Is Storm Chasing Oversaturated?

| May 22, 2010 @ 11:23 pm | 25 Replies

Famed storm researcher Josh Wurman sounded off on a Weather Channel blog this week about the problems and dangers caused by extensive chaser convergence in Oklahoma during this past Wednesday’s high risk severe weather episode.

An excerpt: There were huge crowds of storm chasers yesterday (Wednesday, May 19) and those chasers did direct harm to Vortex 2 science. There were hundreds of them and they were traveling at the same speed as the storm and they were preventing my ability to get ahead of the storm to outflank it and to get ahead of it and V2 has an important mission. We’re trying to study tornado genesis so that the warnings are made better. I think that’s more important than getting close up video of a tornado but apparently these hundreds of chasers didn’t think that and they wouldn’t let us by. It’s always easy to say it’s a few bad eggs but no body let us by we had a hundred cars right in front of us there were chase tour companies amateurs out there trying to stay as close as they can to the meso cyclone and not letting the scientists by. I think it’s really disgraceful they’re not letting us do our important mission.

Hundreds of researchers, television chasers, storm tour companies and other chasers converged on the big supercells in Central Oklahoma Wednesday afternoon, resulting in mile long lines of vans and cars. The traffic jams apparently led to bad behavior by some high profile chasers, like Discovery Channel filmmaker Sean Casey, who was filmed by other chasers passing on the left side of the highway in no passing zones, going up hills. He defended the action on his website by saying that he had scout vehicles out ahead of him saying it was okay to pass in those areas.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Wurman is partially to blame for the extreme popularity of storm chasing. His participation in the Discovery Channel Storm Chasers series has glamorized the activity. Chuck Doswell says that the glory days of storm chasing passed after the middle 80s as advanced in computing and communications technology have lowered the barriers to entry for hobbyists. The movie Twister really started the craze in 1995.

Now the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has weighed in on the matter, saying they will take action to prevent the hoards of chasers from being able to travel freely, giving precedence to researchers and media chasers.

Should limitations be made on who can chase and who can’t?

Should chasers be credentialed?

Should media chasers enjoy special access, with their ability to broadcast reports to thousands?

Should a research project supported by millions of tax and private dollars have priority?

Those are the questions. What do you think are the answers?


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Category: Pre-November 2010 Posts

About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site’s official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site’s severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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  1. Julie says:

    With the hordes of amateurs chasing these days, it’s sadly inevitable that someone will end up getting injured or worse . . . if not by a storm, then by another vehicle. Let’s just hope they don’t end up hurting someone else with their risky actions.

  2. Steven says:

    I think small high risk areas in Oklahoma are the big problem and they only happen once or twice a season. On a typical storm chase day, chasers tend to be quite spread out. Josh Wurnam has to get used to the fact that there is a lot of interest in storm chasing and work around it.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Absolutely it is saturated. I think ALL of them are crazy! However, having said that, I do think storm spotters ought to be credentialed by the TV station or County EMS they are going to represent, and NO ONE but them and scientists should be allowed to chase. Unfortunately, there is no way to enforce that. It’s like rubberneckers on the interstate. You’re always going to have to deal with the curiosity seekers. However, I’ll also bet Josh never realized the monster they were creating by participating in that Discovery Channel show, and probably deeply regrets it. So, the idea that state police are willing to help them should be very welcome. That alone will be quite a task.

  4. Cj says:

    Free country. Sorry folks

  5. Earl says:

    I see after having his 15 mins of fame on he discovery channel Mr Wurman has let that fame go to his head.HE was a big part of that traffic cluster he is complaining about.He him self said he had 16 teams out chasing that storm.and if useing the same logic as the disc overy channel documentry that is 4 people per radar truck and 2 per car that around 38 people he has chasing.

    As for his statement about being digraceful not letting them do there “important job” i would love to know exactly what that far i have yet to see anything they have brought to the table as far as advancements in warning times or technology.If the government thought he was so Special why didn’t they equip his trucks with red strobes and a siren and classify him as a emergency vehicle.

    enough about this i could write all day.

    answers to ? who would make that determination.
    2.Who whould make that determination at you are a credited storm chaser.Sounds like the same “experts”that was asked how the oil spill the gulf would effect huricanes this year. How did they become experts in that field? It has nerver happened before. they are no more important than the rest of us.they just make bank while doing it.
    4.nope why do they have to private funding if they are government scientists.

  6. TroyT says:

    Yep, CJ said it best. You cannot police a natural phenomenon, and to do so only make us more like China every day.

  7. Alan Brum says:

    I would like to know how it is that Mr. Wurman assumes to know the intentions of all those people that happened to be driving on “His” road during a storm that day. He’s acting like the everyone driving that day were only people who were all storm chasers! He sounds a little paranoid to me. He has no way of knowing a driver’s intention. I understand the scientific need to chase, but Mr. Wurman needs to understand a storm doesn’t give him the liberty to trump that of others.

  8. Kam says:

    I can sure understand him being frustrated. If people saw these vehicles and wouldn’t let them by, if these chasers were having to battle hordes of people as well as the elements and time constraints laid on by changing conditions, yeah, I’d be frustrated too. So I thought about it. No, I don’t think people should stop chasing, but I am shocked at the idea that scientists couldn’t get the right of way. This is their job. They’re not out pleasure seeking for something to put on You Tube. Now, I’ve wanted to chase all my life, and I mean back when I heard about Project Vortex and Rasmussen. Way before the movie Twister came out (don’t get me started on that movie). But I can guarantee that if I saw an official team coming through and I wasn’t on it, I’d get out of their way. It’s less to do with who has rights to the road than it has with simply courtesy, which so many people forget these days. Someone commented that the guy wanted his 15 minutes of fame. Please. Every thrill seeker out on those plains that blocked the roads were looking for their fifteen minutes.

    They’ve got the money to get out there and do this, and a few weeks to do it in. Yeah, people should get out of their way.

  9. Charley says:

    Storm chasing is all about being in the right place at the right time, and evidently Wurman was not on this particular occasion. He doesn’t have any more of a right to study or chase storms than anyone else. Although he claims to be a professional, he isn’t any more entitled to be on the public roads, which last time I checked are funded by a lot more public tax money than his V2 project. If Wurman doesn’t want to follow a line of cars, I suggest he get there first. That said, the highway patrol has a duty to ensure the public’s safety and should be stopping any of these folks breaking the law, whether they be an amateur or a professional.

  10. Kelli says:

    I believe Kam mostly said what I was thinking. There should not be a ban placed on the amateur chasers, but the scientist should take priority! Get out of their way! The only way to probably do that, would be to make the scientist credentialed and tell everyone else that they have to get out of the way to let them through, as with an ambulance or firetruck, etc. Which unfortunately, means most likely making it a law.

  11. Doshia Mundy says:

    Hello… Free America… Keep taking away our rights and we will be China. Indeed. What’s after having credentials? Would we serve jail time for storm chasing? Taking photos of lightening is dangerous as well, but I’ve done it. Will we have to show a permit to carry a camera on the open road? Better watch regulation we’ve given up too much of our control as it is. Most of these professionals got their start just as the others… following the big storms with the other “known” chasers.

    I think he should deflate his ego just a bit and perhaps lighten his own crew! That’s just my humble opinion. I’m just a normal American citizen with a small voice 🙂

  12. Tom says:

    I do hope that strong distinction is made between the storm SPOTTERS, who are trained by the NWS to assist the meteorologists with ground truth during severe weather and the storm CHASERS who these complaints refer to. These chasers seem more interested in videoing for profit than assisting the public. And as with anything, there are exceptions. Laws and opinions that may result from the adverse actions of the chasers can cause untold harm to legitimate spotters everywhere.

  13. Doshia Mundy says:

    OK.. I watched his reaction and saw the video. Should have watched it first before I commented. Those people were acting like fools passing on a two lane no passing zone going up a hill. If I were storm chasing and I saw a scientifically equipped truck coming towards me, I would move over. I would never act like some of those fools. I suppose I give to much credit to the common person. What should happen is when the local police, county sheriff, and state troopers see that kind foolery, they should ticket them HEAVILY.

    With that said, I don’t believe in more regulation. Let’s just enforce what we have. A few $500.000 tickets would probably stop the majority of that!

  14. Dark says:

    Ticket the hell out of them. Laws are being passed for texting because it distracts the drivers. Watching these idiots on TV, seems they are distracted well enough. Im sure there are true “scientists” that do valid research. And I’m sure there are idiots that buy a laptop and a couple of yellow lights and hit the road. The media is to blame for the frenzy…..storm chaser shows and such. Ole Spann is wasting his breath trying to warn these morons by telling them, stay off the roads!!!!! Wanna help out? Become a weather watcher from your back yard.

  15. adam wiggins says:

    I have to agree with you earl. To me josh wurman has always seemed to have a bit of a big head, and from what i heard there was a report that a radar truck from v2 cut somebody off that same day which is just as dangerous if not more than what sean casey did. He got so upset about missing the oklahoma storm system, in my opinion he is being way to picky about what systems he chases, they sat out a perfectly good setup that produced a large tornado in south dakota. Does he want everyone to treat is convoy like a convoy of emergency vehicles? Thats absurd.

  16. Jake says:

    I think that the ONLY ones who should be allowed any special considerations are NOAA/NSSL/ USG and “local” news outlets as well as OEM. Research units should be under the banner or direction of NOAA as well and not some private 501c3 which is basically no different than a for profit company. Josh Wurman, you use the Discovery Channel for one reason only. Media promotion for funding.

    I actually believe that each State OEM should not just credential chasers but make sure they are qualified and standardized. If your in this for the safety of others then you should not be opposed to being credentialed by OEM or another state agency.

    Tour guides? Your just the prostitutes of the industry…

  17. Daniel McGauley says:

    In high trafficked areas, like Oklahoma, can’t scientists arrange for police escort? Shouldn’t cost too much, and would help clear the roads in these scenarios.

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