LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – The vast, mostly flat expanse of land called the Great Plains is almost a second home for WAVE 3 News Meteorologist Ryan Hoke. As a high schooler, he was invited to be an apprentice severe weather forecaster for Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, an outfit that takes tourists from all over the world up close to storms and tornadoes. Since those early days he has been going back to Tornado Alley every year to learn more about storms, even now as a meteorologist.
What the group is in search of is a type of storm called a supercell. These smaller, yet powerful individual storms have a tendency to put down tornadoes when conditions are just right. During the May and June tornado season in the Great Plains these storms bring out droves of storm chasers. So many of them now pursue storms that so-called “chaser traffic jams” develop at times in rural areas.
With these traffic jams and other hazards that storm chasers face, the practice has come under scrutiny. Why do people chase storms if it seems so dangerous? For many, it’s a photographic expedition. Amateur and professional photographers who chase storms are always looking for that perfect shot of a supercell thunderstorm or tornado. For others, it’s the thrill of the chase that brings them out to Tornado Alley. For meteorologists and storm enthusiasts like Ryan, it’s almost a course of professional development as they get to interact with the storms they forecast and teach others about them.
But storm chasing isn’t about chasing storms all of the time. It requires hours of driving just to get to a spot where a storm could form. It’s an art that requires quite a bit of patience. That patience sometimes pays off in a big way. On June 6, the last day of Hoke’s chase this year, their group saw a small tornado near Roggen, Colorado that stayed on the ground for about twenty minutes. The speed at which the storm produced a tornado is why meteorologists tell the public to stay in a safe place during severe weather, even if no tornado has been spotted yet. As far as storm chasing goes? Hoke says to leave that one to the professionals.