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Commentary: Chasing A Tragedy

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Midwest Tornado (Source: CBS)

Midwest Tornado (Source: CBS)

Craig-Setzer-600x450 Craig Setzer
Chief Meteorologist Craig Setzer’s forecasts and hurricane updates...
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Miami Heat

MIAMI (CBS4) – Storm chasing is a dangerous hobby, everyone knows that. By its very nature putting yourself in harm’s way to see a destructive atmospheric event means you are taking a risk of being overtaken by that event or maybe even becoming part of it.

I started chasing storms in the early 1980’s when I was at the University of Oklahoma, a school I chose because of my love for meteorology and tornadoes. Since that time I’ve seen nearly six dozen tornadoes and the hobby change quite a bit.

When I started we didn’t have laptops with streaming video and data. Heck, we didn’t even have cell phones. If you wanted to get some weather info to help refine your chase forecast, you found a pay phone.

In the 1990s, the movie “Twister” came out and suddenly it became cool to chase tornadoes. People would even pose with me in front of my weather instrument covered chase car, asking if I was like the guy in the movie.

With the increase of exposure to storm chasing came the eventual storm chase tours where seasoned chasers (most of the time) would take people who paid thousands of dollars into the path of tornadoes. The roads around storms became crowded. Chaser convergence overlapped storm convergence.

Things really changed in the past decade when chasing was captured by reality TV shows. Showing the drama of chasing, which in real life can be boring, tedious driving hundreds of miles and not seeing anything, became the norm.

This seemed to invite even more into the field to “catch a tornado.”

The roads would sometimes have dozens of cars with people trying to see a wall cloud or funnel. And yet despite this increase in weather wannabes trying to experience the worst nature has to offer, there have been no direct deaths and few injuries to chasers, until now.

I had the opportunity to chase with Tim Samaras on many occasions. Many times we would just run into each other under a rotating cloud base, or at a truck stop getting fuel and discuss what we had seen or where we were headed.

I spent three days with Tim and crew in 1998 roaming the Great Plains from Texas to Nebraska. Tim was a great guy, a consummate gentleman, and a very safe chaser always respectful of nature and others.

And because Tim was so safe and so experienced, that is why it has been such a shock to the chaser community of his tragic loss.

Many of us knew this day was coming. Many of us knew some careless or reckless individual would be in the wrong place at the wrong time and suffer a tragedy. No one thought it would be someone like Tim.

It’s a deeper reminder to all of us chasers, that even the best chasers are not immune from the deadly nature of tornadoes.

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