The Reality of Storm Chase Yahoos

Roger Edwards

Updated 2-7-2 for site move

DISCLAIMER: These opinions are mine only, and do not represent my unnamed employer or anyone else in particular. If you have problems with what I am saying, address them directly to me, not my co-workers, supervisors, friends, relatives or neighbors...none of whom have any control over what I write on my own time and equipment (re: First Amendment).


What is a yahoo? Judging from occasional e-mails and assorted WX-CHASE threads over the past few years, a lot of people with strong opinions on the subject simply don't know!

Long ago, veteran storm observer and atmospheric scientist Chuck Doswell coined the term "yahoo" to describe storm chasers who engage in reckless, dangerous and inconsiderate behavior out in the field. Chuck and others have taken a lot of undeserved abuse over that term, perhaps because it was not clearly enough explained at the time. It was not meant to vilify every instance where someone drove a little too fast, got stuck in some mud, slid on a wet road, almost got hit by lightning, forgot to repair a leaky transmission or made a navigational mistake! After all, who among storm observers has never made an error?

Is every chaser, then, a yahoo? No. Instead, the "yahoo" is the chronically inconsiderate bonehead, the normally sane person who often loses his ability to think clearly and act safely in the heat of the moment -- under pressure to catch up and get that intense footage -- or the vacuum-brain who doesn't have that ability at all. These are the people who have decided that chasing is "kewl dude," without taking the time to learn how to do it right. These are the people who run others off the road, set up tripods in traffic lanes, drive 90 mph on a wet two-lane, roar across private property, barge into NWS offices demanding that forecasters drop what they are doing to provide a spot tornado forecast, or steal food from NWS office refrigerators. Then there are a few yahoo media crews, justifying all sorts of dangerous actions on the roadways to get the most extreme possible close-up footage of neighborhoods being shredded apart, all in the name of "serving the viewing public" and winning an Emmy. Most yahoos will never even bother to read this essay, or even be aware of its existence!


Yahoos are reality -- thankfully, a tiny minority of chasers on any given storm -- but they are out there. To deny it is blind and grossly mistaken. Chuck and I gathered several accounts of dangerous and/or irresponsible chaser behavior in our essay on media chasers; so I won't reiterate those. On 5 May 1993, well-respected and law-abiding chaser Jon Davies was arrested in southwest Kansas as a result of someone else's very dangerous and illegal actions just a few moments before. Jon has composed a thoughtful essay on his unfortunate experience which is well worth reading.

Consider some more recent episodes; and consider the likelihood of other events which haven't yet been reported....

On 3 May 1999, a tornado destroyed a house southwest of Oklahoma City, injuring some of the occupants. When they crawled from the rubble, they saw a vehicle stop in their driveway as if to render aid. Instead, they saw the people in the vehicle shooting video of the scene before driving off. Several weeks later, a so-called storm chaser sent a videotape to NSSL. The person who sent the tape was the same thoughtless yahoo who had filmed the dazed and injured people at the home site...and the scene was on the video! These cowards also ran themselves and a dog off the road -- and eventually sold some of their inclose tornado footage from that tape for several thousand dollars. Like it or not, those "chasers" represent all storm observers to those folks in that house -- and in the minds of everyone else whom the residents tell about the experience, including local law enforcement and the media. [I don't know the names of the yahoos; and perhaps that is a good thing for them and me.] Who really pays? All of us, for the asinine actions of a very few.

Here is another disturbing account, sent to me on 1 January 2000 by a concerned chaser who nearly lost his life to a yahoo. His report inspired this essay; and I have edited it only for name removal, spelling and grammar:

    I've only been chasing for about 8 years, so bear with me. I'm by no means an "expert/experienced" chaser (though I do predate Twister, thank the Lord).

    Last year, I had a rather nasty Yahoo encounter. On April 2nd of 1999, I was, along with another chase vehicle (a friend) attempting to get a better position on the Aspermont supercell, which later produced the Aspermont tornado. I was around eleven miles or so NE of Aspermont (damned good chase position I would have been in...would have...) when a guy that had been following the second vehicle decided he was getting too impatient with our driving, or just decided he was gonna "solo" it. [We were being a bit careful due to a number of factors, especially the size of the hail that day we happened to "run across".]

    In the process, he clipped the driver's side of my van (mini-van), and managed to stay away for a whole second or so before he smashed into me again, putting me firmly in a ditch. Needless to say I missed out on the rest of the chase that day. The guy didn't even stop. Aside from cosmetic damage, a broken door lock and one PO'd chaser, no earth shattering damage was done, but it could have been much, much worse. Had he run me off the road about a half mile up I'd probably been severely injured...maybe killed...who knows. The other chaser (a friend) stopped to make sure I was all right, and then I told him I'd be fine, and that I just needed to make sure everything was running kosher. I told him to go on with the chase, but by this time the tornado (which only briefly touched down) had already dissipated. [It was a mighty impressive, almost classic supercell. There was an article in Storm Track about this storm. I think it's in the '99 chase logs somewhere.]

    Sadly, we were unable to get the individual's plates. He was far gone when my friend, who was almost half a mile behind me, caught up; and I was too busy making sure I was in one piece to worry about it at that time. I did however report it. [It was great trying to explain that one to the insurance carrier.]

In a later message, he told me that the yahoo who did this was an uninvited, "tag-along" chaser he didn't recognize, with one or two passengers, who had been following him and his friend. That incident went WAY beyond mere irresponsibility. The perpetrator is a criminal and should be standing trial for failure to stop and render aid, assault with a deadly weapon (vehicle), reckless endangerment and attempted murder. He will probably stoop to that level again, and the next victim may not be as lucky as my correspondent. It should bother every conscientious chaser that the criminal is still loose on the roads of West Texas, and possibly elsewhere too.


In several WX-CHASE threads and private e-mail conversations, there have been claims that the "yahoo" is a fictional being concocted by the "ivory tower elite" of storm chasing, in order to sneer at all the less-experienced newbies. There are veteran chasers who act like yahoos too, some say. Yes, I respond...there are a few. Dangerous behavior crosses all experience levels in chasing, unfortunately; though I argue it is less common among the veterans. In some ways, the handful of guys who have many years of experience as unsafe, inconsiderate chase bozos do make things worse! By getting away with it for so long without either dying in a crash or being thrown in jail, they are setting a terrible example for others who may accompany them or observe the way they operate. Propagation of stupidity is indeed possible!

One big misconception that this debate has generated in some media quarters is that of "storm chasing" as full of wild outlaws. Such is not the case; in fact:

  1. Most serious storm observers are conscientious of their own safety and others' and desire to contribute to the greater benefit of the hobby and weather science.
  2. The presence of yahoos isn't unique to storm observing; there are similar elements in almost all hobbies. From a railroad switchman and train aficionado who wrote to me early in 2002: "The train watching world is also full of boorish miscreants, but they are best ignored or arrested for trespassing. The worst are usually run over sooner or later, causing heavy vomiting in the engine house when we have to wash them off the front of the engine. "

Some say that "we" who dare mention yahoos -- presuming, as the most insecure among my detractors have, that I am a member of some mysterious conspiratorial "elite" -- resent all newcomers and want to keep chasing to ourselves. Dead wrong. I heartily welcome newcomers to this hobby who have a genuine desire to learn about severe storms, safely observe and document them, and contribute their knowledge to the common good. [Because there are more people who have asked to chase with me than I could ever accommodate, I am very selective about who accompanies me on a storm intercept. But over the last 15 years, the list of "newbies" or people of relatively little experience who have ridden with me on at least one storm chase is too long to recall.]

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it also has been claimed that there is no problem with dangerous chaser behavior. Everyone is so nice and safe and sweet and considerate all the time; and if you believe that, you have a hundred bucks waiting under your pillow tonight from the tooth fairy. It is especially amusing to read e-mail posts from those who whine about the need to "stop labelling people." Yet, often without realizing it, we all do so every day, whenever using a collective term for any group of people (liberals, conservatives, criminals, racists, intolerants, alcoholics, or any of thousands of other collectives). Nobody never uses labels for others; so that complaint is innately hypocritical.

Some say that "we" in the chaser "elite" are imagining things. Yahoos are not real. "We" are just being divisive and exclusionary. Such claims are themselves divisive and exclusionary, pitting the so-called "newbies" against the "elite." So why engage in such insecure and unproductive sniping? What a waste of time! My advice: grow up and get real, because you may be the next person run off the road by a "fictional concept." And you may be killed.


Yahoos will only give up when their interest or money runs out, when new thrill fads appeal more to them, or when they succumb to the principles of Darwin. New ones will appear every year, like roaches crawling out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, they are incapable of cerebral morphalaxis. But be assured that you are not helpless in the face of others' idiocy. There are things conscientious storm observers of all experience levels can do about yahoos. First, learn for yourself how to intercept storms responsibly and safely. Above all, set a positive example in your actions. Yes, mistakes and accidents can happen even to the best and most experienced chasers in the "heat of battle;" but when they do, acknowledge and admit them. Learn from those mistakes, teach others the lesson so they don't repeat the error, and move on.

When talking to media or the general public about chasing, represent it truly and positively as a learning experience filled with many long hours of nothing but empty skies. Be honest about the hazards (lightning, wet roads, hail, damaging wind, animals on the road, floods, etc.); but don't overdramatize the danger element. Don't talk about thrillseeking or adrenaline rushes in the face of death; such tabloid-style publicity has caused many of the problems we now have with unsafe behavior and crowding around storms. Instead, represent storm observing as a way to help track and document severe weather for the common good. And if you are not in it for the benefit of anyone or anything but your own thrills or bank account, quit now and make room for those who do wish to learn and contribute. It's not an "elite" idea any more than the Golden Rule -- just common sense!

If you see dangerous and illegal behavior out in the field, record license tag numbers and vehicle descriptions when possible, along with any descriptions of the occupants. Quickly point out what you are seeing to others in your vehicle so you will have witnesses. If equipped with a cell phone, either have a passenger dial 911; or if driving, stop safely to do so. The cost of the call is well worth the removal of the yahoo from the roadways. If there is time and it is safe to do so, have a passenger shoot stills or video of the offender in action for evidence. Then as soon as practical, send copies to the county sheriff or state highway patrol along with a letter describing both the violation you are reporting, the vehicle(s) involved and the violators themselves. This isn't being the police; it is merely aiding them and performing a good public service.

If the violator is in a marked TV station vehicle, report the incident not only to local or state police, but to the management of both the TV station involved and its market competitors. [This advice has been provided to me by several TV meteorologists, and is known to be effective.] Law enforcement may refrain from taking action against TV media for fear of bad publicity; so don't stop there. Report the problem in a letter to the editor of the major newspaper in that TV station's market. Now that most newspapers have online letter submission, this is easy and simple. The print media, not being fond of the broadcast media in many markets, may be more inclined to run the letter than most others they receive, in order to publicize the problem and embarrass the TV station into dealing with it. The TV stations who observe storms should will be grateful to have the problem children of other stations exposed and removed from their ranks, so as to not further soil the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Storm observing can still be a wonderfully enriching and educational hobby for people from any background -- students, scientists, writers, engineers, painters, photographers, electronics technicians, pizza deliverers, musicians, postal name it -- who want to experience first-hand the power and wonders of our atmosphere. Our innate, common desire to observe and learn about storms spans all socioeconomic and cultural strata. It can build a lifetime of grand memories, new friendships and valuable knowledge. And it doesn't have to be as hazardous as it has become out there on the roadways of the Great Plains and Midwest. Don't let a thoughtless few -- the yahoos -- ruin it for everyone else.

Roger's Rants Online Editorials

Roger's SkyPix Photo Gallery

Roger Edwards Home Page