The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has wreaked havoc on too many activities to count. Add storm chasing to the list! Springtime usually brings all the excitement for the daredevils running towards monstrous storms and tornados. This year, storm chasers not only face the danger of unpredictable weather events, but also the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has shaken several types of storm chasers. Solo goers who chase as a hobby, businesses that chase with tours, meteorologists and/or professors that chase for research and reporting.
Regardless on why they chase, many storm chasers put their adventures on hold as stay-at-home orders remain in place. Others have decided to only chase locally or solo, packing food and necessities to limit any stops. Chasing usually requires spending nights in hotels, eating at restaurants, and frequenting gas stations.
For many professors, the risk is not worth the safety of the students. An atmospheric science professor at the University of Illinois stated many of his planned research trips, chasing storms in the Plains, have been cancelled. This aligns with other universities that postponed similar programs until 2021.
Additionally, meteorologists chasing to research and report to companies like Accuweather, depend on this type of work for their livelihood. Essential workers are provided special clearances to allow them to continue work and cross state borders when necessary. However, safety measures are often implemented, including wearing gloves and masks, and sanitizing equipment often.
One of the most impacted group of storm chasers are those who run and participate in the storm chasing tour business. Tours typically have about two full vans of people from all over the world, seeking weather adventure that can last up to 10 days. Not exactly an ideal situation during a viral pandemic! Many businesses have decided to cancel their season all together, while others are holding out hope for tours by the end of summer. Some are risking staying open as long as local and state officials allow, taking more safety measures like asking guests to wear masks.
While storm chasing may not seem like an essential activity amidst a pandemic, it is the lifeblood for many local economies across the Plains. These small towns rely on storm chasers to fill hotels and restaurants throughout the peak season.
Storm chasers largely understand the inherent risk of chasing humungous super cells. Many note that medical access should an accident occur or someone fall ill is already limited through the rural areas they encounter. Adding a pandemic into the mix has caused many to err on the side of caution. Storm chasers alike remain hopeful to chase locally, and look forward to the next time they can venture out!