The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Big Story

June 4, 2013

Storm chasing critical, profitable and dangerous



Friday's storm was particularly treacherous because the rotation was wrapped in rain, made frequent sudden turns and spawned multiple tornadoes. Eighteen people died, including several who were in their vehicles when the tornado hit.

"This storm had everything you could handle at one time," said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman. "This was one of the craziest storms I've ever worked.

"It's just Oklahoma weather at the end of May. We had the perfect blend of ingredients."

Professors at the University of Oklahoma's School of Meteorology strongly discourage their students from storm chasing and rarely bring them into the field for research unless it's part of a well-planned, coordinated project.

"I can tell you that from a university perspective, we do not condone storm chasing at all. It's not something we teach in classes," said Melissa Bird, spokeswoman for OU's College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. "It's dangerous, and students are not considered weather experts."

In the end, meteorologists, like Armstrong, believe storm trackers play an important role in keeping the public safe.

"There are aspects of it where storm chasers and storm trackers are always going to play a vital role in the warning process," Armstrong said. "But it is inherently dangerous to be around these storms."

Both Grubb and McMillian said they would continue chasing storms, despite their colleagues' deaths. Grubb, who started chasing storms in 1974, acknowledged the thrill was part of the attraction.

"It's like a magic show watching the clouds do this," he said.


Slevin reported from Thornton, Colo. Associated Press writer David Bauder in New York City contributed to this report

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