Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How close is too close?

In case you did not hear, this last Wednesday in the Texas panhandle near South Plains, a fairly large number of chasers had their vehicles battered and in many cases totaled by baseball and larger hail. This type of incident has been increasing over the past several years, where more and more chasers have been finding themselves in pretty hairy situations. This is a result of having that desire to "get up close and personal" in order get that ultimate video of houses blowing apart, or debris swirling around in very close proximity...this hobby has really become a lot more of a pure thrill seeking endeavor than it used to be. The reasons for this are multi-faceted- but I think the main one is just plain old envy. We are all human, and envy is a very natural emotion. So as we all continue see a constant barrage of very spectacular video of up close tornadoes, or baseballs shredding buildings and trees, the natural tendency is for us to want to take whatever risk is necessary to not be left out- somehow I think that our sense of worth as chasers is now tied into how far we can push the envelope, instead of just chasing in order to simply enjoy the beauty and majesty of the overall chase experience.

I am not saying that I am personally not guilty of some of the above tendencies- last May 29 we were on the incredible supercell near Concordia, KS- and saw unbelievable structure and at least 5 tornadoes. However, down to the south at the same time, chasers were getting even more spectacular footage of multiple highly visible tornadoes- and when I found out about this I became angry, despite just having one of my best chase days in my career.
All in all, however, I have always been one of the more cautious chasers out there- since 1990 we have only lost one windshield or window to large hail- and that was in 1991, Contrast this to some who regularly have two or three replaced every season. Also, I have increasingly become more and more interested in the photographic aspect of chasing, as opposed to simply shooting video. To me, capturing a spectacular "mother ship" storm in the setting sun is every bit as exciting as catching just about any tornado. When we failed to get east in time to see the spectacular sunset view of the Grand Island supercell a week ago, to me it was almost as bad as missing a wedge.

So where are all these trends (including the ones discussed in my last post) leading chasing? I am getting more and more afraid that the first non-driving chase fatality is not too far around the corner, as the increasing hordes continue to try and one-up each other.

Does this mean I am telling other chasers what to do? No, it is a free country and everyone has their own goals and ambitions. As long as you are not endangering others through reckless behavior, then go for it, but be aware of the dangers involved. But from a personal standpoint I will continue to be cautious in my approach to chasing- and I will always try and keep perspective and enjoy getting a Plains sunset photo with mammatus and a windmill as much as catching the "big one".



Ryan McGinnis said...

I agree with you; I get the feeling that the first chaser fatality directly attributed to a storm is around the corner. The only thing I can really do is make sure I'm not that guy. Chasing is an inherantly dangerous sport, and as such I don't really look down on people who try to take it to the "extreme" -- but that doesn't mean that I need to be one of them.

El Gran Rogelio said...

One way or another, though, the first non-traffic chaser fatalities will affect us all. It's absolutely, positively not "every man for himself" out there. No chaser is an island of utter insularity, wholly immune from the consequences of the reckless, greed- and ego-driven, and even wantonly illegal actions of others. Ask Jon Davies, who is as careful, courteous and safety-conscious as can be in the field. [Or visit ]. And this will become quite vividly apparent shortly after the inevitable casualty (or worse, plural casualties) finally occurs.