For me one of the most disturbing aspects of the Joplin tornado, which left at least 117 people dead when it struck southwestern Missouri on May 22, is that it was pursued by at least two teams of storm chasers, one of which was filming for a national TV show. Some might argue that storm chasers serve a valuable scientific purpose in gathering data that will allow the destructive forces of tornadoes to be better understood and predicted, so that lives will be saved in the future. And it’s true that after the Joplin tornado, as is often the case, storm chasers were among the first on hand to help the survivors, arriving well before EMTs and firemen. But for me it’s impossible to overlook the fact that for most who undertake it, storm chasing is strictly a recreational activity. The emotional reality is that storm chasers enjoying immersing themselves in a force of nature that takes lives. Indeed, their activities may actively contribute to the death toll.
It’s been 12 years since I went tornado-hunting myself. I was reporting a story about weather junkies for a now-defunct magazine. I spent a long day driving around Oklahoma with Cloud 9 Tours (which was one of the outfits on hand for this year’s Joplin twister), then got caught up in reporting the aftermath of that year’s deadly tornado, an F5 twister that tore through the town of Moore, Oklahoma. It was one death in particular that made me forever question the morality of storm chasing. I was never tempted to go again. Read the rest of this entry »