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Earth Science

Tornado Scientists Butt Heads With Storm Chasers 402

Posted by Soulskill
from the any-way-the-wind-blows-doesn't-really-matter-to-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Tornado researchers say amateurs — inspired by movies like Twister and shows like Storm Chasers — are getting in their way, hampering science and creating hazards. 'Hundreds of camera-toting amateurs in cars ended up chasing the same storms as a fleet of scientific vehicles during the high-profile research project, called Vortex2, which wrapped up data collection this week. At times the line of traffic caused the Midwestern roads to look like the freeways of Los Angeles, said Roger Wakimoto, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, during a briefing for reporters this week. "I worry about this as a safety hazard," Mr. Wakimoto said. "These people were blocking our escape routes because of the sheer number of cars."' Storm chasers say they have as much right to watch storms as Ph.D.s."
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Tornado Scientists Butt Heads With Storm Chasers

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  • by BrianRoach (614397) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:22PM (#32617308)

    Hmm, sure ... as long as your stupidity doesn't get the Phd folk killed.

    I'm amazed we haven't had a fail of epic proportions yet where a storm changes directions and sucks up a bunch of them.

    • by brainboyz (114458) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:25PM (#32617374) Homepage

      Even if it does get them killed, every last one of the bunch stuck in traffic went there knowing they could get blocked in by other people. Who says the PhD types couldn't contribute to some amateurs getting killed? There's a storm that can put a toothpick through an oak tree: everyone running towards it is responsible for their own consequences.

      • Causing a traffic jam near a storm that as you mention, can put a toothpick through an oak tree, falls well below any reasonable threshold for "intelligence" never mind responsibility.

        Perhaps the thing to do would be to use an off-road motorcycle and go for the big score - a dozen cars with nowhere to go getting scooped up and chucked.

      • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:47PM (#32617754)

        Given that the amateurs are just there for kicks, they should know and accept that they are willingly putting themselves into a risky situation.

        The PhDs also know that they are willingly putting themselves into a risky situation, but they are doing so to increase the sum of human knowledge, which makes it slightly more worthwhile.

        • The PhDs also know that they are willingly putting themselves into a risky situation, but they are doing so to increase the sum of human knowledge, which makes it slightly more worthwhile.

          They got those PhDs so they could get paid to do what the other guys are doing for free: looking at neat swirly shit. The science is a byproduct.

          • by wsanders (114993) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:46PM (#32618740) Homepage

            I have a tendency to agree. The "PhDs", including some participants in Vortex 2, are mostly people who have their either extreme video or tornado tourism businesses.

            Sorry, folks, the roads belong to everyone, but ultimately the Highway Patrol "owns" the road, and yes, in places they are cracking down on crazed drivers, parking in the road, piles of gadgets obscuring the windows, etc.

            Ultimately, I'd be more worried about some fly-by-night outfit rolling a van or driving head-on into someone either because the vehicles are poorly maintained or the driver is sleep-deprived.

      • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:56PM (#32617914)

        Who says the PhD types couldn't contribute to some amateurs getting killed?

        Well, the PhDs have a little thing called KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING.

        There's a storm that can put a toothpick through an oak tree: everyone running towards it is responsible for their own consequences.

        But apparently not the consequences their ignorance and sense of entitlement force on others.

        • by EricWright (16803) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:02PM (#32618014) Journal

          Are you sure? I have a PhD and sometimes, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I'm just making it up as I go along...

          Lucky for society my PhD isn't related to my job.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I think you'll find that if people do something all the time over a period of years, they'll end up 'KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK THEY'RE DOING' as a matter of course. It's called 'experience' and is not always related to how many books one reads.

          I have nothing but respect for PhDs, but I doubt that much they learn in grad school prepares them any better for storm chasing than what an amateur can learn from doing it themselves. (And, get this, amateurs can read books too! I know, right? Who knew that you could r
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dissy (172727)

      I'm amazed we haven't had a fail of epic proportions yet where a storm changes directions and sucks up a bunch of them.

      Now that would be some good TV!

      In Soviet Russia, storm chases you

  • Shouldn't these "amateurs" have a clause in their insurance which automatically cancels the insurance if they do something as mind-bogglingly stupid as driving towards tornadoes?
  • Bullshit! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Voulnet (1630793) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#32617400)
    Bullshit, those storm chasers are not motivated by movies and shows like Twister and Storm Chasers. Everybody knows they are motivated by xkcd. See: http://xkcd.org/752/ [xkcd.org]
  • by skivvies (979561) * on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#32617410)
    As a chaser, emergency first responder, and media chaser... I can say that the problem is NOT the chasers but the "Chaser-chasers". The article references May 19th in Oklahoma where most commonly you could find local folks with their kids and dogs in the back of the family pickup truck taking pictures with their phones and point and shoots. Regardless of what the masses in Oklahoma think... just because you have an iPhone app with radar does NOT classify you as a "chaser"! On top of VORTEX2's caravan of 40+ vehicles, you have NBC/The Weather Channel following the VORTEX2 project that are not included with that count. You've also got the Discovery Channel's team of production vehicles coupled with the "Dominator" and TIV2, which both were captured passing miles worth of vehicles on a two lane highway in a no passing zone! Throw a few tour groups, emergency management, a couple media chasers in the mix... and you've got yourself a problem on the roadways. But those numbers nowhere add up to the amount of local yahoos who gathered up the family and put themselves in more harm than anything. This situation defiantly makes me think twice of chasing in Oklahoma again.
    • by aapold (753705) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:33PM (#32617514) Homepage Journal
      but the "chaser-chaser" chasers. They put the "fun" back into "funnel".
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ex-MislTech (557759)

      Even if you made it illegal to chase storms without a storm chasing permit
      or some other silly government drama ppl would still do it.

      I wish you the best, maybe you guys can make a UAV to chase the
      storms for you and that way you can back off to a safe distance
      and fly it remote like the military folks do.

      You may have some heavy gear that will not scale to a UAV though
      and that would be a show stopper.

      Good Luck getting the locals off the road !

      I go underground when one of those things are near.

      • only outlaws will drive at tornadoes!

        ....

        works for me...



        we need a word for when this happens: torna-doh!
    • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:57PM (#32617934) Journal

      I thought it was monumentally stupid when Oklahoma City TV stations sent-out people in vans to try and catch a tornado on camera. It served no real purpose since most of the time I couldn't see anything except lots of rain.

      And as for the amateurs with their family cameras, I figure that people own their own bodies. That includes the right to abort it.

    • by vtcodger (957785)

      ***On top of VORTEX2's caravan of 40+ vehicles, you have NBC/The Weather Channel following the VORTEX2 project that are not included with that count. You've also got the Discovery Channel's team of production vehicles ...***

      40+ vehicles? Plus additional hangers on and symbiotes with their own vehicles? And the congestion on rural roads is in no way their own damn fault?

      C'est magnifique, but is it science?

  • by theghost (156240) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:30PM (#32617452)

    Perhaps, in a painfully literal sense, but claiming that your desire to seek an adrenaline high is just as valid as their desire to do research that will save lives is high asshattery.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:35PM (#32617540)

      They're pretty sure all that science stuff is an elitist, commie, atheist plot to steal their vital bodily fluids and turn them all gay.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nyctopterus (717502)

      Maybe, but look at it another way. Maybe doing things (that give you a profound experience) is as important as finding things out. Now, I bet for your average slashdotter, finding things out is one of the most profound experiences you can have, but not for everyone.

      It's very easy to get on your high horse and proclaim SCIENCE!, but in the end, what is science for? It is for making living better or more interesting. Maybe for these people storm-chasing is a big part of what makes living interesting.

      I think w

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by SleazyRidr (1563649)

      This is the United States of America! Every man is created equal! My desire to have a good time is equal to your desire to learn about storms and prevent deaths in the future! Don't tread on me!

  • Use a helicopter....what could possibly go wrong?

  • Darwin will clean up this mess soon enough. These people will NOT be passing their curiosity onto their children.

    • That cuts both ways though if it's putting the actual scientists in danger.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      You realize that to truly qualify for a Darwin award, you have to do the stupid shit before you've actually had any children, don't you? Unfortunately, most morons have already bred.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:46PM (#32617740) Homepage

    I always flinch when I see images of roads clogged with folks chasing a tornadic storm either just for the thrill or for the purposes of filming it - doing so is a Bad Idea and sooner or later is going to get some people (possibly a LOT of people) needlessly killed.

    Professional scientific researchers have training, equipment and experience. They are fully aware of the danger the storm presents, and are risking it to perform scientific studies for the purpose of increasing human knowledge about these systems. They know what they're doing, they have things like mobile doppler radar to help them keep track of the situation, and aren't out there for cheap thrills.

    People, you need to respect these storms. Sure, they produce awesome video. Great. Watch the Discovery show or the latest PBS special - don't go charging into the middle of danger! Does watching snake handlers on television make you want to go hunt up a rattler and start juggling it??? These storms are DANGEROUS. People DIE in these things, and cars are not a safe place to be. Particularly in heavy traffic.

    Scientific study of these storms is a legitimate activity, and is more legitimate (and deserves precedence over) thrill seekers and people looking to make a cool home movie. If it comes down to it, maybe we should license storm chasers and fine anyone else who tries it - send some police cars along with the scientific teams. Make their special status explicit under the law, if that's what it takes, because people seeking knowledge to help make better warning systems are surely more important than cheap thrills for people with no common sense or survival instincts.

    • You make a salient larger point. There's a good deal of lack of respect for nature. Whether it be sailing around the world when you're 16, going to live with Grizzly's, or scaling the Himalayas; good old fashioned awe is at a long time low. Technology is the prime mover I guess in counting coup with a tornado. After the encounter you bring images and tales back to the BBQ and share them with your (now) world youtube tribe who anoints you with adulation and esteem. I've been close to a tornado whilst expose

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bonch (38532)

      Sorry, but a flood of Slashbots is going to respond and tell you "Storm-chasers have a RIGHT!" even though nobody is talking about rights. It doesn't matter to them that these scientists are trying to do government-funded, life-saving research because, apparently, morons with beer-hats and cell phone cameras are to be defended against those mean, ol' scientists trying to figure out how tornadoes work.

  • by malakai (136531) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:48PM (#32617788) Journal

    What this article fails to mention is one of the reasons Vortex2 even got a go was partially because of the success and semi-stardom Dr. Josh Wurman got from participating in "Storm Chasers".

    The publicity that show generated for them no doubt helped lube the federal funding money chute.

    Besides, you can't just declare martial law and saw "No one can storm chase". There's no solution that will ever be enacted that ends with making it illegal, so you may as well stop bitching about it and simply work with the other guys. I'm amazed there isn't a federal call center or something for these chasers to all phone in to, and a website with realtime dopplar radar provided to them. The faster these guys report a tornado on a ground, the easier it is for the weather people to push a button for a siren or some other event.

    This just sounds like sour grapes. You could see the annoyance on the part of the "funded" scientist when that little no-name crew successfully flew a model airplane around a tornado and dropped sensors into it. The fact that was done on a budget put together by selling Tornado videos to news channels sounds like a win/win for me. Took none of my tax dollars, and reaped novel data.

    • SKYWARN does that. (Score:5, Informative)

      by bellers (254327) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:13PM (#32618168) Homepage

      ---CUT---
      I'm amazed there isn't a federal call center or something for these chasers to all phone in to, and a website with realtime dopplar radar provided to them. The faster these guys report a tornado on a ground, the easier it is for the weather people to push a button for a siren or some other event.
      ---CUT---

      There is. SKYWARN is a program run by the NWS/NOAA, local law enforcement, and private citizens that lets anyone with some basic (really basic) meterological knowledge (what a wall cloud looks like, how to spot early rotation, etc) utilize an amateur radio to call in sightings of severe and tornadic weather using thier SKYWARN volunteer designator.

      NWS will turn a tornado watch into a warning based solely on observer reports.

      SKYWARN is a great program, IMO. BTW, most of those awesome tornado videos you see arent from scientists, they're from storm chasers and SKYWARN people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cexshun (770970)
        I participate in SKYWARN as a licensed HAM operator and we are careful to not call ourselves chasers. We are trained spotters. We have gone through training to SPOT super cells and the classic warning signs of tornadoes. And yes, we are what trigger tornado watches and warnings through a direct line of communication with the NWS.
    • by Halo- (175936) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:32PM (#32618500)

      This just sounds like sour grapes. You could see the annoyance on the part of the "funded" scientist when that little no-name crew successfully flew a model airplane around a tornado and dropped sensors into it. The fact that was done on a budget put together by selling Tornado videos to news channels sounds like a win/win for me. Took none of my tax dollars, and reaped novel data.

      I think you are seriously blurring the line better "serious amateur" and "asshat with his kids in the back of his pickup truck".

      While I agree that banning storm chasing is stupid, there is a huge difference between someone with a thought-out (if unfunded) passion, and some yokel who sees a tornado on TV, and loads all his kids in the car on a whim.

      Just because you have a "right" to be somewhere or do something, doesn't mean you should. Especially if your actions take away from others. And yes, I am saying that in the case of storm chasers, the guy with IMAX camera, or bad-ass RADAR is more special than you. Why? If those guys get a peek, everyone can benefit from it. If Cletus Q. Localhick drives the ol' F150 right into the tip of the funnel and takes some crappy iphone pictures, I don't see the payoff for the rest of humanity being as large. (Unless Darwin comes out to play)

  • These "amateurs" must learn to respect the almighty power and authority of Science and those that do it's works! They must not interfere with the great works of our Scientists for they operate under the authority of the power of Logic. Science damn these tornado chasing fools for their misaken ways!
  • tom skilling had a lot of fun doing this!

    http://www.chicagoweathercenter.com/severe/stormchase/ [chicagoweathercenter.com]

  • What a joke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anon-Admin (443764) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:56PM (#32617908) Homepage Journal

    I stopped reading the article when I read "Dr. Wurman said that amateur storm chasers rarely offer useful information"

    It always bothers me when people with PhD's discount the information provided by amateurs. More than 1/2 the PhD's I have worked with tend to have a belief that if you do not have a degree in the subject you can not possibly provide any useful research data or that there is no way you can know what you are talking about.

    If they are worried about the numbers of amateur storm chasers maybe they should have a conference with them and train them in proper data collection and where to report it. Then the people they think are "getting in the way" could be helpful and add to the body of scientific knowledge.

    But then they would have to admit that anyone can do science and not just the PhD's. We can't have that, we have to pack the class rooms so they can get paid.

    /me steps down from his soap box and kicks it back to the wall where his degrees hang.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Dr. Wurman said that amateur storm chasers rarely offer useful information. I'd hazard a guess that Dr. Wurman is incapable of installing a car stereo in his vehicle by himself, let alone the tons on equipment that they use to monitor storms. That would all be done by technicians, not PhD's. (The "Engineer of the Year" at the college I went to, with a major in Electronics Engineering, needed help to install a cheap car stereo in his car.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by casings (257363)

        If you want anything done practically, you aren't calling a Ph.D. I would never trust a Ph.D to do anything actually useful.

    • Re:What a joke (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:49PM (#32618782)

      I don't understand this anti-intellectual campaign. Is it so hard to understand that if you don't have a degree then chances are you don't know what you are talking about? I mean sure, it's quite possible to learn stuff on your own and investigate things on your spare time. Some even manage to get a decent grasp on a specific topic without ever having a course on it. Yet, when we look into it... how many uneducated know-it-alls do you know that really know nearly as much about a specific field than the educated person? And how many know-it-alls do you happen to know that boast how much they know about some stuff but, when we really delve into it, we find out they know jack shit?

      I really don't understand this anti-intellectual nonsense. Since when does an uneducated, ignorant but strongly opinionated individual knows more about a subject than a publicly recognized expert on a subject who is recognized for making significant contributions to humanity's understanding of a specific subject?

      • Re:What a joke (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:58PM (#32618910) Homepage

        I don't understand this anti-intellectual campaign. Is it so hard to understand that if you don't have a degree then chances are you don't know what you are talking about?

        Actually the problem people have is with the arrogance and egotism of people who have pieces of paper. Simply because I don't have a piece of paper, doesn't mean I don't have a clue on how to plot my own weather maps and provide valid meteorological data to other sources. I can do both. But I've got no paper, but I have been studying weather since I was a kid. So 22 years give or take.

        The interesting thing is, I can say the same about people in many scientific fields. The reality is, many academia believe that if you have a piece of paper your knowledge is more worthy then the guy who doesn't. Even if your paper is from another distant field that isn't related.

        To sum it up, a 4 year education doesn't mean you have enough experience to understand more then the guy on the ground who's been doing it for 40 years without the same. You probably don't.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by IICV (652597)

          Actually the problem people have is with the arrogance and egotism of people who have pieces of paper. Simply because I don't have a piece of paper, doesn't mean I don't have a clue on how to plot my own weather maps and provide valid meteorological data to other sources. I can do both. But I've got no paper, but I have been studying weather since I was a kid. So 22 years give or take.

          Congratulations, if that's true then you're one in a million. The other nine hundred, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sjames (1099)

        There is nothing anti-intellectual about the idea that a degree is only one of many ways a person could be knowledgeable or have something to contribute. There is nothing anti-intellectual about suggesting that the storm chasers should give the amateurs a way to participate meaningfully rather than just lamenting their existence.

        Both of those ideas ARE strongly anti-elitist.

        Sure, the world is full of blowhards who think they know everything about everything. Some of them have a degree and some don't.

        Conside

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      I stopped reading the article when I read "Dr. Wurman said that amateur storm chasers rarely offer useful information"

      So then you missed the part after that where he mentions that the amateurs typically haven't calibrated their instruments correctly AKA a pretty good reason to "discount the information provided by amateurs"?

      If they are worried about the numbers of amateur storm chasers maybe they should have a conference with them and train them in proper data collection and where to report it. Then the people they think are "getting in the way" could be helpful and add to the body of scientific knowledge.

      These people were unwilling to move their cars to let them by. Doubt they're going to show up to a lecture on "how to pull your car off the road." Besides: that's not their job.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:00PM (#32617980)
    Shouldn't that be, "Tornado Scientists: Butt Heads With Storm Chasers"?
  • It is, still, a free country. If storm chasers are interfering with your data collection, you are just going to have to factor them into your plans.

    You can ask them to stay out of your way, but that's all you can do: ask.

  • The traffic jams due to too many people trying to get pictures of tornados, are only temporary. Within a year or two at the most, a tornado will turn toward the caravan of cars and trucks, and a lot of people will be killed. Very quickly after that, it will become common knowledge (again) that chasing a tornado is dangerous and foolish. Then, the majority of people will quit this foolishness, and stay out of the way.

    I wonder if the professionals could use airplanes, or perhaps remotely piloted drones, fo

  • "These rank amateur egg-head academics are putting themselves and others in harm's way and causing unnecessary danger for the professionals whose job it is to cope with these storms. They have no business in the field and should stay out of the way."

    Fire, Police, EMT first responders, 2000

    "These rank amateur thrill-seeking rednecks are putting themselves and others in harm's way and causing unnecessary danger for the professionals whose job it is to cope with these storms. They have no business in the field

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:28PM (#32618422)

    I rode with an organized storm chasing group for a couple of years. When I say organized, I mean there were meetings, committees, bylaws, a training program, certifications, schedules, and procedures. The group had its own commercial FM repeater, as well as being authorized to use a number of amateur radio repeaters, for communications. You didn't just show up and go storm chasing, you had to go through the training and orientation first.

    Many times, members of the group called in weather reports that resulted in warnings being issued. It was a standing requirement that we attend yearly spotter training courses from the National Weather Service, and many members of the group did have an interest in the science behind the storms. Many people in the group had a genuine interest in doing something for the public good.

    However, many *others* in the group were deeply caught up in the whole thing; they'd take any opportunity to criticize the forecasters at the local National Weather Service office, the weather guy on TV, and local emergency management officials. They'd never pass up a chance to be interviewed, especially on television. It was common at meetings to watch storm chasing video, often of people doing 95 down some two lane highway, shooting video while driving. People would talk in the same breath about how much the group was needed, respected, and adored by local government officials.

    I eventually left the group, because the training and certifications and all that were meaningless. While there were some genuinely interested people in the group, the people who founded and ran the group really were in it for the adrenaline, and the glory, and the TV footage, and the science was only included as a means to get better video. No one from the group went to school to study atmospheric sciences, or even took classes.

    If storm chasers are getting a bad reputation, it's because they've earned it. It may be just a few bad apples, but enough of the sorta good apples follow the bad ones down the highway.

    You can be a storm spotter, trained or not, on your front porch. You're likely to do more good doing that, than wasting fuel and polluting the air driving 150 miles across Nebraska in the rain.

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