As storm chasing gets more popular, dangers and conflicts increase

As storm chasing gets more popular, dangers and conflicts increase

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I posted this because it illuminates a bit about why there is a need for government intervention: to protect ourselves from ourselves.

Yes I know, such intervention is mentioned nowhere in the article.  But it is apparently under consideration in at least two states (possibly four) in the prime chasing area.  It’s said that they’re now wanting to license storm chasers.

A bit of history: storm chasing as a hobby and a profession has been around for possibly up to 40 years.  It experienced an uptick in popularity after the tremendously popular movie “Twister” was released in the mid-1990’s, and now it has exploded mostly because of a Discovery Channel program called “Storm Chasers.”  Nowadays isolated areas are seeing traffic jams comprised almost entirely of chasers.  It’s unprecedented…and in many places, unwelcome.

I heard one estimate that about half the storm chasers on any given storm are brand-new, and a lot of those have no idea what they are doing.  Ironically, however, the worst safety threats don’t seem to be coming from them (they are usually only a threat to themselves) but from the people who have been in the business a long time.

Again, why is this article in this blog?  Just consider the history of storm chasing and then consider the history of other things…health care and banking, for instance.  It isn’t too far of a stretch, honestly.  Folks, this is how it happens.  People just seem to invite the government intervention that they so claim to hate.

Watch and learn.

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Of Media and Reality

For a complete update of this article, please see Re-Post: Of Media and Reality, November 27, 2010 (click on November 2010 archive at the left of this page)

The other day I came across a striking dichotomy in the storm-chasing world: the Discovery Channel TV series Storm Chasers, and a web-cast called The Debris Show which was created by actual storm chasers.  I felt it was pretty indicative of what is going on generally in the media — particularly in the “reality” arena — so I thought I’d muse about it a bit on this blog.

Storm Chasers is an admittedly gripping reality show that follows the exploits of people who chase storms — usually aiming for tornadoes — for a living or at least a very expensive hobby.  Partially because of this show, and not a little bit because of the 1996 fantasy movie Twister, kids all over the U.S. and Canada, and people of all ages from all over the world now dream of being glamorous storm chasers…the new cowboys, astronauts, or rock stars, if you will.  You read stuff all the time in chat rooms and on video comments such as “I can’t wait to storm chase when I grow up!” or “I need a car and then I can storm chase!”  There are also more than just a few would-be storm chasers in the U.K. and Europe, both of which seem to be taken by tornado-envy at present even though it appears they’re having an increasing number of their own tornadoes to contend with.

Of course it’s a dangerous fantasy that will no doubt lead to some dumb bunny getting killed, but in the meantime, we have Storm Chasers providing all the fuel you’d ever want.  (Note: Discovery Channel is now apparently considering showing a “nature series” produced by Sarah Palin, which may give you some idea about DC’s grip on reality.)

Of course, TV being TV, things are probably not the way they are hinted to be on this show.  For instance:

(1) The show makes it look like the majority of chases end with delicious tornadoes.  (Apparently in the real world, only a fraction of chases find tornado-producing storms.)

(2) The show puts the chasers themselves into neat Hollywood categories, such as The Scientist (Josh Wurman, who is no longer on the show), The Artist (Sean Casey, the IMAX film-maker), The Heart-Throb (Reed Timmer), The Good Guy (Tim Samaras), The Sidekicks (Joel Taylor, et al).  They’re all good-looking and it’s all very neat and very glamorous.  (Please note that I am not belittling the abilities of any of these chasers.)

(3) Of course there have been some manufactured controversies: Joel and Reed had a fight; Sean and Josh and Reed all had fights; Sean disrespected Reed and Josh disrespected everybody.  I did some research: in reality, Joel is back with Reed and Sean is broadcasting streams from Reed’s website.  Josh is nowhere in sight.  Clearly something got lost in translation on Storm Chasers.  But then again, yet another chase team called The Twister Sisters is now filming a reality show as well; they were earlier this year looking for a couple to ride with them — but only if the couple had serious relationship issues.  Now folks, take that and apply it to storm chasing.  You can’t?  I’m not surprised.  That’s TV.

The other night I was wandering around the Web and found the other side of the coin: a web-cast produced by storm chasers themselves.  It was an hour chat show where they — chasers with no makeup — sat around and swore, farted, belched, drank, and generally told the long grinding truth about the lives of storm chasers — most of whom seem to do this as a hobby, not as a full-time business, because the competition is overwhelming; tornado videos are nothing if not plentiful these days and there’s barely a (daytime) funnel cloud that goes unfilmed.

During this chat I realized why a storm chaser in a chat room recently sniped “tell me where Vortex 2 (Wurman’s team) will be today so I can be at least 50 miles away” (implied: “…where the tornado is”).  It’s all street smarts, guts and instinct with this bunch, and long weary miles on the road.  Only the toughest survive.  Bookworms need not apply.

So why am I writing this?  Because I’m still trying to figure out why the media take the Wasilla Windbag so seriously.  Honest.  I’d started to think we were dealing with an alternate reality here — a media reality — and now, I know I’m right.

P.S. If you found this blog article while doing a search about the show Storm Chasers (and I know you probably have), here are some answers to the Google questions I’ve seen on my stat page:

(1) Josh Wurman no longer appears much on Storm Chasers, nor can he help Sean Casey, because Josh is now a government employee on a government-funded study.  No, I do not know the details; all I know is what I heard on the show. OKAY?

(2) Yes, Reed and Joel are back together.  Most of their problems seem to stem from Reed’s behavior.  This has been discussed frequently on the show.

(3) Yes, Reed and Chip are back together.  Most of their problems seem to stem from Reed’s behavior.  This has been discussed frequently on the show.

(4) No, Ginger is no longer in the picture.  She was probably there because the producers thought she was pretty and that’s about it.  Yes, she is a real meteorologist, as of this writing working for an NBC affiliate in Chicago.  End of story.

(5) Sadly, Matt Hughes died suddenly in May of 2010 from a non-storm-related injury.  Any speculation made by fans is purely that and nothing more.  His family wants privacy and this should be respected.

(6) As of this edit (11/25/10), a lot of Storm Chasers fans have their knickers in knots over something Josh, in a rare appearance on the show, said to Sean…something to the effect that Josh holds the purse strings of the TIV and due to a reckless driving incident, Josh was making Sean take the TIV off the road.  Please note that this is apparently TV drama only; Josh never said that to Sean although he did berate Sean for allowing the TIV driver to be an idiot (this is according to a Facebook post by Wurman’s daughter). What you saw on TV was just the unfortunate result of editing — you know, kinda like when they have the tornado on one side of the road in one shot, then on the other, then suddenly back where it was originally but gosh doesn’t the landscape look completely different.  Okay?

(7) Are you getting the message?  The show you are asking about is part truth and mostly manufactured, and if you intend to enjoy it, you accept that and listen to what the hell they’re saying and stop asking stupid questions. If you want gossip, I’m sure some of the players on the show will turn up in the pages of the National Enquirer sooner or later.  Or consider this: according to other chasers, Storm Chasers is using tornado footage not obtained by themselves or the chasers on the show, and they are neither paying for nor crediting said footage.  Plus, at least once they have credited Reed with being at a tornado where he was not, and also hinted that he and his buddies were the only chasers at a tornado (Yazoo City), when in fact there were at least a half-dozen others.  Now folks, that’s reality.

(8) No you cannot do a storm tour in the TIV, the Dominator, or with TWISTEX, but some of the chasers you see on the show just may friend you on Facebook, not that they will ever read anything you write there because they all have 40,000 other friends on Facebook.  If you want a tour, just Google “storm tour.”  There are a lot of chasers who would be all too happy to take you along at a cost of about $2500.00 for a week of major physical discomforts (no matter how much you complain — and some of the less-polished chasers will cuss you right out of the car if you do).  And don’t forget, there’s no guarantee you’ll see anything approaching a tornado.

Cheers.

and oh, yes…P.P.S.: the 2010 season was the last season that Vortex 2 (Josh Wurman’s team) would clog up the roads with 40 or more vehicles traveling in a lengthy convoy, claim they have more right to be there than anyone else, heap scorn on non-scientific chasers, allegedly nearly run over a non-Vortex chaser or two, and generally be pains in the ass.  From now on, their work will focus on data analysis (that is, they will not be on the road).  This should relieve the increasingly-frequent “chaser convergence” outrages somewhat, although I’m sure NOTHING will ever stop certain idiots from threatening chasers’ lives because they got in Sean’s way, or in Reed’s.  If you’ve done that, kiddo, get a life, and by all means stop watching Storm Chasers because it seems that it’s too much for you.

2nd annual midwinter weather-forecasting tirade

Having finally found a site that can predict our area’s winter weather longer than 20 minutes in advance (www.illiniweather.com), I’m considerably calmer about weather forecasting this winter than I have been in previous winters.  However, when I feel the need for aggravation, I still go to www.weather.com or even better, www.accuweather.com.

I admit a lot of my problem with weather.com is that the way their pages are arranged, it’s nearly impossible to find the forecast.  One has to search for tiny links between ads, and to my intense irritation, many of those ads seem to contain things that are moving.  (I never click on moving ads, by the way.  The only thing I do with them is take note of the advertiser and not buy their product.)  small update: I just went to that site and noted that somewhere in the last few weeks they have consolidated the weather forecast in a large box and put the ads off to the side, and right now none of the ads are moving.  Gosh.

When you can find the forecast, however, it usually reads like something a malfunctioning computer wrote, and what can be understood turns out to be completely inaccurate.  Snow flurries turn out to be raging blizzards or we get 6″ of light snow, or 10 degrees F turns out to be -10 degrees F.

And then there’s accuweather.com, which is not only usually completely inaccurate but also alarmist.  On that site, a snow flurry is nonexistent — it’s always going to be that Great Lakes version of the nor’easter, totally catastrophic, 3 feet of lake-effect snow and counting.  They blare that a nighttime reading of 10 degrees is a historic cold snap.  And today we’re getting snow showers, and guess what?  They have a weather alarm up on the forecast page!

So we may get an inch of snow.  Oh dear me the sky is falling.  Or maybe they’re just putting lipstick on a pig and trying to sell it as a vice-presidential candidate, who knows.

Fact is, the weather in this area is a hard sell.  With few breaks, it’s usually one long gray snore.  Being west of the lakes, we have some lake-effect snow, but usually not  the mountainous storms that those east and south of the lakes frequently experience.  Until recently it was thought that our lake turned the tornado machine off (this was before we got a bunch of them in the city proper a few years back).  We did get hit with the remnants of a Pacific storm called Lowell one Saturday in 2008 and then the next day, the remains of Hurricane Ike, resulting in 12″ of rain in just under 48 hours and massive flooding.  As far as I know, that has happened once or maybe twice in recorded history and will likely never happen again in our lifetimes.  One time the temperature plummeted to -27.  Sometimes summer forgets us.  And we’ve had two winters with really epic snowfalls in the last 50 years.

More often we have winters with light to moderate snowstorms every other day, resulting in a considerable pile-ups of snow — but nothing we can’t handle.  We do get nasty little thunderstorms that blow things down, and like I said, 2006-2008 saw a little spate of tornadoes.  We had exactly one historic heatwave back in the mid 1990’s.  We have droughts; one or two have been severe.  We often have weeks without sunshine in the winter. 

But overall, the we have pretty boring weather here.  So why accuweather.com wants to work us up into a lather about something we learn to ignore (the weather) is beyond me.  And that’s on top of the irritation that accuweather.com is usually just plain inaccurate.

Like I said, I’m calmer this winter, having discovered the very straightforward and boring illiniweather.com, which is so boring that it’s usually dead-on accurate.  I recommend that site to everyone around here who has learned that the best thing one can do about northeastern Illinois weather is make an informed shrug.

The New Political Correctness, Weatherwise

According to some comments I just read on the Farmers Almanac page, if you say we are in a period of “global warming,” then you are being controlled by people who want to tax you and take away your freedom.  If you believe we’re going into an ice age, then you’re an All American independent gun-toting beer swiggin’ good ol’ boy.  Even if you’re a girl. 

Actually to harbor a fierce loyalty to a weather theory of the 1970’s to justify rejecting a theory of the early 2000’s makes you nothing but an idiot.  An approaching ice age renders you no more independent of the government than does any “global warming” ideology.  Both can be used to “control” people. 

Leaving aside some recent observations about sun cycles, there are some hard facts that we here on earth can control if we aren’t wasting our own energy inventing ways to deny them: there are now about 6 billion people in the world using up resources.  We do not know if the Earth was meant to support all these bodies.  Certainly no earthly ecomony has managed it. 

The only hard truth is that we cannot have this many humans in the world without affecting our environment.  Therefore, something about the environment is changing, and we must change in order to adapt — or else, eventually, suffer a loss of quality of life (and please don’t tell me that breathing dinosaur-fuel fumes has made you a free man), or else die.

We need food and we need to keep ourselves warm or cold, as our prevailing climate dictates.  For this, we need fuel — lots of fuel if you’re talking about supporting a world population that continues to climb out of control.  Fuel sources change over time, according to availability.  Some of them have a more profound impact on the environment than others.  Adaptation is part of the game.  Always has been.  Civilizations that have relentlessly clung to a past that no longer works, no longer exist after a while.

I don’t know whether the current weather gyrations mean “global warming” or “ice age.”  I’m not a scientist; to me the changes only mean inevitable change due to outside pressures.  Goodness knows that scientists seem to be befuddled and sometimes too quick to announce that a certain leaf falling three days too early in a remote section of Africa means we’re all about to ignite.  (No such announcement has been made, but you may catch the drift of what I’m saying).  The term “global warming” has now become so ubiquitous that even when we are freezing, we’re told that it’s because of global warming.  That sort of thing tends to confuse the wingnuts and set them into orbit, shouting, “political correct!  bad!  bad!”

And now they’re fighting back by switching their loyalties to that fond ’70’s theory of a new ice age, which as I said makes no sense whatsoever.

If you are a true independent, I’d say you are wary of either theory, but mindful that things cannot continue as they have been.  But being a true independent, I’m wary of telling anyone what to think.  Apparently, getting all your info from Chicken-Little scientists makes you a liberal and getting all your info from spam e-mails makes you a conservative.  I’m happy to be getting my info from neither of them.

Too warm or not too warm? (or: when a tornado is not a tornado)

(This will count as my global-warming/climate change rant.)

I love to look at videos of tornados, and have been doing so lately, which is what brought them to mind on this bleak February day in the Great Lakes area — a day during which there is as much chance of having a tornado as of wearing a bikini to the beach.  As long as there isn’t a tornado nearby, they fascinate me.  On the other hand, when I see a video of a storm chaser actually running up to a tornado to get a picture (actually it was probably a landspout* he was trotting toward; see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpP96pnX00w), I tend to wonder what the hell is wrong with the guy.  Let’s just say that my idea of a great vacation does not involve going storm-chasing. 

Having said that, however, I add this: thank whatever deity you like for storm chasers, because they see what they see and even if the radar doesn’t see it, they have proof of what they saw.  And they teach us to see.  If you’re totally confused about what I just said, read on.  It may help, or it may not.

In September of 2006 I was caught in a tornado.  I do not care to have that happen again, although I have been peripherally involved in about 10 tornadic storms in my lifetime and have no doubt it will happen again.  This was a very, very weak tornado as these monsters go.  But even so, a tornadic storm is an event like no other.  Know the phrase “all hell broke loose”?  For those who have never experienced a tornado, that’s what a tornadic storm is like.  Suddenly, all control is lost.  You are instantly a victim scrambling for survival.  How fast does this happen?  Blink.  It’s faster than that.

This particular storm caused a flash downpour that left cars submerged in the midst of rush-hour traffic, and an abrupt, terrific acceleration of wind which turned into visible white streaks that first ripped in one direction, then abruptly switched to the complete opposite direction, shredding trees, roof shingles, and power lines as it went.  There was a white-out of tiny hailstones at one point.  All of this happened nearly simultaneously, and then, over the insistent screaming of the tornado sirens I heard the deep, eerie tornadic rumble that cannot be described by mere words and has rarely, if ever, been recorded adequately.

When I heard that, I headed for the basement.  There was no time to look up at the sky to see what it looked like — you couldn’t see anything, anyway; everything was a dark, murky green streaked with white tails of wind, and there was (to put it bluntly) too much crap flying around to spend much time looking up.  As I tried to run to the basement — our walkway to the basement is outside the building — I found I could barely move and had to hang onto the bricks as best I could to keep from being lifted away.  I was soaked through to the skin in a split second.  

 A relative of mine got a picture of the funnel cloud.

Earlier in the decade, I was involved in another tornadic event that tore entire roofs off houses and turned the wind around us into a whirling junkyard.  Our ears were popping, and there was that awful hollow, whistling rumble.  After the storm we found large trees laying on the ground, pointing in different directions.  A man was killed when a tree fell on the car he was driving. 

Someone got a picture of that funnel cloud, too.

The Weather Bureau later informed us that both events had been mere “straight line winds.”  Sorry, but “straight line wind,” or even “microburst” does not carry the impact of  “tornado.” And those of us who were right underneath these storms know what we saw; certainly there is nothing else that sounds like a tornado — and I know what I heard in both instances.   Those at the weather bureau only saw their radar, and later surveyed the damage.  Which will bring us to the point: who are you gonna trust?  You and your own camera, or some nerd sitting at a computer at a government bureau office?

Which brings us to the subject of global warming.

I don’t like the term “climate change,” because “climate change” is constant and normal on this planet.  So you won’t read it anymore after this paragraph.  Having been through a period of my life when we were all resigned to eventually wearing parkas in July because of “global cooling,” however, I also have some questions about “global warming.”  But do I believe in it?  Yes and no.

I tend to believe in it because it’s naive to an extreme to try to claim that 6 billion methane-producing humans with their 600,000,000 carbon-belching motorized vehicles* (as well as other things) aren’t having any impact at all on the planet.  (*Vehicle estimate can be found here: http://ididnotknowthatyesterday.blogspot.com/2006/10/how-many-cars-are-in-world.html)

On the other hand, didn’t I already mention that climate change…well I said I wouldn’t mention that term anymore.  Let’s just call it “natural cycles,” because that’s what they are.  In short, I think our present situation may be caused by overpopulation and industrialization (which helped to cause the overpopulation) mixed with natural cycles.  Now, I realize that since religion has once again taken over the world, it has become perilous to mention the word “overpopulation,” since most religions are all about creating more babies who will become members of the religion.  But I think it’s a good word.  So live with it: OVERPOPULATION.  I’ll say it again: OVERPOPULATION.  Don’t think so?  Well, what else do you call it when we’re running out of water and food, not to mention space?

To make the concept more real to you, next time when you’re stranded in a wall-to-wall traffic jam on the freeway, quite ready to believe that all of the 600,000,000 motorized vehicles on Earth are parked on the same freeway, think about why you do not believe there is such a thing as OVERPOPULATION.  Think very, very hard.

Back to the point, in the 1960’s, an annoying novelty-song squeaker called Tiny Tim squawked a ditty called “The Ice Caps are Melting.”  If I’m remembering my stats correctly, he was right: the 1960’s were abnormally warm.  They were also abnormally stormy.  Local statistics show that we had an unusually high number of tornadic storms in those years —  a record that apparently stands to this day.  (As an aside, the perception in my area is that there are more tornadoes now than there ever were; honestly, I believe that there are merely as many as there ever normally were, it’s just that we’ve only recently learned to recognize them — and they don’t all look like the one in “The Wizard of Oz”! —  because of the birth of the storm-chasing profession and its impressive array of video equipment.)

Then came the 1970’s and 1980’s, the era of “global cooling,” — better known in those times as “the new ice age” — during which we were freezing our butts off.  Sometimes literally.

And with the 1990’s, the temperatures rose again and so did the issue of global warming.  It was and is real; temperatures are rising.  Whether it is entirely a natural cycle or not is debatable; all that seems certain is that even if it is, it is being aggravated by the fact that we have more contributors than ever before.

I also believe that the term “global warming” may have arisen because it has become taboo to discuss OVERPOPULATION, and these days one can’t do it without someone else sniping “unfair!” “racism!” “discrimination!” “pro life!” “ethnic cleansing!” etc.  But I digress.

My attitude is that certainly, something is happening.  I’ve noticed that the seasons in my area seem to be shifting rather than disappearing (these days summer almost never starts before the first week of July, and lingers slightly into the fall; fall either lingers into January or gets cut short in November; winter lasts almost all the way through spring).  But there is no statistical data to back that up, just my own gut feelings.

Which brings us back to tornadoes…

*Landspouts are a type of tornado usually not associated with a horrific storm.  However, even without the storms they are still potentially quite dangerous — as in, I wouldn’t walk up to one.

The Weather Bureau in Winter

Note to the weather bureau: it’s not a friggin’ emergency.

Every day lately I look at the weather forecast at weather.com or accuweather.com and see the same stupid thing: WEATHER ALARM!! WEATHER ADVISORY!!! Most often one pushes the little alarm button to find that there’s a 20% chance of a snow flurry, or that the temperature at night will be 10F degrees. I guess in Atlanta, such a thing might be a catastrophe. But this is Chicago. We don’t worry about such things here.

So here’s another note to the friggin’ weather bureau: it’s WINTER, stupid.

The other night we had a blizzard warning that was totally without merit. A blizzard is when the winds are hurricane force and there is snow or some other frozen something being blown around with such intensity that you can’t see your glasses on your nose. What we had the other night was a couple of snow showers with no wind. Even if the winds that had been forecast had materialized, they would not have been strong enough to merit a blizzard warning. “Blowing and drifting snow,” maybe. But a “blizzard” is not a snow flurry with someone breathing on it.

Now the friggin’ weather bureau is trying to scare us with the fact that the temperatures will be well below zero for much of the next 48 hours. Meantime, they totally missed the snowstorm that hit us last night and this morning (which was far more substantial than the “blizzard”), probably because they were so busy warning us about the temperatures.

Note to the friggin’ weather bureau: Again, it’s winter. It’s cold. Read this statement s-l-o-w-l-y.

Also please note: a wind chill is not an actual temperature. No one can even agree on what it is. The formula actually got changed a few years ago, remember? So stop reporting it as if it were hard and cold fact. The only fact here is that a lot of idiots in the public recite wind chills as if they were actual temperatures, and the rest of us are sick of listening to it. The whole wind chill thing is just an exaggeration of actual reality. Re-read the word “exaggeration,” weather bureau, and then read on.

Here’s another note for you weather bureau jackasses to consider: look up the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and read it until you can understand it. If you can’t, have your mommies read it to you and explain it. It’s kind of important to understand that if you keep crying “wolf,” sooner or later no one is going to believe you except for the comprehension-cases who keep reciting the wind chills as actual temperatures.

While you’re at it, why don’t you unplug your friggin’ computers and just stick your noses out the window? Gosh! There’s actual FREAKING WEATHER out there and quite often it has nothing to do with your forecasts.

Gee, I wonder why. Maybe it’s because Mother Nature isn’t much into hyperbole most of the time?