On Liking and Enjoying Storms

One thing I encounter a lot on weather blogs and forums that are geared to the general public (as opposed to just meteorologists) is that certain people, typically not meteorologists, will step in whenever it looks like an exciting weather event may happen and lecture those participants who, whether implicitly or blatantly, indicate that they want the storm to affect them. “No you don’t, and if you say that, you’ve never been in one before.” There are some weather forums that you would think, from reading the remarks of these self-appointed morality police, are actually weather-hating blogs, because any time that something interesting looks like it may happen, they come in and say that they don’t want it to, pressuring everyone else to chime in and agree or be condemned.

I grow very tired of this. It is self-righteous, ridiculously dishonest (after all, why participate in a weather forum if you aren’t interested in exciting weather?), and fundamentally incorrect to boot. Are any of them familiar with Reed Timmer, for instance? What about the other storm chasers like him? People chase tropical cyclones now too, which is far more dangerous than chasing tornadoes. I rather doubt that these sorts of remarks apply to them. I’m pretty sure they have indeed been in storms before, and I’m also quite sure that they want them to happen. It is no secret that storm chasers get excited about “High Risk” days and dread a “bust.”

As a graduate meteorology student, I observed that more of us are closet thrill seekers than not… with a good many not even closeted about it. We don’t study the weather because we love persistent highs and boring non-events, and most of the meteorology students I have met decided to study it because of a storm that they went through as a child. I know this applies to me. For me I am not completely sure that there was one particular formative event; it may have been a hurricane in ’88 that made landfall while my family and I were on the Alabama Gulf Coast, it may have been an F3 tornado in spring of ’92, it may have been Hurricane Andrew, or it may even have been Hurricane Floyd, though I believe I was already long hooked by that time. But there is little doubt in my mind that being involved in a storm is what got me interested in meteorology in the first place, and most people I’ve spoken to have a similar story.

Just since the turn of the century, I’ve been through Ivan, Katrina, Noel, and the 2011 Super Outbreak—in fact, one of the EF-5s came close to me. I want storms to affect me because I get a rush out of it, and I know perfectly well what they are like, thanks. If they weren’t like that, I wouldn’t get that rush and I probably wouldn’t be studying the weather!

Please note that wanting storms to affect you does not equal “wanting storms to kill people,” and the fact that most of them do tends to cause guilt in us thrill-seeking mets who enjoy them so much. We don’t want that. But we do want them to affect us, to the extent that many of us deliberately put ourselves in them, and we certainly know what they are like. There is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring an adrenaline rush out of nature. It is much safer, despite the risks of storm chasing (not to mention living on the coast, in the case of hurricanes), than using illegal drugs to get a rush. I am a coffee addict, but I’ll even say that getting a rush from nature is safer than getting it from caffeine! And unlike drug usage (including caffeine), it can result in scientific discoveries and data that would be all but impossible to obtain any other way.