It's not exactly a hobby for the faint-of-heart, but there are few Alberta pastimes more exciting than being an storm chaser — this summer being no exception.
For the Twisted Chasers, a group of nine amateur weather enthusiasts across the province, the thrill of chasing a large thunderstorm or a rare tornado is something they live for.
With their cameras and equipment in tow, they go barrelling toward storms when most others are seeking shelter. They never get too close — safety is always the priority — but they're always looking for the best photograph, the most spectacular footage, and the information to help keep weather experts updated on a particular storm cell.
Chasers Ronnie Rabena, Oren Sew and Dan Madden were awesome enough to answer some questions about what it's like to be an Alberta storm chaser, sharing their secrets to staying safe and how they calm their nerves while chasing a particularly intense weather episode.
Q:How did you all meet and decide to work together?
Ronnie: It started with team member Dean Wolfe and I. From there it’s been a roller coaster of a journey with members coming and going. The current team we have right now will be sticking together for a long time. We all get along with each other really well. It feels like a second family.
Oren: I met Ronnie a few years ago on a chase. Chasers in Alberta used to put a X in the window to let each other know who we are.
Q:How long have you been working together as a group?
Oren: We have been chasing together for a few years now, but the support that we have given each other has been incredible. From basing, chasing, to social media the team has been amazing.
Q:What are the benefits of being a group of storm chasers as opposed to going solo?
Dan: We are able to cover more of Alberta.
Oren: In a group we get a lot of support, an extra set of eyes, and the ability to keep up to things like social media. We are also spread out over Alberta, from Edmonton to Calgary, this is a great advantage.
Ronnie: Being a group means we also have a better chance that one of us can be out chasing a storm. We also have a wide range of skill on our team. From beginners to chasers with more experience.
Check out the incredible photography of the Twisted Chasers. Interview continues below:
Q: What are the top three rules you use as storm chasers for keeping safe?
Dan: Not being distracted while driving. Practice defensive driving.
Oren: Plan ahead. It is very important to have an escape route in mind.
Ronnie: Respect the storm and keep enough distance.
Q:There are a lot of looky-loos who like to take amateur photos and videos of storms. Does this concern you, like it does safety officials?
Oren: In the beginning we were all amateurs. It doesn't bother me as long as they are doing it safely. Incredible footage is not worth getting hurt or killed over. Being reckless is a waste of a future talented storm chaser.
Ronnie: I think it is important to go on a few ride alongs first, until they are comfortable enough to go out on their own.
Q:When should these people put down the camera and take shelter?
Oren: When thunder roars, go indoors.
Ronnie: When your safety is threatened. This can easily happen if you don’t give yourself enough distance from the storm.
Q:What, exactly, do you do to get over the nerves involved in chasing a tornado/major storm?
Oren: Chew gum, hahaha... I don't know?
Ronnie: Lol. For me it’s research. Whenever something makes me uneasy, I will research it and learn more about it. That is part of the reason why I chase big storms today. At one time they made me feel uneasy, which prompted me to educate myself about storms.
Q:What's the biggest misconception people have about Alberta's weather, in your opinion?
Dan: The biggest misconception is that Alberta does not get severe weather or that they are not dangerous. Alberta gets an average of five tornados and 84 severe thunderstorms per year.
Oren: I think people tend to misunderstand weather. It’s common for people to fear a storm that has low potential for damage or harm, and on the other hand, people misunderstand the storms that are potentially very dangerous.
Q:What's the biggest misconception people have about storm chasers?
Dan: The biggest misconception of storm chasers is that we’re adrenaline junkies, out chasing storms with no regard for public safety. This couldn't be further from the truth. Public safety is our first concern with any severe weather. We will report to Environment Canada and on Twitter with the hashtag #abstorms.
Oren: Storm chasers are conceived as young, crazy thrill seekers, who are in it for money and glory. But really we are normal… ok, maybe slightly crazy regular people.
Q:How true-to-life was the movie "Twister?" (Joking, but also not joking.)
Oren: DO NOT STAND UNDER A BRIDGE, it will make it worse. Bridges increase wind speed, increasing the chances of you or your vehicle being pulled out.
Q: Can you tell us about the biggest/most frightening storm you've ever seen?
Dan: On July 31st, 1987, I witnessed a small moment of the Black Friday tornado in Edmonton. What I saw, in which I was too little to understand at the time, was a giant wedge tornado to the east of me. It was then revealed to me in the aftermath of what I had witnessed.