Local "storm chasers" share insights, close calls
"That means you can't see them because of the rain. We didn't know how close they were, or even if they were near us. Our radar was not helping either. We ended up pulling into a farm because we couldn't even see the road through the rain. When we saw tree branches and other large debris flying horizontally in front of us, we thought a tornado was very close to taking us out. It was the first time I felt fear from a storm. Luckily, it missed us," says Anderson.
Caryn Moczynski lives in West Allis and calls herself a storm chaser as well as a trained weather spotter. She has tracked weather for eight years.
"Weather spotters provide ground truth reporting to the National Weather Service, Emergency Management (911) and to media," says Moczynski.
She has witnessed countless severe storms and 10 tornadoes in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
"I had a close call in Oklahoma on May 10, 2010. We were watching a tornado when it became a multi-vortex tornado. Several satellite funnels formed, one close to us," she says. "It was very intense."
Moczynski stresses the importance of safety during a storm chase.
"Safety and responsible storm chasing and weather spotting must be the priority. 2013 has been tough on a lot of people," says Moczynski. "Everyone must have a plan. Weather radios are relatively inexpensive and can save lives. Storm shelters save lives, too."
Anderson has similar sentiments regarding safety.
"Storm chasing is dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone that has no training or knowledge of severe weather. As we recently saw, even veteran meteorologists and chasers can get into situations that take their lives," he says.
But for many, including the professionals, the appeal of storm chasing outweighs the risk factor.
"I'm not going to lie, I enjoy the grandeur of Mother Nature and the thrill of the chase – or the hunt," says Anderson. "In my experience, it is a part of human nature to be fascinated with nature. To see a super cell that looks like a space ship hovering over a green field of crops – after our research has led us 12 hours across the plains to meet it there – that's amazing. Mother Nature is something to respect. Both the beauty of it and the power of it can take us away."
Jennifer Brindley Ubl is a professional photographer and a storm chaser. She and her storm-chasing partner Skip Talbot drive thousands of miles each year in pursuit of supercells, tornadoes, lightning and other weather phenomenon. They also volunteer as spotters and report to the National Weather Service.
"I actively pursue severe weather in hopes of documenting and photographing it," says Ubl. "Virtually all types of weather interest us, and we chase to document these weather occurrences."
Ubl is also affiliated with Storm Assist, a 100 percent volunteer organization founded by storm chasers to provide resources for communities devastated by the weather. Recently the group donated a check to Moore, Okla., the town devastated by an EF-5 tornado in May.
Fear is an important and necessary part of her job, says Ubl.
"The fear of a storm and its power is very important, not just for the public but for all storm chasers as well. As soon as you lose the fear you can make bad decisions, some that could even cost you your life," she says.
Ubl says she first became "infatuated" with tornadoes after the 1996 film "Twister" starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as storm chasers. She later was introduced to a real-life storm chaser and mentor.
"After the first storm chase, I was hooked. I didn't know then but the joys of storm chasing are multi-faceted," she says. "It's the passion of capturing something so rare and beautiful."
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