to safety, to do it right.

Martin Lisius is the is author of “The Ultimate Severe Weather Safety Guide” and founder of StormStock, a collection of premium weather footage, and of Tempest Tours, an experiential travel company offering storm chasing expeditions to guests from around the world.

A PAN reader here’s Storm Stock

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