Short interview with storm chasing legend Charles Doswell

This season's chase booked!
Where lightning strikes earth
doswell
Published with permission by C. Doswell. All rights reserved.

I had the privilege of getting ahold of storm chasing legend Charles “Chuck” Doswell. He was one of the first scientific storm chasers and was chasing back in the 70’s when no man in the right sense would dare going after a tornado!

As a respected meteorologist he has produced over 100 publications and is, according to Wikipedia, a contributor to the modern conception of a supercell. Thus, it is quite likely that a lot of the information and knowledge that you may hold on storms and supercells was once stated and figured out by this man.

 

1. Back in the 70’s you didn’t have the same technological tools which, I assume, made storm chasing more complicated than today. Is there anything you miss from those days, in terms of storm chasing?

Chasing today is MUCH more complicated than when I began in 1972.  What the technology does is increase our chances of getting to see a good storm and makes chasing safer.  I miss not having hordes of chasers to contend with on a chase.

 

2. If you’d look some 10 years into the future of the storm chasing community and industry. What do you think will be the greatest differences from now? Do you seen any threats?

I don’t like to speculate about what it will be like in 10 years.  I don’t have a good track record at such things.

 

3. You chase once a year as a special guest for Tempest Tours. What do you typically try to teach and share to the customers on these tours? I.e. what would you like people to know and understand when they go on a storm chasing tour?

I try my best to have my guests understand the basic physical processes they will see going one.  I also want to ensure they get an authentic chase experience – i.e., many hours of boredom, hopefully punctuated by all too brief periods of awestruck excitement.  Then they can appreciate that what they see on TV is not necessarily representative of what they can actually experience in storm chasing.

 

4. You have chased with several people over the years. Who would you like to bring out as the best storm chasers you know? What makes them so great?

I think Gene Moore, Roger Hill, Reed Timmer, Bill Reid, Tim Marshall … and others … are great chasers.  What they have in common is a relentless determination to succeed.  Some, of course, take that to an extreme …  [I don’t consider myself to be a great chaser.]

 

5.  What are common mistakes you see (far too) often other chasers do?

Core punching, failing to appreciate the dangers of what they’re doing, keeping their heads down watching radar on their laptops instead of looking out the window, failing to maintain situation awareness, driving like idiots … it’s a long list.

 

It is, in my opinion, interesting considering how storm chasing must have been back in the 70’s when you had no technical equipment and had to rely a lot of scarce weather reports and visual interpretations. It makes me think of that scene in the movie Twister when the main character let some dust pour through his fingers to “feel the wind”. Although that was not the method of choice in those days, obviously, experience and the gut feeling that comes with experience must have played a significant part.

As Charles mentions in the final question, a common mistake many modern storm chasers do is relying too much on their laptops.  The excellent guide “The Storm Chasing Handbook” by Tim Vaquez has a lengthy discussion about this as well: how chasing in the old fashioned style, as was the case back in the days, can make you improve your skills as a storm chaser. The technology will provide you with great data but it is only when you can combine this with experience and visual interpretations that you will become a truly great storm chaser.

With this I would like to thank Charles. If you’d like to read more about his current endeavors, check out his blog or website (which contains a gallery of amazing photos).

This season's chase booked!
Where lightning strikes earth

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