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Earth Science

Tornado Scientists Butt Heads With Storm Chasers 402

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 Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:27PM (#32617402)
    why just the other day I was inspired to become a pilot after watching Iron Eagle III, and the week before that I took up the ancient Japanese art of Ninjitsu after watching American Ninja
  • 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.
  • Re:Big fucking deal. (Score:5, Informative)

    by gringofrijolero ( 1489395 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:46PM (#32617730) Journal

    The message missed by all:

    FTFA - While people have no legal obligation to yield to radar trucks, he said that he felt the amateurs should have given way as a courtesy... it's just polite..

    We do encourage that, don't we? Or is it fuck everybody?

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

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

    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.

    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:Big fucking deal. (Score:4, Informative)

    by WeatherGod ( 1726770 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:23PM (#32618340)
    You do realize that most of those successful storm chasers you are talking about are scientists who chase as a "hobby"? Where I work, if there is a good chance for tornadoes in the state, good luck finding a professor or graduate student as many of them are out chasing for fun (and learning). Many discoveries on how tornadoes work happened during these "chase days" by scientists watching what they love (e.g. - Markowski and Bluestein are two names off the top of my head).
  • 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.

  • by cexshun ( 770970 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @05:05PM (#32618992) Homepage
    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 BarefootClown ( 267581 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:05PM (#32619840) Homepage

    Oooh, can I play jailhouse lawyer too?

    Let's start with links. You opened with Wikipedia; I'll see your Wikipedia and raise you Oklahoma's Legislative Service Bureau, []. Click the nifty underlined bit and it'll take you to the text of the entire body of Oklahoma statutes (I picked Oklahoma because it's a noted hotbed of tornado activity). "Reckless endangerment," by name or concept, didn't exist under Title 21, Crimes and Punishments, but Title 47, Motor Vehicles, contains "reckless driving:"

    47 11 901. Reckless driving.
    A. It shall be deemed reckless driving for any person to drive a motor vehicle in a careless or wanton manner without regard for the safety of persons or property or in violation of the conditions outlined in Section 11 801 of this title.
    B. Every person convicted of reckless driving shall be punished upon a first conviction by imprisonment for a period of not less than five (5) days nor more than ninety (90) days, or by a fine of not less than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) nor more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment; on a second or subsequent conviction, punishment shall be imprisonment for not less than ten (10) days nor more than six (6) months, or by a fine of not less than One Hundred Fifty Dollars ($150.00) nor more than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

    Now, that makes true reckless driving a misdemeanor. However, you're arguing that driving in a place where one has every legal right to be becomes reckless driving simply because of inclement weather. The courts disagree. To wit:

    • Athey v. Bingham, 823 P.2d 347 (Okla. 1991). "Snow and sleet were falling on the ice-covered road. . . . The fact that a motor vehicle collision occurred does not necessarily raise the presumption that the defendant was following too closely, driving too fast to bring the car to a stop, or driving too fast for highway conditions." The Court did not even consider the idea that the driver shouldn't have been out in the weather at all.
    • Wade v. Reimer, 359 P.2d 1071 (Okla. 1961). "Shortly after they left [the city of] Yale it started raining hard and puddles of water began to accumulate on the surface of the highway. Defendant, driving at a speed estimated variously from 50 to 65 miles per hour, steered the vehicle so as to avoid these puddles. As they approached a point approximately 10 miles west of Yale, the two right wheels of the pick-up suddenly came off the pavement to the right shoulder of the road. The vehicle slid ‘sideways' back across the entire concrete width of the highway and then through the adjoining bar ditch crashing into a tree. . . . Before a driver may be found guilty of [reckless driving], the triers must necessarily conclude first that his actions amounted to ordinary common law negligence." The court held that even a guilty plea to reckless driving does not establish negligence per se; the jury still has to decide whether the specific actions were negligent. The jury did not find the defendant negligent. Again, the idea that "you shouldn't have been out in this weather" was never even considered, let alone seriously entertained by the Court.
    • Green v. Thompson, 344 P.2d 272 (Okla. 1959). Holding that the fact that an accident occurred does not necessarily mean anybody was negligent; citations to Taylor v. Ray, 56 P.2d 376 (Okla 1936) and National Tank Co. v. Scott, 130 P.2d 316 (Okla. 1942) and Kraft Foods Co. v. Chadwell, 249 P.2d 1002 (Okla. 1952), all of which also held that the mere fact of an accident doesn't prove negligence or recklessness.

    So, if you'll bother to read the provided cases, I think you'll find that chasing tornadoes does not ipso factor constitute "reckless endangerment" (or even the actual crime of reckless driving), nor the tort of negligence. The specific circumstances of the case may give rise to an action in either, but it's not "the literal definition."

    Sorry to burst your bubble.

  • Re:What a joke (Score:3, Informative)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @06:55PM (#32620364)

    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.

  • Re:Big fucking deal. (Score:3, Informative)

    by westlake ( 615356 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @08:43PM (#32621282)

    Why they have the right to be stupid let's be honest.

    But do they have the right to be stupid?

    No one thinks it unusual when roads are closed to all non-essential travel because of weather conditions or other hazards.

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