Have you ever thought about spending your annual two-week vacation driving to Oklahoma to chase severe storms? It may not be for everyone, but it is a yearly pursuit that neither Matt Crowther nor his wife Betsy Abrams would ever dream of passing up.
According to Crowther, most people who chase storms have an avid interest in severe weather from an early age. "Growing up in southern California, we didn't experience a whole lot of thunderstorms. But I used to visit my grandmother in Iowa every summer where there were lots of severe storms. I'd just climb up to the roof of her house and wait for a storm to come passing through!"
Betsy Abrams has a slightly different outlook on storm chasing in the Great Plains of the United States. A hurricane enthusiast at heart, Betsy agreed that if Matt accompanied her on hurricane chasing adventures during the summer and fall months, she'd go along with him to chase severe weather in the spring.
There are lots of reasons why individuals pursue severe weather. For some, it's to gather scientific information regarding severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Chasers associated with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Oklahoma, have been gathering information on severe weather for years. They come prepared to hunt down these storms, hauling along their own radar and other instruments to aid in collecting storm measurements.
"In my case," says Crowther, "chasing has helped my forecasting skills a great deal. If you don't forecast a severe storm area correctly, you are going to miss the supercell or the tornado you're chasing!"
Photographers are often found combing the Plains states in search of the perfect severe weather shot. For other weather enthusiasts, capturing thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes on video is serious business.
Storm chasing can be dangerous business. Tornadoes can form quickly or be hidden by rain. Lightning is a hazard too, especially in wide-open areas where storm chasing usually takes place. Tracking down storms on rain slick roads can also pose problems -- and the hail that often accompanies thunderstorms can easily put a dent in your trip, not to mention the hood of your car.
Most severe storm chasers go to the Plains states to look for severe weather because it's the heart of tornado alley. Another reason for chasing storms in the Plains states as opposed to the Southeast is storms in the Plains states are not as often obscured by rain and haze. There are also few hills or trees to block the view.
Recently, storm chasing has become high tech. Many chasers bring along cellular phones to report severe weather sightings to the National Weather Service (NWS) office or to local officials. Some bring along Direct Broadcast Satellite receivers to watch The Weather Channel to find out where the storms are on radar.