Sunny vacations? No way!
RAP scientist leads tourists toward tornadoes
While some vacationers might opt for a luxury cruise in
the Caribbean and others prefer a quiet camping trip in Yellowstone, increasing
numbers want to spend their vacations chasing the worst weather they can
findespecially one of natures greatest spectacles, the tornado.
To meet this demand, several tour companies have formed in recent years
to bring people closer to severe storms.
Enter Scott Landolt, associate scientist in NCARs Research Applications
Program. A veteran storm chaser, he spent his vacation this year as an
employee of Silver Lining Tours, one of several companies offering trips
along Tornado Alley.
Like many other staffers, Scott has gone storm chasing with friends. But
he prefers working as a tour guide, escorting weather buffs from as far
away as New Zealand and Germany. I enjoy the camaraderie and getting
to meet people from different places, he says. Plus the equipment
on the vans really helps us to pinpoint the weather.
led two tours of about a week each in mid-May and late June. His role
as a meteorological tour guide was twofold. He provided weather briefings,
as well as meteorological explanations of storms, for the participants
at the start of each day, andover the course of the two tourshe
drove a van approximately 9,700 miles, crisscrossing several states in
pursuit of storms. How demanding was Scotts itinerary? In May, he
drove from Denver to Oklahoma City to pick up the van and the tour participants.
The group then traveled back to Colorado Springs, north to Douglas, Wyoming,
southeast to York, Nebraska, on to Salina, Kansas, and then back to Oklahoma
City, before heading for Wichita Falls, Midland, and Amarillo, Texas.
Scott and the other tour drivers used weather forecasts from two models,
RUC (Rapid Update Cycle) and Eta, to decide where to hunt storms each
day. They also conferred frequently by radio to decide which weather patterns
showed the most promise for severe storm activity.
Such six-to-ten day tours typically cost about $2,000 or a bit more per
person for transportation (in a 15-person van) and lodging. Dining out
during such trips can be something of a hit-or-miss proposition. Scott
cautions that a meal might consist of a hotdog at 7-11. People have
to be pretty flexiblewe often eat wherever we can along the back
Despite the sometimes rushed pace, clients come from across the United
States as well as overseas to seek out
tornadoes, hailstorms, and other instances in which updrafts and downdrafts
lead to weather mayhem. Severe weather holds a strong attraction
for many people. The unpredictability of weather is definitely a draw,
Scott explains. Storm chasing is an addiction. Theres always
of the unknownwhat are we going to see today?
Scotts second 2002 tour began with what turned out to be his best
storm-chasing day of the summer. On 23 June, he and his five-person group
witnessed eight tornadoes in northeastern South Dakota near the town of
Leola. Describing one tornado, Scott relates, We were driving pretty
fast and the tornado was following us. It was back lit by the Sun and
picking up speed as it traveled in a straight line down the dirt road
we were on. I could see trees disappearing. As I looked in my rear- and
side-view mirrors, I could see a black boiling cloud behind meit
sounded like a rushing waterfall.
That day was definitely the most memorable of the tour for Clair Bailey,
a British accountant on her fourth tour (the first was an 18th birthday
present from her family). This was the first year that I had been
fortunate enough to see tornadoes on a tour, even though Id previously
seen amazing supercell structures and large hail and lightning,
Clair says. The first tornado the group saw formed into a violent wedge,
and we watched in awe as it crossed a road
a mile ahead of us. I was totally stunned and amazed that I was actually
seeing what I had been watching on videos
Client reactions vary widely, according to Roger Hill, one of Scotts
colleagues. Roger is a veteran storm
chaser who holds an unofficial record for witnessing 40 tornadoes in a
single season. We tell clients that they could be in some dangerous
situations, but some dont realize that until it happens. We had
a father and daughter leave the tour after coming really close to a rain-wrapped
tornado in North Dakota a couple of years ago. They got to see the incredible
damage as it was happening, and we were very close. It scared them so
much, they left.
In contrast, Scott tells about an attorney who signed up for a tour with
his teenage son. This guy set up a little office in the back of
the van and, as we were traveling, hed be sitting back there wheeling
and dealing on his cell phone. We actually drove through a bad hailstorm
and the guy just sat back there, working.
The storm chasing experience, although certainly not for everybody, allows
those who love weather and adventure to combine these two interests. The
first large-scale chasing for research took place in the 1970s at the
National Severe Storms Laboratory and Texas Tech University. Scott and
Roger agree that the 1996 movie Twister, which dramatized storm chasing,
had a lot to do with popularizing the activity among nonmeteorologists.
Storm-chasing traffic has increased substantially in the past few years.
Roger has witnessed nearly 300 vehicles lined up on the back roads of
Texas and Oklahoma during peak days of storm season.
Are people who get close to severe storms putting themselves in unnecessary
danger? Clair doesnt think so. If I went chasing alone without
someone who knows what theyre doing, then yes, I would consider
that a risk, she explains. When chasing with Scott Landolt
and Roger Hill, though, I have complete confidence in their abilities.
Nancy Norris Wade
Nancy, employment administrator in Human Resources, is an occasional contributor
to SN Monthly.
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