Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FAQs on Storm Chasing, From a Spouse Perspective

Middle of nowhere South Dakota
Eric and his buddy, Keith, left yesterday for their annual "Chasecation," a storm-chasing adventure in which they will put an inordinate amount of miles on HailNo, spend lots of time looking a open fields, all with the goal of seeing some great storms. No, they don't know where they are going, and yes, I assume the interior of the Subi will smell bad when they return. Fortunately for the former, both are adept at reading radar, have the car wired to be able to receive instant radar updates, and have a high-power road mapping system that provides not only highway directions, but lesser known roads and trails as well.

Eric gets really excited about chasing, and posts his photos on Facebook. This inevitably attracts a wide variety of questions and comments, that, since Eric probably won't, I would like to take the opportunity to address in my own, slightly snarky and sarcastic manner.

Warning: If you are easily offended, don't read on, especially if you made one of these comments. For the rest of you, just assume I like you and this isn't personal.

"OMG that's terrible! I can't believe you actually go watch that. People get KILLED, you know!"

Eric doesn't go out to watch destruction. Seriously. Yes, he is aware that tornados cause damage and people can and do get hurt. What he loves to go see is the science of weather - the updrafts, the cloud rotation, the descending wall clouds, the funnels, and yes, eventually, the weather anomaly called a tornado. HOWEVER! He would much prefer that these events occur in the wide-open spaces, away from population centers. He doesn't want to see your personal property or your family hurt. He just wants to see the weather. Oh, and, if he goes through an area that has been hit by a tornado, he stops to see if anyone needs help.

"Seriously, you chase tornados? That's so weird."

Well, everyone has their own hobbies. I think its weird that adults play video games. I don't understand why people take yearly trips to the same place every time when there is so much of the world to see, but to each his own.

"How much money are you spending to go running around in cornfields?"
Sometimes paired with: "Does your work know about this?"

This kind of comment usually comes from someone who has ever given money to any of the non-profits we have ever worked for, as if Eric is literally taking their donation check and putting it in his gas tank. In case you aren't aware of how this works: Your donation goes to fund the work of the non-profit, which in turn pays us for the time we spend in our jobs at the non-profit. I'm not taking food away from starving children to gas up the Subi, I'm getting a paycheck for the 40, 60, 80 and sometimes 115 hours of work I do a week (and I'm salaried, so that overtime doesn't translate to more money). Like your employer, our employers don't get to dictate what we do with our paychecks. Frankly, as long as we make our bills (we do) and stay out of debt (we do), it isn't anyone's business what we choose to spend money on or not, just like it's not our business how you spend your paycheck.

Yes, in as far as Eric needs to take vacation time to go on vacation, his work knows what he's doing, in the same manner than another employee taking his family to Disney World would need to take vacation time. Incidentally, that would be a MUCH more expensive trip to take than a Chasecation - do you know a one-day pass to the Magic Kingdom is $105?!?

Oh, and they aren't always cornfields. Sometimes they are cow pastures.

"Does your wife know what you're doing/how crazy you are? Is she ok with this?"

So, in case you haven't noticed, Eric and I live together. That means that generally, I know when he's not home. It would be a LOT weirder if I DIDN'T know what he's doing. Can you imagine that conversation? "Yea, Eric's not home and hasn't been here in three days. I don't know where he is or what he's doing, but I assume he's coming back at some point."

I've been with Eric on chases. I understand the risks he takes and how he mitigates those risks. I am more concerned about cows in the middle or the road or a hailstorm taking out the Subi because Eric couldn't find a farm road to get out of the way than I am of him getting into the danger zone of a tornado. Yes, we have had conversations about these risks. I have told him that I need him, and have asked him specifically to stay out of what is known as the "bear cage," which is an area of great danger. Because he loves me and even though there is the potential for better video and photos, he "generally" stays out of there. I won't say "always," because I know better, but generally.

Am I ok with Eric storm chasing? It's his hobby. It's something he enjoys. I already struggle with "crappy wife syndrome," symptoms of which include 1) a incessant need to have my own way all the time, 2) OCD tendencies that result in the reorganization of all male clothing in a closet into colored-coordinated order, 3) general prissiness for reasons that cannot be explained by science, and 4) overall avoidance of car-washing, among others. Why would I make it worse by taking away something Eric enjoys? We have separate hobbies and things we like to do, and that's ok. Sure, because of symptoms 1 and 3, I get annoyed with chasing at times (mainly because he wants to chase and I want to do something else), but it's no different than Eric not understanding why I want to sign up for another race (especially now when I can go out the front door and trail run from the yard.) We don't totally understand why each other likes the things that we do, but we respect that the person DOES like them, and that it's important to them.

"Be safe! That's so dangerous!"

The reality is that very few chasers get hurt because of the storms. They are much more likely to get hurt because of the realities of driving an automobile in America... or possibly getting bit by the pet snake and/or tarantula they brought with them to the chase, but that's an entirely different issue and we don't have pets. Storms are mostly predictable within certain limits (hence why the nightly news hires people to...predict the weather.) As a friend of ours rightly pointed out this weekend, this:

Moose just outside our pop-up camper in Grand Lake this weekend.
Photo taken from inside the camper.
Moose do not come with radar or a detection system.
If you make her mad, she will come after you.
is actually much more dangerous than this:

Tornado in middle-of-nowhere Nebraska.
This storm was predicted and Eric followed radar to find it.
You cannot piss off a tornado and make it come after you.
 So there you have it! To close, check out this awesome time lapse video of a rotating super-cell that Eric took yesterday. You don't have to be a total storm-chasing-pet-snake-owning-nerd... umm, I mean meteorologist, to find this pretty cool:

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