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      The evolution of storm chasing

      Thanks to movies like Twister and reality shows like Storm Chasers, people everywhere are itching to go storm chasing: to catch the big one, to defy death and experience the fury of a tornado up close. But contrary to the way it TMs portrayed on TV or in the movies, storm chasing is not wall-to-wall action.Bary Nusz, long-time Storm Search 7 storm chaser said, It TMs hours upon hours of waiting and nothing going on. Hours of driving with nothing to look at, and there may be one minute where your heart is racing a little bit where you TMre close to see something, and that TMs not every chase. That TMs just one out of five chases, maybe.But storm chasing wasn TMt really ever meant to be a thrill-seeking sport. It wasn TMt ever meant to be a hobby. Before the storm chasing craze hit in the late 1990s, the purpose of chasing was two-fold: First, storm spotters and storm chasers relayed important information about severe thunderstorms and tornadoes back to the National Weather Service so that they could better warn the public about what a storm was capable of.The second purpose was for research. Government-funded research programs began back in the ~70s and the data collected through the ~80s was invaluable in the development of NEXRAD radar and the software used to detect various forms of severe weather. The goal of research-based storm chasing now is to better understand the evolution of severe weather, which will ultimately lead to better forecasting and better warnings.But after Twister hit the silver screen, the storm chasing genie was sucked right out of the bottle. An explosion of hobbyist chasers went out into the field. Driven by the unrealistic idea of intercepting one tornadoafter another while still having time to eat steak and eggs at Aunt Em TMs, hundreds of inexperienced people began to track down thunderstorms throughout the Central and Southern Plains.Nusz said, After that came out, we started to see a lot of newbies. And these people would quickly identify you; they would quickly identify the veteran chasers and start following you. And they would pull up and start talking, and you knew they had no idea what they were doing out there, no idea what potential danger there was, and they weren TMt really interested in learning, a lot of them. They were just interested in seeing a tornado.The next step in the progression of storm chasing was inevitable: Someone was going to turn storm chasing into a money-making business, and that TMs exactly what happened at the start of the millennium when storm chasing tours began to pop up. Most of these tours are run by experienced storm chasers who offer people the opportunity to hunt down some of Mother Nature TMs worst for a pretty sizable fee. It TMs not uncommon for these tours to charge $2,000-$3,000 for a week of living out of hotels, eating fast food, and high expectations. It is, however, the best and safest way for inexperienced severe weather enthusiasts to get an eyeful.

      Although no storm chase tours are based here in the High Plains, once our storm season kicks into high gear, you will frequently see SUVs and vans loaded with eager passengers hoping to catch a glimpse of a tornado. The storm chase tour companies know it TMs a by-guess and by-gosh endeavor, so they won TMt guarantee you TMll see a tornado, but they will try their best to get you close to some serious weather action.Regardless of how long a storm chase tour has been operating or how experienced a chaser is, storm chasing is an incredibly dangerous undertaking. If you don TMt have a firm grasp on how thunderstorms andtornadoes work, the best thing you can do is stay home and stay safe. If you don TMt know what you TMre looking at or where you TMre supposed to be, you can become a hazard to yourself and others.However, if you simply can TMt resist the urge to see a storm up close, then you can always take a beginners and advanced-level storm spotter training course. That way, you will not only have a better understanding of thunderstorms and tornadoes, but you TMll also learn how to help the National Weather Service by submitting storm reports. The NWS offers free spotter classes every year.In the end, the best thing to do is leave the storm chasing and storm spotting to those with years of experience. It TMs not for those looking to jump in the car for an adrenaline rush. Thunderstorms and tornadoes killhundreds of people each year. Play it safe, and stay out of harm TMs way.