Beyond the Green Screen: I Was a Storm Chaser, Once.
Showers and thunderstorms are a part of the forecast this week and for other parts of the country, severe weather is expected. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of fellow meteorologists who are lucky enough to chase these storms. I had my opportunity back in April of 2010.
There was a risk for severe thunderstorms that could potentially produce tornadoes in west Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Experienced chaser Aaron Gerhardt and Meteorologist Aaron Shaffer, who I had met a weather conference once, was working with another TV station and offered to bring myself and a WQAD photographer, Anthony Panicucci, along for the ride. My boss agreed to let us go as long as I provided live updates for the later newscasts. Anthony and I then headed to Iowa City.
I was extremely excited but slightly unprepared. I had come to work that day in beige slacks and ballet flats. We had to stop at Target so I could get a pair of jeans. Because we were in a rush I bought the first pair that I thought would work so we could get on the road. They ended up being too big which was very annoying, but that wouldn’t be the only thing that got on my nerves at the end of the day.
Anyone who has storm chased knows how patient you must be. It’s basically a sit and wait game. To fill the time we practiced ducking for cover in a low lying area along a country road with safety gear on. We took pictures of the storms in the distance and we ate at local hole-in-the-wall restaurants. We continued to look at the latest forecast models and monitor radar in the car. We ran into heavy rain, strong winds and saw some ominous looking clouds but our luck ran dry when it came to spotting any funnel clouds. To make matters worse we had driven all the way out to Omaha, Nebraska. We had a long drive back home. Anthony and I were ready to hit up a drive thru and head back. Aaron insisted on eating in downtown Omaha and we obliged to be polite. We joke about it today.
Anthony and I made it back to WQAD around 2 am the next morning. We were disappointed we hadn’t seen any tornadoes but that’s how it goes. If I do get another chance, I’ll bring snacks, reading material, and a suitable pair of pants.