How did it all start?
Every once in awhile someone will ask, "how did you get into storm chasing"?
Its an easy question to answer but requires a little bit of time, an open mind, and attentive set of ears.
I say this because there isn't just one thing that drove my interest into pursuing weather phenomenon.
Many chasers and weather enthusiasts might agree with me on this.
There are piles of memories and experiences going way back to my childhood and teenage years that led to this lifestyle.
There just isn't 'one' thing that set it off.
Looking back, I remember listening to my Grandparents talking about the 1958 F5 tornado that devastated parts of western Wisconsin. Notably Colfax, Wisconsin.
Or, the 'Storm of 1980'... Which was a powerful derecho event that leveled forests and farmland across several counties in west-central Wisconsin, causing millions of dollars in damage.
Those stories stoked my fascination at a very early age. Just hearing them from the people that actually experienced these events was exciting and new to me.
I also remember watching a Nova episode on PBS that featured tornado research in the great plains when I was a kid. Howie Bluestein's research project was the focal point of this edition. I was in complete awe!
It was the first time I ever seen a tornado on television and it was shocking to me.
I felt a slight sense of fear but I couldn't stop watching.
I wanted to know more about what I was seeing. The fear kinda led to an obsession early on.
In my teenage years my family relocated to the country out on a narrow back road in Dunn County, which seemed like was out in the middle of nowhere. And it kinda was.
There wasn't a storm siren to let us know when it was time to get into the basement.
I grew up in a small village most of my childhood and whenever the skies turned dark and the the storm sirens went off, you dropped what you were doing and headed for cover.
That security apparatus simply didn't exist out in the countryside.
So, one of the ways to determine whether a storm was going to be bad or not was to go outside and actually watch it. At least we thought so...
We always knew well ahead of time when big storms were heading our way when Dave Dahl, the Chief Meteorologist for KSTP Channel-5 News out of the Twin Cities was on the TV doing live coverage of severe weather rumbling across eastern Minnesota and into west-central Wisconsin.
Since we had a terrific view of the western sky line at that time my brothers and I would head outside and watch these magnificent storms move in.
We didn't know what we were looking at, or what the names of the clouds were and such. We weren't scared either.
It was pure excitement and awe watching a shelf cloud taking on the form of a massive stack of ridged plates with aqua blue tint in between the layers rumble it's way toward us.
The constant lightning flickering non-stop back in the greenish, dark-purple precipitation core was mesmerizing.
Then the initial blast of wind would have us running back to the house. Sometimes, we would be pelted by hail or gigantic rain drops during our hasty retreat.
As soon as we were in the safe confines inside the house we would gleefully look out the windows as the wind and rain whipped the landscape with all of it's ferocity.
These type of experiences would happen every summer and I began to look forward to them.
I began to pay attention to the local news for any word of severe weather in the 7-day forecast.
We didn't have weather websites or apps that would spoon feed us weather information at the click of a button. We had to depend on only a few sources. Which was the radio and the local news channels. That made it fun.
I loved watching Meteorologists on TV during severe weather outbreaks back then. You got to see their passion put to good use and they kept people interested in what was going on since that was pretty much the only source of up-to-date information that was readily available to the public at the time.
Into my early adult years certain priorities began to take precedence. Such as finding a job, finding my own place to live, and paying bills. Among other frivolous things. "Adulting", as many would call it.
I missed many opportunities to pursue severe weather during that time.
But the fire was still glowing inside me. Faintly, but it was still there.
I did chase a few storms but I didn't know what I was doing. I was putting myself into danger more than anything. I needed to seriously re-evaluate my motives.
Then April 10th, 2011 happened. A severe weather outbreak that produced 15 tornadoes across Wisconsin.
I got to see an ominous wall cloud north of Osseo Wisconsin that day, and experienced storms like I haven't experienced them before.
Even though I didn't see much that day, that whole experience enlightened me.
I began to have a new outlook on storm chasing. I had to build myself up from scratch by educating myself and making the pursuit of storm chasing more of a priority if I really wanted to be somewhat successful at it.
It took a few years to work out the kinks and Im getting better at it.
Don't get me wrong, Im always learning something new every year.
Nature never ever works in your favor. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Its that simple.
Today, I make storm chasing a priority during my off-time during the summer.
Since technology these days allow us to dig deeper than ever before I spend some of my free time researching weather phenomenon and chasing strategies. There is always room for improvement!
It has become a passion.
It has become a happy place for me.
Not everyone will understand it and that is okay.
As long as they give me a chance with an open mind I am always happy to tell them about how I got into this thing called Storm Chasing.
- Joe S. (WIWX)
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