Storm Spotter vs. Storm Chasing

In my last few blogs I have written about attending  Skywarn conferences for storm spotters, emergency managers, media, educators. There is one question I have heard, “Is there a difference between a storm spotter and storm chaser?”

Great Question!  Well it was such a good question I decided to look it up. I haven’t found much of a “official” definition. However, I’ve lived in Oklahoma, attended many weather conference and I’ve seen two differences.

From what I have observed is that a Storm Spotter is someone who goes and watches the weather and relays that information to local law enforcements, emergency management officials, media, and National Weather Service. Typically they do it for free, on their own time and on their own dime. They are typically trained by NWS officials by the Skywarn training program.

A Storm Chaser is someone who goes and chases tornadoes and severe weather hopefully to catch video/pictures of the storm. There are many television networks that will pay money for a few seconds of a tornado. If the video is considered “good enough” , you may see your video on many TV stations across the country, major networks, training seminars, you may even get a chance to talk about your video on the big networks.

Is it dangerous? Without a doubt. Chasing severe weather is extremely dangerous. If you don’t know storm structure, if you don’t know roads, local geography, you’re not only putting yourself in danger, you’re also putting others in danger as well. How do you, you ask? Well, lets say if you are chasing a storm and see a tornado. You immediately slam on the brakes so you can get pictures, well the car behind you, may be wanting to get away from the storm and then there’s an accident. Oh no! Oh yea don’t forget about the tornado still headed towards you! I have heard that Oklahoma law enforcement are cracking down on chasers. It gets really bad when roads get clogged with storm chasers and some of those chasers are from The University of Oklahoma meteorology department. I know cause I was guilty of that. They even organize chase parties a couple of days in advance.

I did some storm chasing last year with a friend in Abilene and I was surprised to see all these vehicles (stormchasers, spotters, media). We met a couple of retired meteorologists while watching a developing tornado. After I had left the area, I found that they were behind us, following me at a close distance. If I had slammed my brakes for any reason, I would have been rear ended.

So always watch out when driving in or near severe weather.

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