It’s a common question I get asked, so I decided to blog about it… How did I get into weather? I can assure you that I was not always weather’s biggest fan.. As a young kid, heck even in to grade school, I would run downstairs like the house was on fire when thunder roared at night, planting myself on the floor of my parent’s bedroom. I was pretty terrified. Even in the daytime, without my parents home, or even if they were outside, I would get nervous as the storms approached. I would wait at the door for my Dad to get inside from chores, as the winds picked up and I got increasingly nervous.
I grew up in western, IL in the town of Macomb. Generally we were stuck with the typical mid summer hail and wind storms. Tornadoes weren’t common, but that didn’t make them any less frightening. I can’t recall the date off hand, but I remember watching my brand new trampoline get tossed across the front yard and bent in half. This was just terrifying as a kid! I remember going to the insurance agency with Dad to talk to them about a new one. I remember some hail, I remember wind, but it was the tornadoes that really freaked me out. In fact, I think it was going to the basement that really made me nervous. As I crowded in the basement with Mom and Dad, we were totally oblivious to what was happening outside. If a tornado was coming, we wouldn’t know it. We were heeding the county based warnings at the time so the tornado or area of interest may well have been 15 miles away. The basement to me was just spooky. Hiding under a dark stairwell, tight space, just waiting for impending danger.. I didn’t like it.
I can’t really remember why, but one March, my Mom took me to a NWS spotter training session in my hometown. That was really a turning point.. Seeing images of storms, learning that they have a typical behavior (caveat: not all storms behave the same), was mind blowing. Spotter training taught that you can observe storms and not have to hide in a basement. Obviously, speaking from right now, this is a big DUH. But I was in 7th grade, I really had no clue. From that point, there were a few times where severe weather occurred and I still had some fear.. But it was different.. I would actually anticipate the storms, and cower only once they arrived and we had to go to the basement (re: the scary basement). I also had some really nerdy fascination with hearing the weather radio go off.. It was a rush.. So I just wanted a storm to set it off!!
From this point on, I was totally into it. I would go to study hall at lunch and read my spotter training manual every day. Literally.. Every day… One day the teacher (Mrs. Morgan) asked me what I was reading.. After seeing, she introduced me to Jesse Risley (@jesse_risley), a teacher at the High School. I learned that he was also very into storms! He introduced me to the HAM radio club, other chasers that he knew, etc. This is what really took me from a stay at home spotter, to an actual chaser. I got really into electronics. I would travel to ham radio conventions, buy new weather related gear… I remember one summer a high risk was out over Illinois.. I would be on the dial up internet downstairs, filming the radar.. When a watch or MCD would come out, I would run up the stairs, get on my ham radio and blast it out over the repeater, half out of breath from running up the stairs… Good times…
My First Chase:
I chased a lot in Illinois as a youngster.. I looked up to the big midwest chasers… Jerry Funfsinn, Scott Weberpal, Andrew Pritchard, Skip Talbot, Adam Lucio, Mark Sefried… But I met new friends along the way.. Mike Brady (@chasercentral), who became one of my best buds and still is, Brad Goddard, Scott Bennett and more. My first big chase was the late May outbreak sequence of 2008. I finished my spanish final at about 10am, ran out to the parking lot and hopped in the car with Mike Brady. We blasted west to Kansas. This was my first trip out and I was stoked! We drove right into the heart of a tornado watch, got stuck in the mud, tried to take shelter, got hailed on, got 2 massive trucks stuck trying to pull us out, then got the last room in Hays, KS and destroyed the hotel room with mud up to our knees.
Obviously I have came a long way since then. I’ve learned a lot. Met a lot of great friends while out chasing, seen a lot of neat things and traveled a lot of miles.
Thanks so much to my parents for not giving up on me when I was a nerd in high school. I skipped prom to chase. They bought me cameras, let me chase with friends. Gave me money in the beginning… They really helped me become everything!
Want to laugh?
Check this video out… I built a “pod” with my friend Chris Fitzgerald… It was wooden, sealed, and contained a weather station, a camera, battery, inverter, alarm (to find it) and a light, all controlled with a switch… I did a “test deployment” in a rain shower…. Good stuff!
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