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Archive for Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Stormy weather keeps two on the chase for 11 years

June 27, 2007

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— For Tyler Costantini and Joey Ketcham, the tornado sirens are not a warning to take shelter. Instead, they are a signal that they have found what they are looking for.

Joey Ketcham, left, and Tyler Costantini, both of Pittsburg, are independent storm chasers, following weather reports and radar maps to find and photograph everything from thunderstorms to tornadoes.

Joey Ketcham, left, and Tyler Costantini, both of Pittsburg, are independent storm chasers, following weather reports and radar maps to find and photograph everything from thunderstorms to tornadoes.

During the past 11 years, Costantini and Ketcham have chased and witnessed dozens of large storms and deadly tornadoes.

They track and document severe weather in Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest and have grown to love the risk and excitement that only storm chasing can provide.

Ketcham said they would travel far and wide, within reason, to track a storm, but try to ensure that the show will be worth their gas money before they set out.

"We've gotten pretty good at looking at the forecasts and predicting what will happen," Costantini said. "We're still wrong about 50 percent of the time. It all just comes down to luck and being in the right spot at the right time."

Once they find a storm or tornado, they begin to communicate with other spotters to identify the location and direction of the storm. They also contact the National Weather Service to alert them of the severity and motion of the storm.

"Their radar will only go so far," Ketcham said. "We try to report all our findings to them so that they can better inform and warn people in the path of the storm."

The team uses a variety of technology to help pinpoint the location of the storm and relay information to others.

Ketcham said a new program called the Spotter Network allows storm spotters to log onto the Internet and communicate with one another.

If they happen to see a tornado or major cloud formation, Ketcham said, they always try to get a photo or video to document their trip.

"The photos and video can go a long way," Ketcham said. "They are nice to have, and that way, we can look back and see everything we have experienced."

The photos can even help remind the guys of the dangerous situations that they have put themselves in, all for the thrill of catching the storm.

"May 29, 2004, was a high-risk day," Costantini said. "We went to Freeport, Kan., and got to see six or seven tornadoes in one day. That was one of the best chases I've been on. That day will always stick out in my mind."

Both chasers will admit that the sport of storm chasing has changed during the past decade as technology and radar have improved, but the rush and thrill they get from seeing Mother Nature's wrath keeps them on the road and in the chase.

"I will hopefully keep with this until I'm not physically able to do it," Costantini said. "It gets expensive, and it can be dangerous if you don't know what you are doing, but it's in my blood."

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