BARBER COUNTY, KS – When severe weather rumbled into south central Kansas on Wednesday evening, storm chasers were there to follow. Lately, one Kansas sheriff even took to the roads with a bullhorn to ask those camped out along the highways to move. Barber County Sheriff Justin Rugg said he only wanted everyone to be safe. Storm chasing is hot. But who could have imagined it would be this hot at a time when it wasn’t?
Things are different than they were in the early days. In fact, technology has advanced storm chasing for those who are merely wanting to see a tornado up-close and in person. All you need is a laptop, broadband Internet access, a radar program and a smart phone. That makes you about as able as one can be to see magic in the sky.
For instance, twenty-five years ago it wasn’t uncommon to have a handful of storm spotters (or chasers) along with a member of the county fire department perched on a hill. The crowded roadways of today just didn’t happen. The reason might have been the lack of technology. Then, you needed a Rand McNally road map, a weather radio, police scanner and a plan. A chaser needed to know where storms were going to form. Remember, in 1990 there was no way to access that information online unless you subscribed from National Weather Service data, usually via satellite. Did I also mention that storm chasing wasn’t nearly as cool?
That all changed with the release of the move “Twister”. The film hit theaters on May 10, 1996, in the midst of tornado season. It was a smash. That same year, a long line of storm chasers were parked along Highway 50 in central Kansas watching a rope tornado near the town of Buhler. Storm chasing was cool.
As technology advanced, storm chasers became much like mobile disc-jockeys. In the early-days of entertaining at parties, you needed to buy your equipment and your music. Today, music can be shared, stored and downloaded instantly. The horror of not having a Celine Dion slow-dance song for a bride’s first dance (that she forgot to request in advance) can be easily solved by downloading it in a flash.
Storm chasers don’t need a satellite subscription to NOAA’s data. The road map is a dying breed. New gadgets and GPS will take you where you want to go, when you want to get there. The money shot of a tornado is not that far away, not that hard to find anymore.
All of this is okay. After all, anyone who loves weather should be allowed to pursue their passion. Technology has made it easier for those who haven’t studied weather and those who have.
There was a time though when telling your friends you were going storm chasing was met with laughter, or the response, “what a nerd”.
Now those same people will gladly line up to ride along to see Mother Nature’s wild side.
How times have changed.