14 February 2012

Chaser Profiles: Danny Neal


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

My name is Danny Neal and I am from Evergreen Park, IL. 

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

While not a brand name, my website www.northernilstormchaser.com has been around for a few years. You can find me on twitter @N_ILstormchaser and on youtube at www.youtube.com/dannyneal14 I am also closely involved with the group Convective Addiction where we occasionally decided to do something productive.

3) What got you interested in weather?

August 28th, 1990 . A day where the only August F5 hit a town a couple miles away from me. This sparked an intense fear of severe weather. Through fear grew respect and finally admiration. This single event is what started the obsession that will live forever.

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?

I love how fluid the clouds move through the atmosphere from the chaotic motions to smooth transitions to graceful dissipation. Seeing a thunderstorm form before your eyes and grow into a supercell is truly something a chaser needs to experience. Just sitting there in a spot and watching clouds form and dissipate is so relaxing. It is by far my favorite aspect of weather. 

5) When did you first start chasing?

My first chase was April 13th, 1998 in Central Illinois. I was only 10 years old and was scared for my life. It was only a year later I was sitting there filming my first tornado. First trip to the plains was in 2000 and have been traveling them ever since.

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

Hobby turning into a business. I still put my own passion ahead of it, but in this day and age everyone is trying to get ahead. I would out it 80/20 on my end. The most I have dabbled in was stock video sales and marketing. 

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

I would say Warren Faidley.... and he has no idea who I am or what an impact he had on me. I got a book titled "Storm Chaser: In pursuit of Untamed Skies" as a child. Read that thing front to back a hundred times. He opened my eyes up to someone who decided to take their passion from a local level to nationwide. His inspiring first chapter when he got caught in the bears cage back in rural Kansas, to his death defying intercept of a dust devil on his bike as a child, and finally when a surprised tornado almost hit his apartment in Tucson. I really lived through his book for a while and it inspired me to get out there and chase. Coupled that with all the TLC and Discovery shows (that featured ONLY tornadoes and NO drama). I also really loved all the Tornado Video Classic series. Most people would watch cartoons... I watched tornado videos.

8) Do you have any chase partners?

I like to stay loyal to a particular partner. Build up a good thing with them where we can both trust each other's judgments and know each others moves before they happen. It keeps stressful situations down to a minimum where we both know each of us can make the correct decision to keep ourselves safe. I started chasing with my dad until I got my driver's license.... chasing with him was on the more conservative side. Brief glimpses at tornadoes miles away wasn't what I was going for... so I paired up with my current chase partner Adam Lucio. He started hitting the roads hard in 2007 and I noticed he had done some good things and had a nice aggressive attitude that I had. It was a great match. I am not sure how long that match is to continue due to other business opportunities, but the will to chase will always be there whether it is in a tour van or solo. I have also chased with Skip Talbot and have my most successful day ever in his Mudpuppy van.

9) What was your most successful chase?

In terms of action? May 22nd, 2010 - a number of emotions consumed me on this day. In terms of overall success and video? June 17th, 2010 is by far my most treasured day. Everyone wanted to head to NW MN while I stuck to my guns and chose S. MN. Either way I am sure we would have scored tornadoes, but I am glad my forecasting and perseverance paid off from turning the chase into one humiliating bust to the best chase day I likely will ever have. 

10) What was your most terrifying moment?

May 22nd, 2010 - By far the most terrified I have ever been while chasing or otherwise. There are certain situation you can control and you choose to place yourself there.... while there are others that you choose to place yourself at, not knowing disaster was lurking out of site just up the road from you. For those who didn't know of the incident... we were playing cat and mouse with the Bowdle supercell... getting safely ahead of it, letting it catch up, moving safely ahead of it, etc. Until our last move was cut short by our road suddenly coming to a dead end with 2 tornadoes bearing down on us. Had the road went through we would have placed ourselves 2 miles ahead of the area of interested and had an amazing view.... instead we all bailed into a farmers field while tornado after tornado dropped around us. It is by some grace of God that all 11 of us who were out there weren't picked off by any of these tornadoes... but boy were some of those calls close.

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?

Between 55 and 65. I know I have 55 for certain, but if you can count some brief bird farts and maybenadoes then that number climbs. Numbers really don't mean much to me anymore. I tally 'tornado days' over actual tornadoes. 

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

Normally I am not one to really agree with commercializing chasing. I was against Spotter Network, against streaming, against breaking news sales. I just thought it ruined the hobby and tried to turn into a cut throat step on everyone to get to the top business. In a way it has... nowadays it seems like people are upset their video didn't sell when 10 years ago that same video would be a treasured personal possession. I remember after June 17th a certain chaser was severely distraught his video didn't sell but the guy he was chasing with did. To that I say.... just be happy you are out there. Leave the business where it belongs. Enjoy the passion of the chase, not the temptation of a few extra dollars.

In regards to getting up close and personal with a tornado... I am all for it. I love hearing that whooshing sound, feeling the dust being kicked up, and feeling the inflow whipping at my sides and back. My perfect shot for a tornado is just over a half mile away. I can still get the whole tornado in my viewfinder, and I can still see what is going on at the base. I don't bash those who like structure shots, because given the time and place I will be doing that too. 

13) Describe your dream chase.

My dream chase in a repeat of May 30th, 2004 in IL... only slightly less forcing along the cold front. A squall line dominated that day further west in IL. Supercells developed along and ahead of the cold front and put down a couple photogenic tornadoes before quickly becoming absorbed. It would have been interesting to see what those supercells may have done had they not been quickly absorbed.  I guess any classic plains set up in C. IL would be my "dream" chase since I can leave and be home all in the same day.

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?

Triple point. 3 areas to choose from. I love Illinois warm fronts and west Texas drylines. 

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

Most success? Minnesota/South Dakota albeit small sample size. Most repeated success would be Oklahoma. 

Least success? Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska - I say IL because of all the times I have chased here in my home state... there have been only a handful of noteworthy events I can take away from here. That needs to change.

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

I tried that route. I went to College of DuPage for 2 years and got a jump start on my degree but really wasn't a fan of being looked down upon because I chased on my own. While that certainly wasn't the reason I didn't pursue it, other interests consumed my life like my lifelong passion for firefighting. I decided I had the best of both worlds in my hands  where I can work as a firefighter and on my days off I can chase storms/tornadoes. Win/Win. I do, however, want to go back to school and get my Bachelors degree. 

In regards to a TV station, I have sniffed a number of leads into doing this... most recently with a local station to the north in Milwaukee. I know Wichita had some openings too. While I would love to get paid to chase, I don't want to waste my skills and instincts being trapped to the marketing area when leftover storms are moving in at 11p while 4 hours before were producing countless tornadoes a couple hours to the west.

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

Honestly probably about the same. There will probably be another reality show or two out on chasing, a couple more tanks roaming around, another Vortex project, and I am sure a few daredevils that will devise a plan to successfully deploy themselves into a weak tornado. As much as I hate to say it, I may be playing a more marginal set up in South Dakota, over a high risk in Kansas because of some of the crowds. We will play that by ear.

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 always looking forward to chasing. Being a trained firefighter and medical professional, the thought of uncovering a disaster area does run across my mind. I guess part of me knows I am trained to handle the situation, but really.... are you really prepared to see it?

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 have never felt the need not to chase anymore. There are some days I just don't want to chase (even if the set up looks good) but that is not because I don't like chasing it is just because I don't feel up to putting the work into forecasting it. I am not all about looking at other people's outlooks and jumping at their targets. If I chase it is because I forecast the event, make my own plan, and try to execute it. If I bust I bust. 

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?

As long as I still have a heartbeat.

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

Outside of chasing... I work two jobs. Whenever I find time outside of work, I love to go fishing, I love to grill, I go camping, hang out with friends, play baseball, attend sporting events. I like to be active.

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

All types of metal \m/ dubstep, some rap, classic rock. 

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

White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, OU, and U of I (Illinois) 

24) Do you have a family or pets?

I live with my g/f of almost 6 years, I have a 2 year old schnauzer (Stormy) and a 2 year old Bengal cat (Zeus)

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

I was an all area baseball player and I was scouted by the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox in high school and college, My favorite colors and blue and orange, I am a third generation firefighter

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

I would love to involve my kids in my interest, as much as I try to persuade... it is ultimately up to them.

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

Firefighter for Evergreen Park Fire Department and Clinical Information Management Specialist for Advocate Christ Medical Center.

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

To be blunt... I don't hold a grain of sand to those claims. I see a lot of spotters out there that like to put themselves up on a pedestal by saying "they do it for the community." While yes, they are technically right.... they do it because they like storms. You can't tell me you are scared of storms, yet throw yourself in the middle of one, just to "protect" your community. Further more anyone that says they are chasing to save lives is full of it. You don't chase the middle of South Dakota or western Nebraska to save lives when there are more cows than people out there. No one's priority is to drive 500 miles away from their community to try to protect another's. Reporting is a PART of chasing, but rarely is anyone out there to just call in reports. If that were true there would be a lot more chasers out there without cameras, GPS, live streams, and other self promotional material. If you want to save a life... don't drive by the farm house freshly destroyed by the tornado.... put down the camera and go help.... It is something every chaser should do, but I would say 99% of us that go out there is because we have a passion for severe weather and wish to document it.

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

Oh hell... I wish I could have gotten out to chase May 29th, 2004, March 13th, 1990, and June 2nd, 1990... but the one I wish I was at least AROUND for was April 21st, 1967 when this areas most deadly tornado outbreak struck and an F4 tornado passed 2 blocks north of the house I have lived in my whole life. That would have been quite the sight.

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

I will only "chase" severe convective weather. I have no desire to see a hurricane, be in a hurricane, let alone get on the coast during one. Chicago gets 3-4 "hurricanes" a year and these have lightning, 80 mph winds, and hail ;) 

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

I went to College of DuPage but never finished my degree. I was accepted by University of Oklahoma just out of high school, but decided to continue my baseball career and not attend OU... a decision that haunts me. I go off and on to a local college and keep building up my fire service certifications and hope to get a BS in Fire Science.

32) What do you expect in 2012?

Similar to 2011. I expect a couple major tornadoes to affect major population centers (just like every other year). I expect capping issues to play a much bigger role in severe weather this year too. 

Chase! Live life and remember those who have supported you through it. Live each chase like it is your last and never regret a thing. See you under the meso.

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