Meteorologists and chasers say the deaths of four storm chasers in car crashes over the past two weeks underscore the dangers of escalating severe weather events as more people rush to catch a glimpse of a lightning bolt or tornado. for the closure of roads and highways.
Martha Llanos Rodriguez of Mexico City died Wednesday after a semitrailer rammed her vehicle from behind on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota. The car’s driver, Diego Campos, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he and Rodriguez and two other weathermen were chasing violent weather and were hit after blocking power lines on the road.
Marshall Shepherd, director of the Atmospheric Science Program at the University of Georgia, said more people are jumping in their cars and running after storms, jamming roads, running stop signs and paying more attention to the sky than traffic. are giving.
“Sometimes there are such volumes of chasers on some storms that it creates potential traffic and other hazards,” Shepherd said. “Seeing storms in their natural context has a scientific and broader significance so I’m not averse to chasing, however, there are elements that have become a bit wild, Wild West-ish.”
Popularized in the 1996 film “Twister”, storm chases involve the pursuit of severe weather events such as lightning storms and tornadoes, often in cars or on foot.
Some researchers want to collect data, such as confirming computer models that predict storm behavior. Some are looking to be in touch with nature. There are other photographers. And still others are just looking for a rush, said Greg Tripoli, an atmospheric and oceanographic science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who taught a class on storm chases.
“Watching a tornado is a life-changing experience,” Tripoli said. “You want to see one rather than talk about them. It’s really one of the excitement of life. You need to take chances and go out there and go after your passion. Be it rock-climbing or deep-seed.” No different – sea diving.”
Hurricanes themselves present danger for inexperienced pursuers who get too close. They can be hit by debris, struck by lightning, or worse. Tripoli said he decided to stop teaching his storm chaser class and taking students into the field in the early 1990s, when university officials stopped insuring visits.
Nature is not the only threat. Storm chasers spend long hours on the road traveling from state to state like long-distance truckers, inviting fatigue. When they do catch storms, they can often keep their eyes on the sky instead of the road, sometimes with fatal consequences. Tripoli said it would warn students in its storm chaser class that they would most likely get hurt in a car accident.
On April 30, three University of Oklahoma students were killed after traveling to Kansas to chase a tornado. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the students’ car on the interstate in Tonkawa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City, was hydroelectric. They slipped and came on the interstate route before hitting the semitrailer.
The University of Oklahoma has a policy that states that anyone who follows a hurricane does so at their own risk and that hurricane chase is not part of the school’s meteorology curriculum.
The mother of one of Gavin Short’s students, 19, of Grayslake, Illinois, told WMAQ-TV that her son loved chasing storms.
“He loved it, and we were so happy for him,” Beth Short said. “And that’s just the worst nightmare for us and the other two sets of parents.”
Chaser traffic jams are becoming more common, said Kelton Helbert, an atmospheric and oceanographic science doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin. He said he has been following storms since the age of 16 because he wanted to feel closer to the beauty of nature and verify his forecast modeling, mostly by taking video of the storms’ behavior.
“Unless you’re with one of these research institutions, storm chasers don’t have the ability to collect a lot of hard data,” he said. “For most … it’s beauty, it’s photography and then obviously there are thrill seekers and adrenaline seekers. You can ask people in the middle of the street. If you’re in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas High risk day, yes you can see hundreds of them. Looking at the recent few weeks, I’ve definitely felt more apprehensive. It brings to the fore that every time you do this you’re at risk were taking.”
Wednesday’s storms left thousands of homes and businesses without electricity in the Upper Midwest on Thursday. The Storm Prediction Center said more potentially severe weather was predicted Thursday evening, which could bring hail, strong winds and tornadoes from the Dakota and Minnesota.