Why I Chase Storms: A Storm Chaser’s Manifesto

I posted the following message on Facebook, but it really belongs here. It is one of what I think will be a number of very personal, reflective posts on storm chasing as I process the impact of a difficult, disappointing, terrible, and tragic season. ------------------------------ This storm season has left me feeling very torn. As I sift through its impact on me, I am grateful for my friends who are NOT chasers. People whose perspective on life is different from mine. My men's group, for instance, is a small circle of wonderful, godly brothers in Christ who have seen plenty of life. It felt cathartic to share with them last night about my passion for chasing storms, my sense of failure as a chaser, and the recent, tragic losses of Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young. In talking with the guys about chasing, I spoke frankly about a common misconception about storm chasers: that we are out there saving lives by what we do. That may sometimes be the case, but it is not the motivating force for me or any of the chasers I know. That image, fostered by the media, simply isn't what drives chasers. I chase, and most other chasers chase, primarily because we are enamored with the storms. There is nothing intrinsically heroic in what we do. Depending on where we're chasing, our presence in the field can be valuable as part--and only a part--of warning the public. A few chasers--a very few, including the late Tim Samaras--collect data for scientific research, some of which could conceivably help to improve an already excellent warning system. Occasionally, some chasers find themselves in a position to make a life-saving difference as first responders. And Storm Assist is providing a fabulous means for chasers to contribute their videos to a charitable cause whose proceeds go directly to aiding the victims of tornadoes and severe weather. All of these things are true and good. But they're different from the myths that have arisen around storm chasing. One of those myths is that chasers are sickos who enjoy watching homes and communities get trashed; the other is that we're more noble than we really are. Between these two extremes lies the reality of why storm chasers actually chase. And the truth is, no single reason fully describes every chaser. Chasers are individuals, and today as never before, that individual component interacts with the influence of technology and the media to create a complex and varied mix of motives. Yet I believe all chasers possess one common denominator: a love for, a passion for, the storms. Personally, storm chasing engages me on many levels--intellectual, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, and adventurous--in a way that nothing else does. When I can chase the way I want to, I feel alive; when I cannot, which is far too often, I feel intensely frustrated, moreso than I think is healthy. Lately, my limitations have left me feeling depressed. That is something I have to work through, talk to God about, and discuss with those close to me who know me well. But one thing is certain: I chase, as best I am able, because it is what I love to do, period. There is nothing else like storm chasing. I love the sky, the storms, their drama and beauty, their intensity, their mind-boggling motion, the awe they inspire, the landscapes they traverse, and the lessons they have to teach. I am a pupil of the atmosphere. Because I live in a part of the country where both tornadoes and experienced chasers are far fewer than in the Great Plains, I can perhaps play a more significant role locally in helping to warn the public than in Tornado Alley, where droves of chasers line the roads. Chasing for WOOD TV8 here in West Michigan creates that possibility for me. But I would chase regardless. It's what I do, just as playing the saxophone is what I do and just as golfing, or car racing, or writing, or painting, or fishing, or crocheting, or hiking, or hunting, or what have you, is what you do. We're all wired to do something, and we desire to do it excellently. There's nothing innately noble about it, and there doesn't need to be. Your pursuit may, in the right circumstances, put you in a position to contribute to the well-being of others. But it needs no justification in order to be worthwhile. That is how I view storm chasing, and I think many of my fellow chasers would agree. So please do not thank me for what it is I do, for the only thing I am doing is following my heart. In the same breath, please do not condemn me for it, for you may benefit from it someday--again, as just one facet of an excellent warning system in which I play only a part.
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