Amateurs With Cellphones Pose Concern to Professional Storm Chasers

Storm hunters from across the United States are flocking to Canadian back roads right now in a frantic attempt to photograph and study the 80 or more tornadoes that are expected to touch down.

Frantic, because all of those 80 to 100 annual twisters take place in a very limited window of time.

However, Nevin DeMilliano has been chasing storms for about six years and says there’s recently been a huge jump in the number of storm chasers on the road.

The Edmonton-based chaser says he thinks that it’s because smartphone technology has given people the ability to instantly share videos.

He also says there are apps that give people better weather radar access or allow them to watch other storm chasers, which makes it easier to chase.

However, that doesn’t make storm chasing safe for everyone just because they own a smartphone.

DeMilliano, who took atmospheric science courses at the University of Alberta, says it can be problematic and potentially life-threatening if people are inexperienced and get themselves into dangerous situations.

Winter weather was second only to severe thunderstorms in weather-related damage in 2014, but Canada’s tornadoes provide a worthy opponent to that claim.

“Next to the U.S., Canada gets more tornadoes than anywhere else on earth, but unlike the United States, where they take place year-round, Canada has 80 of them in a six-week span,” says Greg Johnson of Tornado Hunters.

As one of the top storm chasers in North America, Johnson lives the life of a nomad, hunting dark clouds and angry skies from Texas to Edmonton and everywhere in between, and this past long weekend, all eyes were on Alberta’s skies.

Four devastating tornadoes were confirmed in just four consecutive days this past week in Alberta, Canada. High season for tornadoes in Alberta is July, but four tornadoes in four days is unusual, to say the least.

The stagnant weather pattern over Alberta coupled with high humidity has been producing unstable conditions, as well as drawing storm chasers to the area.

However, Nevin DeMilliano warns again about the dangers of chasing storms without the proper experience and training.

“It’s good in the sense that anyone, if it’s affecting their backyard, can snap a photo, and report it and the warnings will reflect what’s going on right then and there,” DeMilliano says. “But I think the part of it that’s kind of harder is that it also draws a lot more people who are like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be insane, let’s go do this’ and I think that part of it is, you’re going into it almost not knowing.”

DeMilliano says some people drive through the heart of the storm to get into a better spot to see a tornado, but he never recommends that approach “because you never know what’s in there.”

“We want to station in an area where we’re kind of chasing the storm, rather than being chased by it.”

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