09 February 2012

Chaser Profile: Skip Talbot


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

My name is Skip Talbot and I live just west of Chicago.

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

I have a personal website at www.skip.cc, and I also contribute at www.convectiveaddiction.com.

3) What got you interested in weather? 

The August 28, 1990 Plainfield, IL F5 tornado struck mere miles from my house at the time. I was only seven years old at the time, but it left a deep mark on me, filling me with awe and respect for tornadoes.

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather? 

The tornado is one of the most powerful and mysterious forces of nature that people experience. I’m compelled to witness them and their parent storms. I enjoy other powerful and beautiful aspects of the weather too, but nothing drives me to chase like tornadoes do.

5) When did you first start chasing? 

My first chase was May 10, 2003. It was the tail end of a ten day long outbreak of tornadoes across the Great Plains and Midwest. I went out at night during a high risk outbreak with a group of college buddies, equipped with a weather radio and a road atlas. I didn’t know what I was doing at all at the time, and we wound up core punching a tornado warned left split. The right split put down a dramatic stovepipe over the town of South Pekin, IL. We wound up seeing nothing and were a little shaken up after the core punch. I kept at it, however, and learned from my mistakes. It was almost a year later before I saw my first tornado.

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

It’s a hobby and an obsession.

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

Honestly and ridiculous as it sounds: Bill Paxton. Storm chasers of the 90’s and before loathed the movie Twister, fearing that it would bring out reckless thrill seekers and tarnish the image of storm chasing and storm chasers. Most of the Twister inspired crowd was expected to quickly burn out after their movie based expectations weren’t realized. As cheesy and over the top as the movie is, it did open the eyes for some to the world of storm chasing, igniting the spark to a lifelong passion. I was only 13 when the movie came out and had been interested in tornadoes throughout my childhood, but that movie was really my first experience with what storm chasing was. It was years later before I actually went storm chasing of course, and I had done a massive amount of studying in the meantime: reading accounts and essays from other chasers, learning about storm structure, taking a course in forecasting severe weather, and attending spotter training. However, I credit that movie as the initial snowball that lead to the avalanche of my passion for storm chasing. I think I’m proof that there are dedicated and responsible chasers that came out of the Twister boom and other overly dramatic and fictional portrayals of storm chasing by Hollywood and the mainstream media. There are a ton of chasers I could rattle off that lead me down the path of real storm chasing by posting essays, their chase accounts, and information in discussion forums. A few that quickly come to mind off the top of my head are Chuck Doswell, Roger Edwards, Gene Moore, Jon Davies, Roger Hill, and Tim Marshall, but there are dozens of great people out there who have shared their decade’s worth of storm chasing knowledge.

8) Do you have any chase partners? 

I’ve chased with a bunch of people over the years. I chased a lot with Fabian Guerra until he was tragically killed in an auto accident in 2009. I’ve also chased a lot with Chad Cowan, Ben Leitschuh, and most recently Jennifer Brindley Ubl. Other folks I’ve chased with include Adam Lucio, Andrew Pritchard, Danny Neal, Scott Kampas, Mike Boik, Jonathan Williamson, and I’ve caravanned with many more.

9) What is your most successful chase? 

There are two chases I put right there at the top: May 22, 2010 Bowdle, SD and June 17, 2010 Albert Lea, MN. Both days featured a variety of very photogenic tornadoes and storm structure. The Bowdle EF4 was the largest and most intense tornado I’ve ever witnessed.  Its thunderous roar made my chest rattle, and we were close enough that my ears were popping from the pressure drop.  We were on that storm from initiation, and it exhibited dramatic structure and several tornadoes.  We also got a very scenic tour of the black hills and badlands before the chase.  It was pretty close to a perfect chase day.  With ten tornadoes, June 17, 2010 featured the most tornadoes I had ever seen in a single day.  Most of them were quite photogenic with the white cone and stovepipe west of Conger, MN being probably the most photogenic tornado I’ve ever seen. It was a solid two hours of continuous tornadoes topped off with a celebratory steak dinner afterwards.  A runner up and one that was my favorite for years was March 28, 2007 Goodland, KS.  The highlight of the chase was a gorgeous pink rope lit up by the setting sun.  At that point it was the most tornadoes I had seen in a single day, my first wedge, and my first simultaneous tornadoes.

10) What is your most terrifying moment? 

I’ve had a few brief but terrifying moments while chasing. They’re usually the result of losing situational awareness when a tornado is close (or seemingly close). That happened on my first chase as noted above, and on March 12, 2006 pursuing a tornado near Springfield, IL after dark. Most recently on May 21 and June 20, 2011, I inadvertently wound up alarmingly close to tornadoes after underestimating the storms and lingering too long under the updraft base.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen? 

I believe I’m currently at 62 tornadoes. I need to finish writing up some of my chase logs from 2011 and scrutinize that count, however. It’s difficult to pin down an exact number as a few of those tornadoes reside in that grey area between tornadic and non tornadic, and where one tornado dies and the next one forms.

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

People chase for a variety of reasons, and I’m cool with most of them as long as they’re not overly reckless while they’re out there. I try to keep money mostly separate from chasing as I think it would ruin a lot of the magic and enjoyment I get out of chasing if it turned into a competitive job. I do sell video if the situation arises, but it’s not at all why I chase. As far as getting close, again people are free to chase as they wish, but I do think it’s also important to teach safe practices and etiquette. That being said there are situations where experience allows you to safely get very close.

13) Describe your dream chase. 

My dream chase occurs in the scenic high or northern plains. An isolated, slow moving, sculpted supercell blows up from towering cumulus in the golden hour, winding up until it eventually produces a tornado a few miles to my west. I can capture the entire supercell and tornado in the frame of my camera. The tornado widens into a mile wide, high contrast wedge, churning along in the open countryside for more than a half hour. It ropes out into a tall stovepipe right at my feet, filling my widest angle camera frame as the setting sunlight directly illuminates the condensation funnel in fiery gold and pink shades. I can look straight up and see where the twisting rope connects with the base before it narrows into a thread and vanishes. The storm moves off east and dies in the fading twilight. I watch the entire sequence from a single vantage point.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase? 

My favorite days are low key events in the isolated places of the Great Plains. Those last spring, early summer days where there are subtle boundaries, and shortwave troughs that slip between the cracks in the forecast models and result in isolated, slow moving supercells over the open country side, few chasers, and a slow, relaxed yet very photogenic chase.

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

I’ve seen the most tornadoes in Kansas. I haven’t chased South Dakota much, but it’s yielded one of my best chases and is one of my favorite places to chase. Southern Minnesota and central Illinois have also yielded several nice tornado events over great terrain. By far the state I’ve had the least luck with is Iowa. Not only did I not catch tornadoes there, but I’d suffer horrific busts, missing outbreaks much closer to home while I was in Iowa. I chased the state 25 times and for seven years before I finally got my first tornado there on March 22, 2011 near Creston, IA. It redeemed itself a little on April 9 that year with a string of tornadoes near Mapleton, IA.

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

I’ve thought about it, but the curriculum for obtaining a meteorology degree is too close to engineering, which kicked my butt in college. It also seems like a tough job market to get into, and a field that would directly conflict with me trying to go out and chase. I’d chase for a local TV station as long as it didn’t interfere with my chasing and I’m calling the shots. I doubt it would work out for a Chicago based station unless they’re interested in footage from neighboring places of the Midwest. Chicago is a terrible place to chase, and I’m usually hundreds of miles away when severe weather is forecast for the region.

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

I think the popularity of chasing has peaked or is close to it, especially with the end of the Vortex 2 research mission and the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers. The field is probably pretty saturated by now. Chasing may continue to grow at a slower pace, but we’re well past the booms we saw in the 90’s and early to mid 00’s. The trends towards chasing with more technology will continue to expand as it has since the early 90’s. However, we’ll probably even see the technological driven aspects of chasing start to settle down as these technologies, including mobile internet, digital cameras and video, start to mature. Chasing 5-10 years from now will be much as it is today. It will be a little easier to get data on the road and a little more economical and feasible for the average folks to capture the chase in high quality formats.

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? 
Death and destruction is a consequence of the wrath of nature. Tornadoes are violent and should be deeply respected. When I chase I try to avoid populated areas as much as I can, and try even harder to avoid populated areas that have been hit. I yearn for the photogenic rope in the field and am very excited for the coming chase season. I loathe the day that I come upon horrific damage or injuries, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

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?

Chasing is deeply introspective to me. For me to lose the passion to chase, there would have to be a fundamental change in who I am or how I view the world. Many chasers struggle with the destruction or death they eventually witness and it mars their perception of chasing. I try to prepare myself for this as it’s a part of life and I enjoy the parts of chasing removed from these devastating aspects. Other chasers and people have little bearing on why I’m out there, and my drive to chase has never been seriously challenged.

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing? 

As long as there are tornadoes, and I’m around to catch them.

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

I’m a big flying and aviation fan, and have my pilot’s license. I also enjoy the outdoors and working with computers.

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

I like a variety of stuff, mostly in the rock genres. Some of my favorite groups are OneRepublic, Collective Soul, Reel Big Fish, Cake, and Cold Play.

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

Watching sports doesn’t really interest me. I find it boring.

24) Do you have a family or pets? 

My wife Jenny and I have two cats.

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

In addition to flying, I’ve also done a bit of skydiving.  I gave it up, however, as the more I jumped the scarier it got!
I initially wanted to pursue a career creating computer graphics for movies.  I have a gallery of 3D models and computer rendered stills and animations on my website.
I’m a big fan of movies.  My favorite, besides Twister, is Gremlins.  Yeah, they’re little monster, but their antics are highly entertaining and they remind me of myself at times.

26) If you have kids or plan on having them... would you like to involve them in your chasing?
Sure, when they’re old enough.

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

I’m software developer at Northwestern University.

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

They’re delusional. The National Weather service saves lives. Firefighters save lives. EMTs save lives. While chasers help in the warning process by submitting reports, their role in helping the NWS save lives is indirect. Most tornado fatalities are from large, violent tornadoes, which are usually well warned for in advance of the actual tornado. For a deadly tornado to sneak past the NWS and for a chaser to be the one that brings it to everyone’s attention, that’s an incredibly rare event. Chasers can save lives, pulling people from deadly situations, but so can anyone on any given day when the opportunity presents itself, and these opportunities are also quite rare on chases. Saving lives is not why we’re out there. We're out there because we're drawn to storms.  Reporting severe weather and helping those in the storm's path are just ways we can give back as we're in the position to do so.  People who say they chase to save lives either feel guilty about chasing a potentially devastating force of nature and need justification to feel better, are attention seekers, or are beginners who have been misguided.  There are much more needy areas and problems in the world that deserve attention for those who are compelled to save lives.

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

The “crazy farmer” tornado from Columbus, NE in 1998 is about as close to my perfect chase as I’ve seen. I’m sure there have been better events that had no witnesses at all, however.

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

Supercells and tornadoes are what I seek. I’ll shoot other interesting weather as it presents itself. I’ve thought about going on a cane chase, but that’s going to be down the road. I loathe winter weather.

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

I graduated with a computer science like degree six years ago. 

32) What do you expect in 2012? 

Great times with friends and a few photogenic tubes.


I chase because I have a burning desire to witness tornadoes and supercellsIts a rewarding hobby with many enjoyable aspects, from the satisfaction of watching your forecast verify first hand, taking in the beautiful sights of the Great Plains, to the wonder and excitement of watching some of the most powerful forces of nature on the planet.

No comments:

Post a Comment