As the season of spring unfolds in Texas, residents brace themselves for the inevitable arrival of severe weather. It is a time when storm chasers emerge to play a vital role in the collection of weather data that radar alone cannot provide. The historical timeframe for the “Tornado season” is from late spring to early summer, but this year, Texas has already experienced several tornadoes through mid-March, rendering storm chasers busier than ever.
Chief Meteorologist Dan Brounoff from KRLD acknowledged the significance of storm chasers’ work, stating, “Until we get some sort of ground truth or a storm spotter or a storm chaser saying, ‘Hey, yeah, tornado warning, that tornado is on the ground,’ because a lot of the circulations that radar picks up, that does not they don’t reach the ground. So that’s one of the most valuable things that have as many eyes on the ground looking at the sky as possible.”
To be an effective storm chaser, one must possess a level of knowledge and understanding about the weather that surpasses the usual superficial observations. Storm chaser Jeff Stephens highlighted this, saying, “You’ve got to understand and interpret what the clouds are doing because inherently you’re going to get into positions where you’re not going to have all this technology. And then all you’ve got is your visuals. And that, to me, is learning what clouds or what and not thinking that a scud cloud is actually a funnel. And a funnel is not a tornado. You know, just understand the fundamentals of it.”
While the idea of chasing tornadoes may sound exhilarating, every storm chaser we spoke to shared tales of close calls or getting stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Interestingly, most storm chasers revealed that tornadoes were not their biggest fear, but rather it was the prospect of encountering big hail. As storm chaser Joe Bajza revealed, “The scariest thing is probably big hail. Tornadoes, you can kind of see them in the distance, and you can get out of the way as long you don’t get too close. But the hail, if you get wrapped up in the hail, it’ll break windows. It’ll crack your windshield. I mean, you get dents in your car.”
Despite the potential dangers, storm chasers find the beauty and power of the weather mesmerizing. As storm chaser Jennifer Stark attested, “There’s definitely adrenaline, especially when you start out and you see the first storm go up and you see the first beautiful structure of the day. It’s exciting. It’s awesome. When you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you see this beautiful structure, it is absolutely mesmerizing. You cannot take your eyes off of it.” It is this level of passion and fascination that drives storm chasers to brave the elements and risk their safety to gather essential data to help keep the public safe.