Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thoughts on Chaser Convergence

The above image is a screenshot of the Rapid City, SD (UDX) radar taken just a few minutes ago.  The little icons with cars and/or phones and the accompanying white text indicate the locations of storm chasers that have chosen to allow themselves to be tracked by GPS.  (Keep in mind there are likely many other chasers in South Dakota right now who do not have GPS tracking technology available and are thus not being tracked, and/or have chosen not to be tracked).

I am truly amazed at how many chasers have made the long road trip to South Dakota on a "slight risk" day.  This never would have happened a few years ago (heck, probably not even last year).

I haven't storm chased in many years (15+ to be exact), other than a couple of local excursions within a 15 mile radius of home.  The last time I did go out on an organized/planned chase, we didn't have GPS tracking - heck, we couldn't even pull radar out in the field, we had to call back to someone at the office or in front of a computer that could lead us in the right direction, etc.  Now days I guess you would say that we did things "the old fashioned way", by following our instincts and actually looking toward the sky rather than at a cellphone or computer monitor in the car.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm a 110% techno junkie.  If it's technical, and especially if it relates to the weather, I've either got it or am working on getting it.  I love what technology has done to improve our understanding of weather, severe storms in particular, and how it has improved the public warning process.  If we would have had today's technology available back when I was chasing on a regular basis, I'm sure I would have had it (or would have been working on getting it).

Getting back to the topic at hand; there has been much controversy over the past few days, at least in the weather freak/storm chasing community, about "storm chaser convergence".  I'm not attempting to seek credit for coining that phrase, but I'll be glad to take a stab at its meaning:  a term referring to the dramatic increase in the number of "storm chasers" flocking toward a particular storm, especially in well "advertised" severe weather situations.  And with today literally being in the heart of the "information age", what severe weather events are not well advertised?  

There are several YouTube video accounts of certain "chasers" passing folks at allegedly high speeds and in no passing zones, etc. in Oklahoma this past week.  It is not my intent to dignify either the "offending" nor the "accusing" parties by posting any links here.  You can Google for those videos, view them for yourself and make your own judgement.

My view is this:  We live in a free country (at least at this particular moment).  Anyone and everyone can choose to go out and look at a thunderstorm at anytime they wish - and that's absolutely the way it should be.  With that said, I have always cautioned folks that have asked me about storm chasing that you either (1). need to know what you are doing, or (2). be with someone who knows what they are doing.  This isn't an endeavor that should be embarked upon after drinking a few beers and seeing a good looking storm headed your way on the "B-Movie Channel with Occasional Weather".

It goes without saying that chasers should observe the "rules of the road" (not to mention the traffic laws) as much or perhaps even more so than the average citizen driving to and/from home, work or the store.  As long as you can do that, and know what your limits are as far as not getting "too close" to the storm and not putting yourself or others in the wrong place at the wrong time, have at it.  If you can't, or if you aren't sure that you can, I'd advise that you stay at home and watch the storms on the TV or the internet.  (And hey - at least you can enjoy a few cold, malted beverages by doing it that way).

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