Sunday, 5 February 2012

Tragic death of storm chaser

Yesterday, a well known storm chaser from the USA, Andy Gabrielson, was tragically killed in a crash on Interstate 44, not far from Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to reports, it was down to a pick-up truck coming the wrong way down the Interstate, and it is alleged that the driver of this was intoxicated. Drunk driving cannot be tolerated, and should not be tolerated. It also highlights that the biggest threat chasers face is not the storms themselves (despite what many non-chasers might think), but the driving to get to and from storms, and other road users.

However, rather than have a rant about this here (I'm sure any responsible member of society will have identical feelings to me about the type of scum who drive whilst drunk), I'd like to highlight the storm chasing 'community'.

Being a UK-based storm chaser who heads to the Plains most Springs to experience the wonder and drama of the region's severe weather, along with the unique beauty of the vast emptiness, it warms me immensely to know that there is a loosely-based 'community' of chasers who are happy to chat by the roadside, over dinner, or wherever, despite never having met me before. Of course, I know a fair number of them online, and I'm sure if needed, I could call on their assistance when in a tricky situation. Chasing is often a very private hobby - whilst on the storms, many chasers, including myself, like to get on with the chase with few outside distractions. However, post- (or sometimes pre-) chase, stories can be swapped about this or that storms, what we saw today, etc etc.

What I'm trying to say is that there is a common element to chasers: they love to talk about storms! This has brought together people from all walks of life - you'll often see a restaurant in a Great Plains town full to the rafters during the evening of an active chase day. I can remember a packed-out Applebee's in Hays, Kansas, on May 22, 2008. Almost all the customers were storm chasers - indeed, it was like the who's who of chasing that evening!

The tragic news of Andy's death has brought the community close together. Indeed, many of us chasers have plotted the position of our Spotternetwork 'icons' in a tribute to Andy, simply drawing out 'AG' across west central Kansas (see picture).

I never met Andy. I didn't subscribe to his (sometimes) more aggressive chase strategies. However, he was a storm chaser, and very good one at that - it hurts to lose a fellow chaser. RIP Andy.