Tornado chasing: “The beauty of being back is unbeatable”

When pursuing the world’s fiercest storms, storm chasers often have a choice: they can pursue them from a distance or try to get close, placing themselves and their passengers at great danger.  Storm chaser footage from the Plains Sunday shows why staying back is the sounder, safer, and more rewarding strategy.

Consider the photograph below, taken Sunday by Roger Hill, a 20-year veteran of storm chasing:

(Roger Hill Photography via Facebook)

May 11, 2014 in Hudson, Kansas. (Roger Hill Photography via Facebook)

Hill captured this scene several miles back from the sight of the funnel, just east of Hudson, Kansas. He describes the supercell as a “beauty” and its structure “stunning.”

Now let’s contrast this with footage from Nebraska in which chasers get too close and their vehicle is clocked by irrigation equipment:

 

And here’s another example of chasers getting pounded by a storm they’re too close to (warning: strong language): RAW Cordova, NE Tornado Intercept (VIDEO)

(Note: There are certainly circumstances where tornadoes make unexpected moves or form overhead and storm chasers – with the intent of “staying back” – get caught in the crossfire.  This may have been the case yesterday in the above examples. So, my intent here is not to demonize the photographers, but to compare and contrast different kinds of tornado footage and show what can happen when you’re too close.)

These latter two videos may offer thrills for adrenaline junkies, but pale in comparison to the Roger Hill’s photography in their capacity to show-off the majesty of mother nature.

I’ll take wall clouds, rain shafts, and funnels over shattered glass any day.

“There’s an excitement from being close,” says Hill. “But the beauty of being back is unbeatable.”

In a short discussion, Hill told me he prefers to remain a few miles away when he chases tornadic storms. In an interview with National Geographic last year, he added he stays southeast of the storm’s path and avoids cities where traffic jams can foil an escape plan.

Related: Chasing Oklahoma: Too Dangerous for One Team? | Chasing Tornadoes With a Camera

After a team of veteran chasers was killed by a tornado in El Reno, Okla. last May 31, chasing practices have come under closer scrutiny.  The Weather Channel’s Mike Bettes, whose SUV was tossed across a field by the El Reno twister, is a taking a more cautious approach.

“[His team] will stay a further distance from developing storms and will not chase them in crowded metropolitan areas,” reported the Associated Press.

The advice of chasing pioneer David Hoadley – with over 57 years of experience?: “Use a telephoto lens for gosh sakes. That’s what they’re made for.”

Related:

The storm chaser dilemma and choice to sit out the May 31 Oklahoma City tornadoes

The day that should change tornado actions and storm chasing forever

Storm chasing goes mainstream: Is tornado voyeurism killing people?

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