Why storm chasing in NJ is a very, very bad idea
On March 28, 2007, I had my first face-to-face meeting with a tornado. On that particular evening, in the Texas panhandle, my team ended up "catching" a total of three confirmed twisters. The strongest was rated EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, destroying a mobile home, a barn, and two windmills.
Why was I out in middle-of-nowhere Hall County, Texas, perilously close to a dangerous supercell thunderstorm? It was part of my job — meteorologist at KSWO-TV in Lawton, Oklahoma.
That was the first and only time I successfully "caught" a tornado. One of the defining moments of my career — that encounter cemented in my mind the awesome, unstoppable power of Mother Nature.
You may be familiar with the concept of "storm chasing". Maybe from Twister, every meteorologist's favorite movie from 1996. Possibly from Storm Chasers, the long-running documentary reality series from the Discovery Channel. Or from live storm coverage on one of the national weather television outlets.
Yes, chasing tornadoes is thrilling. And of course, it can be very dangerous.
But there is a safe way to track and spot thunderstorms from the field.
And there is an important reason for it too — live reports of "ground truth" observations are critically important for forecasters and broadcasters (like me!) Photos and video are also important for post-storm surveys, research projects, and education/outreach initiatives.
When I moved back to New Jersey in 2012, I made a few attempts at "chasing" on particularly nasty weather days. Despite my meteorological training and "Tornado Alley" field experience, I ran into all sorts of problems.
Before anyone thinks that you can safely or successfully chase storms in New Jersey, let me explain why it's not a great idea.