06 February 2012

Chaser Profile: Matt Piechota


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

My name is Matt Piechota and I live in Batavia, IL. 

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

I don't have a website but have two youtube channels (forgot the password on one whoops) and my chasing/weather blog that I use for forecasts, discussions, past weather events, etc.

3) What got you interested in weather?

I've been into weather ever since I was little and the story that my mom tells everyone is that when I was 7 years old I went up to her and said "I like the regional forecast over the tropical forecast". When I was younger I was scared of thunderstorms and I think that most people have that one event or storm that really got them going and interested and for me it was a tornado warned storm that went through Batavia on 5/18/97 that I remember very well. There was also an F2 tornado that evening up north in Lindenhurst, IL. As I got older that fear drifted away and I wanted to learn more about the weather and thunderstorms by getting every book out there or renting movies from the public library.

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

My favorite aspect is a tough one. I'll go with forecasting a major winter storm days in advance and analyzing every model run getting neck deep in the data leading up to the event. Being next to a monster supercell and just seeing mother nature doing her thing right in front of you is a close 2nd. And know that I keep thinking...doing a full set of hand analyzed upper air/sfc maps the morning of the chase and knowing its going to be a good day really gets the juices flowing.

5) When did you first start chasing?

 I first started chasing in April of 2009

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

For me its not a buisness at all and way more than a hobby. Its a love, a passion, and at sometimes, an obsession.

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

Well myself for getting into chasing but my mom for always telling me to "chase my dreams". I'd also like to give credit to Paul Sirvatka, professor of Meteorology at College of DuPage who has taught me so much about forecasting severe weather and chasing in general. He also took me out on my first few chases in the plains. As well as many others along the way who have helped teach me things.

8) Do you have any chase partners?

My usual chase partners are Jim Rood and Sam Augustyn as well as others once in awhile who come along with us. On days just around this area it's usually just mother nature and myself.

9) What is your most successful chase?

My most successful chase would either be 5/18/10 in the TX Panhandle (4 total tornadoes from 3 seperates supercells with 2 of those night tornadoes) or 6/5/10 in Central IL (Yates City/Elmwood tornadoes)

10) What is your most terrifying moment?

5/22/10...After the Bowdle wedge as its transitioning to HP and were in the notch just north of the rain wrapped tornado with rain curtains flying into it and just south of the baseball hail core and Sirvatka radios to me asking what to do since he lost radar connection. Thankfully I made the right call to just sit there and were just fine.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

 I have seen 13 tornadoes.

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 think I'll ever be one to get into selling video to outlets or whatever to make a profit off storm chasing. I'm not in it for that. I'm in it for myself, to teach others what I know, and to see mother nature at her absolute best. I don't get the idea of seeing a tornado and right away uploading it to Youtube/Facebook/Twitter to show everyone and make money off it while you are still on the storm and chasing. I myself would rather just sit back and enjoy the storm rather than have to worry about that. One day someone is going to get too close to a tornado and something bad is going to happen and there has been several close calls with people over the years...It's only a matter of time. I've been somewhat close but we were at a same spot. If I want to get close it will be because I want to experience it, NOT because I NEED the shot of all shots like some of these people do to boost their own ego and get the best video around.

13) Describe you dream chase.

My dream chase would be to wake up at home to a tornado threat just west of here with a cooking outflow boundary setting up oriented to the westerly mean flow with backed sfc flow along it. Fairly easy forecast while I grab lunch at Portillos with a mid-level wave moving into the area with ample sunshine and with it being in northern IL in late June there shouldn't be many chasers. Supercell fires on the boundary and crawls for hours producing photogenic tornadoes over flat field somewhere between I-88/I-80.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

My favorite setup to chase is an IL warm front. I love chasing on the home turf.

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

Texas has brought me the most success and Iowa has brought me the least.

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

I am going to school right now for Meteorology at College of DuPage and eventually NIU. I don't see myself ever chasing for a T.V. station.

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

 I hope that the chasing craze has died down somewhat by the time we get to the next 5-10 years. I'm hopeful it will drop some with V2 done with and Storm Chasers also done so hopefully less vehicles on the road. I honestly wish I could back 10-25 years and chase then with a lot less data and learning more by reading the sky.

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 am really looking forward to chasing this year given the fact that last year was a rough one for me personally. I think 2011 showed us what can happen if strong tornadoes hit big cities and populated areas. It was a lot of bad luck and I really hope this year the big ones are over open areas. I haven't come up yet on high end damage and destruction yet so I'm not quite sure how I would react to something of that magnitude.

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.

After we missed the Bowdle wedge due to powerlines on the road and the chase wasn't that great after that, we were driving back to the hotel and I saw Skip Talbot's image of the wedge tornado and I could of cried. It sucked. I went and sat by a pond near the hotel for a good half hour that night to blow off some steam cause I was beyond pissed and depressed over missing a one in 10 year type of tornado. I got over it but there has never been a time besides that one where I didn't want to chase anymore for a long period of time.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

 I plan on continuing to chase until I'm dead. It's that simple.

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

 I love to fish, mainly for largemouth bass. I usually try to bring atleast one pole on a chase if there happens to be a pond around while we are waiting for intiation. I love to play sports (baseball, basketball, football) retired lefty pitcher so I also bring my glove and a baseball along as well. Hangout with friends, watch sports/movies.

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

 I like a variety of music depending on my mood but usually metal or rock works on a chase. That usually gets me jacked and excited. Sometimes I'll play certain songs out of superstition. I'll give most music a shot. Favorites would have to be Eminem and Gavin Degraw if I'm just hanging around.

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

Huge Cubs, Bulls, and Bears fan. Don't really get that much into college sports except for March Madness.

24) Do you have a family or pets?

No family yet lol 21 years old is a bit early to start one. But love my family, I live with my Mom and brother who is a sophmore in HS and my sister is a freshman at Western Carolina University. We have two dogs, a cat and a bird. My Dad lives in North Aurora.

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

Hmmm 3 things most people wouldn't know about me...I got to have dinner with Michael Jordan when I was younger thanks to my Grandpa who used to play poker with him. I love Dr. Pepper (a superstition must on a chase). And lastly my favorite movie is For Love of the Game.

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

If I were to have kids I think it would be cool to bring him/her/them with chasing if they were interested and at the right age.

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

I work at my school (COD) in the warehouse delivering packages, mail, etc and I'm also interning at WGN with Tom Skilling this semester

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

I really think there is more in it for them than that but they want to come off sounding like that and the teachers pet of mother nature. Sure I want to be out there to call in reports to help get warnings out quicker but thats just a small piece of the puzzle for me. Most chasers I know are chasing for a lot more reasons that just that.

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

Man thats a tough one, but I'll go with the August 1990 Plainfield, IL F5 tornado. Being that it was only 30 minutes or so from my house and the only August F5 tornado ever.

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

I mainly chase severe weather but I have gone to chase/document winter storms around the area as well as lake effect snow. I think it would be cool to go and be in a Hurricane, but a solid Cat 3 atleast. I'm not traveling 20+hrs to go see Irene type 70mph winds blowing sand around. I got those winds in blizzard last year in my own yard.

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

College of DuPage. Meteorology

32) What do you expect in 2012?

 I think it will be fairly active again this year and possibly further east into the Lakes/Ohio Valley region with it looking like we'll atleast stay in a La Nina through the Spring. Worried about the drought in TX still, although its getting a bit better, stronger EML, and dryline mixing further east. I don't think we'll see anything like we got this past year. But hoping for more TX PH action this spring.
*Strong tornado near Elmwood, IL June 5th, 2010

*Beautiful tornado near Cedar Hill, TX April 29th, 2009

*Beautiful sight on the Texas Panhandle near Dumas, TX May 18th, 2010

Personal Reflection/Statement: 
"In short, do what you love and what makes you happy. You only live once so why do anything else. Don't let what others think about you get to you or even worry about that. Chasing storms will always be there for me and always something I can turn to when times get tough. Weather will ALWAYS be there."

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