Archive for Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Officials say storm chasers hindered emergency response

Professionals in the weather business say criticism is unfair

A tornado forms and touches down north of Soloman, Kan., Saturday, April 14, 2012.

A tornado forms and touches down north of Soloman, Kan., Saturday, April 14, 2012.

April 17, 2012


SALINA — So many people were chasing severe weather in parts of central Kansas during the weekend that roads were jammed and emergency responders were hindered from doing their work, some central Kansas safety officials said.

The criticism brought a strong reaction from professional storm chasers, who said they provide valuable information to public safety officials and The National Weather Service during severe weather, The Salina Journal reported.

Chancy Smith, director of Dickinson County Emergency Management, said some roads in the northwest section of the country were like “a funeral procession” Saturday and some storm chasers would not allow emergency vehicles to pass or drove over downed power lines.

And Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman, from Solomon, said he saw bumper-to-bumper traffic near Solomon.

“It was outrageously stupid. People were driving crazy. It was dangerous,” Homman said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my 27 years of working in emergency service.”

The criticism is not fair to professional storm chasers, said Lanny Dean, who operates a Tulsa, Okla.-based business called

Professionals educate the public and provide information to law enforcement, emergency workers and the National Weather Service, Dean said.

“We give ground truth reports. Radar doesn’t reach all the way to the ground,” Dean said. “I wonder if none of us had been on that event, if there would have been any more deaths (six were killed in Oklahoma). Veteran chasers really participate in getting the warnings out.”

He acknowledged that traffic was so heavy north of Solomon on Saturday that he changed locations.

“If we had been caught in the convergence, it could have been a dangerous situation,” Dean said. “I personally did not witness any altercations or incidents where emergency vehicles were not allowed to pass. We pulled over to let them pass. That’s what we do.”

Smith said he would apologize to chasers who followed the rules, “the people who were truly out there doing a service. It’s not the professional storm spotters. I’m talking about the idiots chasing the storm.”

Tyler Henoch, who was working as a storm spotter Saturday for KSAL radio, said four Kansas Highway Patrol units passed him with sirens blaring “trying to get people out of the way,” Henoch said, and other drivers “would not move.”

Legitimate storm chasers were not misbehaving, he said. “But right behind those guys were a bunch of amateurs, teenagers, hanging out of windows with video cameras.”

Saline County Sheriff Glen Kochanowski said he saw lines of traffic in several areas Saturday night even as funnels were dropping out of the clouds.

“You had to wait to get around them. They were oblivious to what was going on, as dangerous as it was,” he said.

“They were parked on the sides of the road, on bridges. They were a pain. They’re gawkers out where they don’t need to be.”

Dean’s business books 6-, 10- and 15-day storm chasing tours from April 20 through mid-August. A 10-day excursion through “tornado alley” in the Midwest costs from $3,200 to $3,500, said Dean, who is in his 22nd season as a storm chaser.

“We’re guilty as anyone for trying to capitalize on this. It is income throughout the spring and summer months,” he said.

“We try to police as best we can. You pull over for (emergency) vehicles. That’s a given. This is a gentlemen’s agreement,” Dean said. “The problem is that storm chasing has become mainstream.”

Homman doesn’t see it that way.

“He’s out making a living off of other people’s demise,” Homman said. “Stay in Texas or Oklahoma, or at least use due regard for our safety. That certainly wasn’t maintained (Saturday) from my observation.”


Phoghorn 6 years, 2 months ago

Exactly! Hey, we could automatically order all roads closed as soon as a cloud forms in the sky...martial law can be quite fun...hey that could be a new crime...riding shotgun while sticking camera out window or RSWSCOW (pronounced Roscoe) for short.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 2 months ago

Kind of like we are professional newspapers writers for responding to this article.

Claire Williams 6 years, 2 months ago

If you're not trained in meteorology or as a SKYWARN storm spotter, you don't belong out in those conditions. But I think it is unfair for the officials to paint all of the "chasers" with the same brush-- many of these people doing it for a living have extensive meteorology background; they aren't just kids gawping at a storm. I spent a good part of Saturday listening to the Western KS ham radio traffic, where these "professional chasers" pass along the information they can give from the ground to NWS officials, who monitor the repeaters in situations like this. They are a valuable asset to NWS efforts and shouldn't be criticized for that as long as they are following the rules.

puddleglum 6 years, 2 months ago

nothing wrong with kids gawking at a storm. most of the younger chasers know as much or more than the older generation. I hate to say this, but most anyone that has an Iphone or ipad can update info as fast in the field as we can sitting in front of our TVs at home. Storm chasing is dangerous, and it gets to be a pain when you have to deal with lots of traffic in remote areas. If people are blocking emergency vehicles, then they need to be ticketed. I think the REAL sentiment comes out of the Dickinson county administrator's mouth: “He’s out making a living off of other people’s demise,” Homman said. “Stay in Texas or Oklahoma..." in other words, "Git OUT!" what about funeral homes? talk about making money off of other people's demise. have you priced a coffin lately?

Sergeant 6 years, 2 months ago

Well that makes sense... imagine... Cop, "Sir, I was actually running emergency to help save lives. I noticed you didn't pull over as I approached. Therefore, the saving of lives will have to wait while I stop to issue your ticket. Wait... there's another vehicle blocking the road...."

deskboy04 6 years, 2 months ago

I like watching the video that they shoot of the big storms.

SnakeFist 6 years, 2 months ago

I've always wondered why storm chasing isn't frowned upon as dangerous. After all, the safest place during a tornado-spawning storm is a basement, not a car in traffic. And what's so interesting about driving around in a storm?

BlackVelvet 6 years, 2 months ago

If it doesn't fascinate you, we could never explain it so you could understand.

Phillbert 6 years, 2 months ago

I've lived in Kansas my entire life and have never before heard of charging people thousands of dollars to drive them around on a "tornado tour" so that they could see a tornado destroy someone's house and maybe even kill people. Anything for a dollar...

Louis White 6 years, 2 months ago

Agreed, add it to the list of negative energy B.S.- tattoos, drugs, title and payday loans, paint ball shops, 'Gods and Guns,' "Obama wasn't born in America' and anything else low class and stupid you can think of.

Phoghorn 6 years, 2 months ago

Those are some pretty random dots you are trying to connect there buddy...

Armen Kurdian 6 years, 2 months ago

Storm chasers provide real-time information to state, local, and county officials, weather centers, AND emergency responders as to where tornados are physically located. They provide info on how large they are, windspeeds, direction, linear velocity, etc. The 'gawkers' by the side of the road are not storm chasers. They're just rubberneckers. It is silly to blame storm chasers for traffic jams. They save lives in their own way.

Yes, if there's an emergency vehicle flashing its lights, doesn't matter who you are, get out of the way. But global criticism of these guys is just silliness.

Daniel Speicher 6 years, 2 months ago

I think the key term in this article is "chaser". People who actively chase storms are 99% of the time amateur. Storm "spotters", on the other hand, provide a service. They are stationed around their county (thus not on the road causing a dangerous condition to become even more dangerous) and report back real-time visual information to an emergency services base. Most of these spotter agencies are certified by SkyWarn and provide excellent training that does not withstand the basic practice of pulling over for emergency vehicles.

That is not to say there are not professional storm "chasers"... There are. There are research departments and those making serious documentaries that educate the public that are professional both in terminology and practice. But, if you hear someone tell you they are a "storm chaser" and not a "storm spotter", there is a very high likelihood that they are not, by any means, professional or trained to be out in conditions such as this.

mdlund0 6 years, 2 months ago

It's a strange thing, people wanting to chase these things down. I was once caught in a bad situation with a tornado bearing down on us, and I remember wishing that I was someplace, anyplace, else.

puddleglum 6 years, 2 months ago

that's why you chase them, you don't park in front of them-you keep your distance.

somedude20 6 years, 2 months ago

I started chasing storms because women are just too dangerous to chase anymore. Fun chasing but (insert religious icon here) help them if they catch one

Jock Navels 6 years, 2 months ago

put some bleachers up, have it out on highway 61.

Mark Currie 6 years, 2 months ago

Years ago I worked for Shawnee County. I was trained as a tornado spotter. This was before cell phones video cameras etc. We had to depend on a 2 way radio. I remember one night I was sitting atop a hill in southeast Shawnee County. There was lightening all over the place, it was dark, it was raining. I thought to my self, here I am sitting atop a hill with an antenna sticking up in the air. I decided I was an idiot and headed for home. I went out a couple more times, but when the lightening started to get close & it got dark, I was done.

guppypunkhead 6 years, 2 months ago

Storm or no, the bottom line is that it is the law that you have to clear the way for emergency vehicles as best you can. Besides being the law, it is also common sense. There is someone possibly dying waiting for those emergency crews- let them through!

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

The only thing that flexed my knee was people not pulling over for emergency vehicles. A lot of people don't do that in town. I also don't follow an emergency vehicle to see what is happening. I knew a guy who wanted to do. I left him off at the corner, It could cost some one their life. Divert your route away from the emergency.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.