Texas Wants to Know

Texas Wants to Know: What it Takes to be a Storm Chaser

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Spring in Texas means severe weather season -- and a busy time of year for storm chasers. "Tornado season" historically runs from late spring to early summer, but this year, the state has already seen several tornadoes through mid-March.

Storm chasers play an integral role in helping meteorologists and the National Weather Service collect data radar alone can't always provide.

"Until we get some sort of ground truth or a storm spotter or a storm chaser saying, 'Hey, yeah, tornado warning, that tornado is on the ground.' Because a lot of the circulations that radar picks up, that does not they don't reach the ground," KRLD Chief Meteorologist Dan Brounoff said. "So that's one of the most valuable things that have as many eyes on the ground looking at the sky as possible."

The kind of information Brounoff is talking about takes a level of knowledge about the weather beyond just stepping outside and pointing a camera at the sky.

"You've got to understand and interpret what the clouds are doing, you know, because inherently you're going to get into positions where you're not going to have all this technology," storm chaser Jeff Stephens said. "And then all you've got is your visuals. And that, to me, is learning what clouds or what and not thinking that a scud cloud is actually a funnel. And a funnel is not a tornado. You know, just understand the fundamentals of it."

Every storm chaser we talked to for this story shared tales of close calls or getting stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. And just about all of them said tornadoes were not their biggest fear.

"The scariest thing is probably big hail. Tornadoes, you can kind of see them in the distance, and you can get out of the way as long you don't get too close," storm chaser Joe Bajza said. "But the hail, if you get wrapped up in the hail, it'll break windows. It'll crack your windshield. I mean, you get dents in your car."

But if avoiding the hail and the tornadoes is possible, storm chasers said there's nothing like seeing what the weather can do.

"There's definitely adrenaline, especially when you start out and you see the first storm go up and you see the first beautiful structure of the day. It's exciting. It's awesome," storm chaser Jennifer Stark said. "Like I always tell people, when you're out in the middle of nowhere and you see this beautiful structure, it is absolutely mesmerizing. You cannot take your eyes off of it."

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