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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 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.

  • Re:Big fucking deal. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:24PM (#32617358)

    Who's building?

    Since when did "Scientists" gain possession of the roads?

  • by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:37PM (#32617572)

    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.

  • Re:Big fucking deal. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sleeping143 ( 1523137 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:40PM (#32617610)
    Those people have the right to use the road, but that doesn't give them the right to recklessly block the road from being used by others, especially if that use is to escape from a life-threatening situation. At that point they become as much of a reckless driver as someone texting while driving or going excessively fast.
  • 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.

  • by toby34a ( 944439 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:50PM (#32617820)
    The entire thing about "storm chasing saves lives" is complete bunk to give the PhD's moral authority over the amateur chasers who are in it for the thrill. Currently, warning times are around 15 minutes, with a fairly high false alarm rate. The miss rate on a tornado warning is actually quite low, due to the effect of the deployment of WSR-88D's on the national grid. As the WSR-88D's are upgraded to a dual-polarmetric configuration, we should be able to see more development and perhaps improve warning times. Scientists in the field are there to research atmospheric development for an interesting phenomena that we don't know all that much about. These field campaigns get a lot of press because they are neat- "Hey, we chase after tornadoes for a living". However, while they do produce actual science, the "saving lives" stuff gets overblown. Chuck Doswell (one of the original storm chasers) has addressed this topic on his blog: [] If there's not a use for good field work in science, and that's not reason enough to do this field work, then meteorologists are just boned.
  • 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.

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

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:04PM (#32618046) Journal

    It doesn't matter, the roads are public and this is America. Just because they have a PHD doesn't suddenly give them more rights than anyone else. As long as the police don't tell them to leave (and talking to cop friends after Twister came out they think BOTH the scientists and storm chasers are fucking nuts) then the scientists can just learn to deal or go somewhere else.

    Welcome to America, where public is public and we ALL have the right to use the roads, even in times of emergency. And what if I am getting the fuck away from one, and a scientists blocks my way? They are creating just as much of a hazard as the storm chasers, and the little roads in places like OK and AR simply are gonna be crowded...period.

  • 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)

  • Re:What a joke (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:34PM (#32618520)

    I believe the problem lies in the fact that the algorithms used in severe weather detection with the current WSR-88D radar system: mesocyclone detection, tornadic signatures (TVS), hail size estimations, etc... all need a very detailed AND complete set of data to run on. This is the whole point of the DOW (doppler-on-wheels), it gathers high-resolution data right up close to the action. It certainly may be possible for an amateur to get useful data through the use of air/ground probes.... maybe maximum wind velocity or lowest pressure measured. But they will never be able to compete with the amount of data gathered driving a several hundred grand radar system "into" a tornado.

    Your example would be akin to an amateur astronomer trying to determine star velocities orbiting the center of our galaxy and calculate the size of the theorized black hole with their backyard telescope and an SLR. There is a limit to the quality and amount of data obtained through amateur equipment. Now this isn't to say Dr. Wurman should have a free pass and discount all amateur observations, but I can understand his concern if amateurs are preventing him from collecting data.

    Amateurs have the rights to do whatever they please (as it should be), but I think there is definitely a point where the majority of them cause more problems rather then provide useful data.

  • 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.

  • Re:Big fucking deal. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by imsupporting ( 1694244 ) on Friday June 18, 2010 @04:46PM (#32618756)
    Also,, Whats wrong with having more people about when big storms hit. I live in the UK and i know a few people who goto your country to chase storms. EVERY! time that catch a storm that has damaged areas they always stop to see if anyone requires help. Would these people prefer to be just left left for dead and only have a handful of weak science guys more worried about their kit than the lives of residents who have just had their lives shattered from a tornado? This is a pointlesss rant from a bunch of whiny so called scientists!
  • Re:What a joke (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 19, 2010 @01:17AM (#32622646)

    I agree. I am a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company, but never took a college chemistry class.
    I never even finished college, but I learned from the ground up from some very experienced PhD's. After 10 years in the field, I can out perform many PhD's with my practical knowledge obtained from actual work!

    I do not get paid nearly as much as one with a degree, but I can more than hold my own with the best of them. I have found quite creative solutions to problems that many PhD's were working on, and even had new PhD's ask me where I received my degree should see the look on there faces when I tell them I don't even have as much as an AAS!!! Some didn't believe me,,,

    Arrogance only gets one so far in the real world...then you have to be able to perform...and that's where people like me come in and save the day to the chagrin of those I made look uneducated...and on paper, I look to be the uneducated one!

    So fuck the system with their retarded pieces of paper that say you are better than me. Prove it, or STFU!!!

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

    by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @09:31AM (#32624680) Journal

    Better yet, equip all these yahoos with some basic monitoring equipment to record information for you. It wouldn't be the first time scientists have used a network of enthusiastic amateurs for a legitimate scientific endeavor.

    If you can't beat them, turn them into your army.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.