TV Tornado Chasing Run Amok

I was sorry to learn three storm chasers were killed in Oklahoma. But let’s face it, we knew this was coming. What’s sad is that those who were killed were among the most scientifically legitimate of the pack of thrill seekers out doing this “job.” Not that we want anybody killed – but the three who were killed weren’t “playing.”

I was relieved to also learn that one of the dead was not my old pal Mike Bettes who after we worked together in Columbus, got his dream job with the Weather Channel – and doubled down on that dream job chasing violent weather.

Over the weekend, Bettes did get close to meeting his maker. Here’s his graphics-plastered SUV:

Bettes SUV

Our first sign that something is awry comes from the “Tornado Hunt 2013″ graphic on the live-capable SUV.

Scientists chase grants and funding, the media chases ratings – and scientists and the media are chasing each other – all while chasing tornadoes.

Media pressure, money, great video, and danger – all wrapped up in the guise of research and providing a valuable public service. It’s amazing more haven’t been killed.

Even Bettes did a commentary last year about the traffic jams being created by all the tornado junkies. It’s a little weird to watch this now considering what has happened.

After that commentary, several rebuttals gestured at some of the problems associated with the high number of chasers and the demand for dramatic video:

Let’s face it. Most tornado chasing isn’t science, it’s a TV show. Even the scientists were on TV shows at one time or another, which of course, turns everybody into a “scientist” and a “researcher” wanting to go out to chase storms, and build a hit Youtube channel, or even better, be on TV.

Next is a clip from Brandon Sullivan – another “storm chaser” idiot screaming like a little girl at 3:45 in this video – making his own version of “natural sound” to go along with the compelling pictures.

Now, on CNN he told us all that the vehicle was in no danger of being hit by the tornado.

But that didn’t stop him from shilling his hysterical video to any media outlet that would bite. Science is one thing, but getting the performance right – that’s what counts.

What really kills me is when the anchor back in the studio tries to emote: “Be safe. Take care.” Give me a break. Wanna’ be safe? Move AWAY from tornadoes.

Like mountain climbing, car racing or skydiving – stuff happens when you’re taking out-sized risks – especially when TV or the lure of notoriety is involved.

It is also especially dangerous when a “pack” mentality gets going.

Traffic jams on Everest get climbers killed, as does summit fever.

The same dynamic is involved in storm chasing on the plains where now, more than 100 crews are out chasing, getting in each other’s way, and increasing the risks involved by trying to outdo each other.

I strongly question the value of chasers as reporters, researchers or early-warning aids.

One helicopter and radar can do what 100 storm chasers do safely and more effectively without endangering public safety workers out trying to make rescues.

So in the end – if you want to chase – so be it. Just realize what it is: A weather related spin-off of Jackass.