Oklahoma Tornado Chasing in the Worst Season Ever?

Tornado chasers

Tornado chasers

With the EF-5 tornado which struck Moore, Oklahoma, it would be tempting to say that this is the worst tornado season in history.  But talking to the experts and ‘tornado chasers, is it the worst ever?

January saw more than double the number of the average number of twisters in the last three years.  The period of February through April actually saw a decrease in the numbers.  There were 18 tornadoes recorded in March; the three-year average for the month is 87.

In April, there was a noticeable increase: a preliminary count of 83 tornadoes were recorded. However, that was still much fewer than the 1991-2010 average of 155.

In a blog posted by Harold Brooks of the U.S. National Severe Storms Laboratory, Brooks wrote, “The 12-month period from May 2012 to April 2013 was remarkable for the absence of tornado activity and tornado impacts in the United States.”

May did see a dramatic increase of 207.  The season normally sees a number of 1200 to 1300 tornadoes annually.  So far this year there have been 441.

Tornado “chasers” have had an active month.  They talk about ‘tornado tourists’ who come out to see the natural phenomenon.

“It’s almost a spiritual thing. They want to come out, feel Mother Nature, see it, be educated, and with that education they can go home, hear a tornado warning or watch and know the difference,” said Lanny Dean, owner of Extreme Chase Tours.

“As long as you know what to do, you’re out there observing it from a distance, from a mile or as close as a quarter of a mile away, and we have a pretty good idea of the path it’s taking, so we don’t put ourselves at risk,” said Charles Edwards, owner of Cloud 9 Tours, which, according to Edwards, is the longest-operating tornado chasing tour around.

Although the tornado count is below average to this point, the Moore tornado was a EF-5 rated incident.  That is the most powerful level, measuring winds above 200 miles per hour.  So, is it the statistically the worst tornado season in history?  Ask the ‘chasers.’

“It’s very tough,” Dean said. “On the one hand you’re excited, elated, to see the tornado, and you’re able to get your guests what they have paid good money to see,” he said. “When you have something like Moore, it’s tough. When it does damage or it kills somebody, it’s a double-edged sword. … You can ask anybody in the chasing industry.”

The ‘chasers’ assisted in the recovery in Moore.  Some of them actually had friends who died there.

“We were right there and tried to help and assist, you know, ‘Hey, where do you need us,’ not the guests, just myself and [the other tour guide]. It’s unfortunate that guests see the damage, but you can’t stop Mother Nature.”

Dean and the other ‘chasers’ have been criticized for ‘capitalizing’ off of the disasters that cause so much death and destruction.

“Interest has exploded,” Dean said. “Reality-type TV shows and documentaries put storm chasing on the map. That’s why people are doing this. They didn’t know you could do this, that you could go see serious weather, before those. This is about Mother Nature.”

This may not be the worst season ever, yet, but the havoc has created headlines all over the world.

James Turnage

The Guardian Express