Starkville, MS -- Many people see storm chasers and assume they are putting themselves in harm's way. If they get hurt, they are asking for it.
While there are some cases where that is true, that tends to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Grady Dixon, Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climatology at Mississippi State University, has been chasing storms since he was in college himself. He now leads storm chase teams for meteorology students. His team was chasing a storm cell just to the south of the storm that hit Moore, OK.
Since his teams of students are learning about the structure of storms, they stay back and put safety first. The storm chasers who were killed in the El Reno storm were taking a risk being so close. His team chose not to chase that day because it wasn't safe for his team. He says, "I don't think the storm path can be blamed. I think it's traffic. I think it's trees. I think it's no road options. That's what happens when you chase in an urban area. That's the reason we chose not to chase on that day, because it was going to be in an urban environment."
While his team was chasing to observe and learn about the storms in the Great Plains chase, the Skywarn team from Mississippi State goes out when ever there is severe weather in Mississippi to relay information to the National Weather Service. Doppler Radar can detect rotation in a storm but it can't actually see what is happening on the ground. Trained spotters are needed for that.
Dixon says, "No offense to non-experts or law enforcement or anything else but when a local sheriffs deputy reports a tornado, or when the general public reports it, there's always a cloud of uncertainty. Did they really see a tornado or did they see a scary looking cloud under a tornado warning- because that's an important distinction. Having people on the ground that are trained and experienced, that don't have relatives nearby, that emotional reaction makes it much more... objective."
Grady Dixon, Associate Professor of Meteorology and Climatology