Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Profiting Off Misery

In light of the recent tornado that swept through N IL, and a few subsequent things since then, I am really questioning in my head whether storm chasing is ethical.  Most of the talk I have seen from the various chasers centers around the great video they captured.  What made something else painfully obvious by a mistake I made in putting together a video was that this is about money.  It is money for them, money for the news shows, fame and notoriety for the person who can get the best shot.  Is it ethical to profit off the misery and loss of others?

I see on their pages that they post their analysis of the storm, their chase log, and videos and pictures they got of the tornado.  It reminds me how the big game hunters have their picture taken with the endangered animal they just killed.  The one thing I am not seeing is the concern for you, the people of Northern Illinois, who were affected by this storm.  We are here living it day by day.  It is the people of this community and very gracious outside organizations that have come in to really do the dirty work of helping recover.  Meanwhile, these chasers are analyzing when the next great disaster is so they can be there, get the money shot and their faces on TV. 

I must confess, I have been there.  On May 25th, 2008 I was there when an F5 tornado ripped through Parkersburg Iowa.  Not long afterwards I was approached by television people who were making a documentary on tornadoes and wanted to use some of my footage from Parkersburg.  I agreed and was paid.  Frankly, it felt a little uneasy.  People had died.  A town had been wiped off the face of the map.  The survivors lives would be forever changed.  Here I was, some outsider who just swooped in, left, and took blood money for others to gawk at, ooh and ahh over the misery on the TV screen.

I was painfully reminded of that with the recent tornado, especially in getting my lesson in storm chase economics for mistakenly  putting together a timeline of events.  The bottom line is that chasers feel that they are owed the compensation for their time and efforts for documenting the misery and disaster.  They feel that they "own" their little slice of the disaster and they compete with each other over who can get the best shot that will pay them the most.  I wonder though, can anyone "own" a disaster?  Did they create the tornado?  Did they cause it to do what it did?  No.  All they did was follow a computer screen and turn on a camera.

In various video I saw, there were chasers driving in the wrong lanes, running stop signs, passing by blown over homes, glorying in the catch as homes were being destroyed.  In only one chaser video did I hear anyone even mention 911.  The hard part for me, is that I also have to look in the mirror.  I've thought about it, but I guess I have a different perspective now since it hit my area.  I know people and of people directly affected.  I know now what it is like to have all these outsiders come in for a thrill ride, leave, and profit themselves while we remain and dig out from under the rubble.

Chasers often claim they are helping keep the public safe.  I've used that line to justify myself.  They claim they give important ground truth to the weather service.  They can if they call in.  We also have other people for that though.  They are called spotters and they work with/for local authority to do the work of spotting severe weather and reporting it so the public remains safe.  Our Policemen and Firemen are often out spotting our counties and cities as well.  We really don't need outsiders for that.

Chasers often claim that they are doing scientific research.  I can't say I've used that, but I did not see one video out there where there was any evidence of scientific research going on.  A couple of the videos seemed that they had people they had brought along with them.  Whether paid or not, I don't know, but taking people on "tours" has become a popular industry.  I think there is a legitimate place for research, but certainly the majority are not out there doing that.

This really leaves on thing left.  They are ambulance chasers.  They make their money chasing down disaster so the evening news can have their dirty laundry.  Their main agenda, promoting themselves.  Some seen to want to do this too by running others down.  They have their little clicks and the gang will all come down and bully you if you don't do things their way.  In the past few days, I have been called names, bullied, and threatened by gangs of chasers.  Some of them when I engaged them, did not even know why they were doing so, only that someone had told them bad things about me.

I've been watching these antics grow for a long time.  It started when Twister came out and made storm chasing cool.  The there was Reed Timmer and the exploits of his TV show that brought on the "extreme" chasers and the taking of unnecessary risks just to get the big money shot.  Since then that seems to be the trend.  Storm chase teams with fancy names and cars filled with their logos and light bars began popping up all over the place competing with each other for the big money and the fame. 

This started catching up in 2012 on the April 14th, 2012 tornado chase.  Everyone and their brother was out that day and their were major traffic jams on rural roads, people ignoring police, speeding, parking one the roadways, arguing with officials, people hanging out of vehicles screaming like schoolchildren... it was a horrible mess and an embarrassment. 

In 2013 I was down in Lawton OK and the storm chasers were so thick that you could not stop anywhere as the sides of the roads were all filled.  Off in the field was a little F0 rotation and it veered right towards that road.  Suddenly cars were all trying to pull out in the road and get out of the way.  I nearly got hit a couple times.  The circulation came over us and moved on.  I remember telling a friend that this is exactly how someone was going to get killed in a tornado.  Then there was the El Reno disaster later that year.  Most people know of the traffic nightmares that occurred there and the deaths of 3 of the biggest names in the field, and a 4th chaser as well.

I look at my page too.  I have had a lot of newcomers and many of these based solely on the tornadic event.  I don't really want to gain followers from the exploitation of this event.  It happened in part because I did show videos taken of the event.  The drama that followed was a result of the same.  I'm not so sure I like the world that chasing has become.  Drama, competition, lies, bullying, profit off misery.  My pages goal was to be able to keep friends and family informed about the local weather and related activity. That is the focus I want to maintain. 

Now, don't get me wrong, there are some good players out there who chase for the right reasons and do the right things.  I am finding they are far and few between.  All of this has me at the point of hanging up my car keys.  And the question still lingers on my mind....  Is it right to profit off the misery of others?


  1. When it hits close to home, one's perspective is forever changed. Praying for those in your area.

    1. Indeed it does change. It has been evolving for a while though. This event for me was just the tipping point used to really open my eyes.


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