Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tragedy in El Reno

By now you've heard about the three storm chasers killed near El Reno, Oklahoma Friday evening. We just learned this morning that the tornado has been rated EF-5, with a record-setting width of 2.6 miles.  296 mph winds at a height of 500 feet above the ground were measured by a research radar in the field.  According to reports, the tornado widened from a mile to 2.6 miles in about 30 seconds!  And if that wasn't bad enough, sub-vorticies in and around the tornado were moving at a forward speed of over 150 mph!

I didn't know Tim Samaras, his son Paul or Carl Young, the three chasers who died. Our own Storm Team 12 Chaser Tony Laubach knew the trio well.  Tony chased with Tim for several years and called Tim a cautious storm chaser.  But given the new information this morning, perhaps that sheds some light in how the tornado struck the veteran group.

In the face of tragedy, I know authorities want to react. This isn't a new issue.  In the last several years, a few emergency managers and law enforcement officials in our own state have wanted to ban storm chasers from their counties.  I understand the need to keep the general public safe and to keep roads clear for emergency services.  It's not time for a knee-jerk reaction though.

Many storm chasers provide real-time reports from the field and overall help to keep the public safer.  When tornadoes threatened the Hays and Rozel areas on Saturday, May 18, we had live video and reports from Tony and another one of our longtime chasers Ed Oneal.  The following day, Tony was southwest of Wichita, providing us a view of the tornado near Viola.

On the flip side, I've seen a number of folks, without any real clue about storm behavior and movement, who hear about a tornado and decide to jump in their car, heading straight toward the storm.  They have no business in putting themselves and other motorists, including knowledgeable chasers, in harm's way.  How do we begin to balance this?  Can we?  The truth is: you can't outlaw storm chasers from the field.  As tax payers, we all deserve to share the roads.  But I believe that all of us need to be more careful and respectful.  If we don't learn something from this event, then I'm afraid it'll repeat itself again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are correct that there are legitimate storm chasers and others (probably too many) who have no business being out in those conditions--not only risking their lives but the lives of those who are truly being a valuable source of storm information.