08 February 2012

Chaser Profile: Jeff Duda


1) What is your name and where do you live?

Jeff Duda. I currently live in Norman, OK, but I recently moved there from Ames, IA. I grew up in Marion, IA.

2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as?

No, I'm not big into advertising myself.

3) What got you interested in weather?

For as long as I can remember I've been interested in the weather. When I was very young I remember watching TWC frequently and telling my family what the weather forecast was for the day. I was also pretty scared of thunderstorms and severe weather until I was in my late teens (surprising, eh?).

Probably one of the bigger events, however, was the Iowa City tornado of April 13th, 2006. I was a junior at the University of Iowa at the time, planning on transferring to Iowa State to begin my study of meteorology. I watched that tornado tear through downtown from the top of a parking structure by my dorm. I was alone out there, terrified and unable to move when I thought for a few seconds that the tornado was moving directly towards me. It wasn't, but I'll never forget the sight of the tornado lit by power flashes and street lights, the sound of it smashing things into each other, and the calmness and warmth of the air before the tornado struck (after the hail core had passed by).

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

The tornado, but I still appreciate large hail, strong winds, and great supercell structure.

5) When did you first start chasing?

I first began chasing seriously (i.e., more than just venturing out into the county) in 2008. However, I had chased a few times before 2008, but I saw nothing more than some hail.

6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?

Only a hobby.

7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?

I really credit myself for the most part. I didn't have a ton of encouragement from my family (although they never stood in the way either), and I got made fun of a lot in grade school for my interest in the weather. I had a good friend when I was young. He and I were really into the chasing thing (we would watch all of those common chasing videos from the 90s that TWC released, like Target Tornado and The Enemy Wind) and told ourselves one day we would chase together. Obviously things changed and that didn't happen, but it was cool to have a friend then who shared my interest.

8) Do you have any chase partners?

While I was attending Iowa State (where I began my chasing career), I mainly chased with some of my closer meteorology department friends Logan Karsten, Adam Deppe, and Ryan Lehms. Since I moved to Norman I do not have any partners right now, but I have asked a number of people who said they would be interested in partnering up this upcoming season. I'd be willing to chase with anyone as long as they are willing to split fuel costs and they share my chasing strategy.

9) What is your most successful chase?

There are about 3 chases that are high on the list, but June 17th, 2010 is number one. I saw nine tornadoes that day from two supercells and also witnessed the birth of a third supercell right in front of my eyes. I was in southern Minnesota, so I'm sure most readers know which tornadoes I'm talking about. I actually didn't get a long glimpse of the EF4 when it was peaking in intensity, but I watched one of the tornadoes go right by Kiester and was probably one of the first to go through town after it brushed by. Also got pretty close to the Hollandale EF3 from the second storm later, almost getting struck by lightning in the process. Finally ended the day by seeing a tornado that I don't think ended up in the final report, and almost got pushed off the road by a surging gust front.

10) What is your most terrifying moment?

May 29, 2008. I was chasing with TWISTEX for the first time (and only time in 2008) in Kansas. We had just witnessed the Tipton/Beloit/Glen Elder/Jewell tornado and were stopped south of Jewell on a county road waiting for Tim Samaras to pull himself out of a rain-soaked ravine he had gotten his truck stuck in when an anticyclonic tornado touched down on the southern fringe of the mesocyclone to our southwest. It being after 9 PM I could only see it by the lower portion of the funnel that protruded below a darker cloud deck above. I screamed to others that I saw a tornado, but no one seemed to notice, and no one moved (there were about 6 or 7 other cars around, including Tony Laubach and Chris Collura). I lost sight of it in the darkness and wondered for a moment if it had lifted. Then I stuck my head out the window of the car, looked up, and saw the funnel cloud directly overhead. I then closed the window (like that would do much to protect me), said to my partner, "Oh s--t, this could get rough," and slunk down in my seat. The tornado hit with a whoosh of wind and pebbles from the road. My ears popped painfully from the intense pressure gradient (weak tornado, but very small, too) and the rear axle of the car briefly lifted off the ground (there is a video of it out there). Our car was not damaged, though, but one of the cars nearby was, and the driver was cut by flying glass.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

I have 39 listed on my website (http://www.meteor.iastate.edu/~jddud...g/chasing.html), but I'm somewhat conservative in my estimates, and there may have been some satellites that I didn't count.

12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?

I don't see the need for chasing for money, and I don't care if people want to get money from chasing, but I certainly hope to myself that they don't plan on making a career out of it. I think that kind of lifestyle is unhealthy. As far as getting close to Mother Nature, I can't say I have a problem with it seeing as I have found myself getting closer and closer lately to get that thrill. However, I've always made sure to be safe and have an escape plan. As long as people are being safe and not getting others in trouble by doing it, I see nothing wrong with it.

13) Describe your dream chase.

No trees or hills to block the view. Large, well gridded section of roads well removed from a large town or city with no rivers or other hazards to cut off your route, and a classic supercell with minimal rain wrapping around the bear. Long track, large tornado (but not a wedge). If it sounds like I'm describing my June 20, 2011 chase, I basically am. My experience with the Bradshaw and Stromsburg, NE tornadoes was about as good as I could ever hope for.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

Warm fronts. They usually spawn slower moving storms.

15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success?

I've had a love-hate relationship with Nebraska since I started. Certain parts of it have truly awesome terrain including flat, open land with a good road grid. Unfortunately, tornadoes have been somewhat uncommon in those areas since I started chasing. However, when Nebraska has produced for me, the chase ends up being one of my better ones. South Dakota is a close second because I'm 2 for 2 there (Bowdle and two days later). Missouri. I've chased there way too many times and it has never paid off. Every time I'm in that state I feel like I'm having the life force sucked out of me.

16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Would you ever chase locally for a t.v station?

I am currently a degreed meteorologist. I have a B.S. and an M.S. in meteorology from Iowa State and am pursuing a PhD in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. I hope to someday work for some branch of NOAA, such as the NWS, SPC, or NSSL, or NCAR (Boulder is a beautiful place). I wouldn't care to chase locally for a TV station because 1) if it's "local" then my range would be severely restricted (and I've come to learn that you will have to travel hundreds of miles away from home to see some of the better tornadoes) 2) it would fight too much for significant time in my life. As passionate a hobby chasing is to me, it's not my life. I only chase when I have time and money for it.

17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?

Given the dual pol upgrade to NEXRAD and the spreading of 4G data technology, I see chasing becoming more and more technological with some peoples' success rates climbing to never-before-seen numbers. I think the chasing community has just about become saturated so I don't see numbers climbing too much more (unless, of course, another TV series about storm chasers reaches prime time on one of the major networks). I also see many more TIV/Dominator-like vehicles showing up.

18) Despite all the deaths and destruction in 2011, are you looking forward to chasing in 2012 knowing you can run into a Tuscaloosa or Joplin?

I'm always looking forward to chasing. Chasing makes me feel alive. I hate winter because everything is so dark, dead, and cold. Spring and summer are warm, bright, and full of life. I've never come across any significant damage or destruction in my chasing, so I certainly am not prepared for what I could see if I came up on a Tuscaloosa or Joplin type situation. If I was ever one of the first on-scene after a destructive tornado passed through a populated area, though, I would certainly stop to help.

19) Is there any point in time where you had no desire to chase anymore? What caused that and what gave you the power to move on?

I had a number of frustrating failed chases in 2011 which stole some of my motivation for chasing, but I got lucky at the end of the season (June 20th) which restored my faith.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

For as long as I can: all the way through my adult life...and as long as I have time and money.

21) Outside of chasing, what do you like to do?

I enjoy sports, video games, card games. You would be most likely to find me cooped up in my office at the National Weather Center on most days, though, slaving over model output.

22) What kind of music do you like to listen to on the chase or in general?

I'm pretty big into mainstream rock, so I look for radio stations that can offer that. I will listen to classic rock and pop, though, too. Once a chase is getting serious, however, I tend to turn off the music. While nearing a storm in Nebraska this year I was listening to one of Dane Cook's albums, though.

23) What is your favorite professional and college sports team?

Having grown up in eastern Iowa, attended the University of Iowa, and been a member of the marching band there, I'm a lifetime Hawkeye fan. Even though I went to Iowa State for longer than I went to the U of Iowa, I'm not a Cyclone fan. However, I generally like Big 10 and Big 12 college football teams. I was a big fan of the Chicago Bears and SF 49ers when I was younger, but I'm not as much of a fan as I used to be.

24) Do you have a family or pets?

I've been married for about 1.5 years now (I got married on June 5th, 2010, which some of the readers will know was the day of a widespread tornado outbreak across the Midwest...my wedding reception in Peoria was actually crashed by a tornadic supercell that cycled just as it passed over town). I have two cats that I took from my sister who couldn't afford to look after four cats. My wife and I also want to get a dog when we get the money.

25) Tell me 3 things that someone outside of chasing may not know you for.

-I played the trombone for 11 years (I haven't played in about five years and am looking for an excuse to get back into it). In fact, music was a pretty big part of my life until I started going to Iowa State.
-I played football and baseball in high school (I was never very good at either, though) and broke my leg in a football game in 8th grade.
-I sank a freshly-bought hand axe into my leg in the summer of 2008 cutting a fallen tree from a neighbor's fence. I have the scar to prove it.

26) If you have kids or plan on having them... would you like to involve them in your chasing?

I would like to have a few kids someday. Family is very important to me. Unfortunately I won't be able to financially support them until after I get my PhD, and I'll probably be 31 by then. I definitely plan on involving them in weather and chasing.

27) Do you have a job and what do you do?

I'm a grad student...a peon, if you will. I am currently working on an NSF proposal investigating optimal design of convection-allowing mesoscale ensemble models.

28) How do you feel about people who say they chase tornadoes for the sole purpose of saving lives?

Can't disagree with their motivation, but I think they're missing out on the more mesmerizing aspects of what mother nature has to offer.

29) If there was one event in history that you wish you were around for to chase, what would it be?

The Campo, CO event from May 2010.

30) Do you only chase severe weather or do you chase hurricanes and winter weather as well?

I only chase severe weather. Hurricanes, floods, and winter weather just don't excite me the way hail, wind, lightning, and tornadoes do.

31) Do you go to a college or university, if so, what do you major in?

It has pretty much already been stated, but I'm a first-year grad student at the University of Oklahoma working for my PhD in meteorology.

32) What do you expect in 2012?

At least one or two good days that I don't have to drive 6 hours or more to get to (now that I live in Oklahoma as opposed to Iowa).

What 2" hail did to the TWISTEX mesonet vehicles' hail guard from June 7, 2009

I chase for the love of the game. My goal is to make a very accurate forecast and see tornadoes from the best vantage point possible and to document it. You probably will never know I'm there because I don't mark up my vehicle and I'm usually lost in the crowd, but I'm always happy to meet other chasers and share stories with them. I also want to stress that chasing is just a hobby to me. I'm passionate about it, but it is not my life. Family and my job will always come first to me.


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