16 February 2012

Chaser Profiles: Mike Scantlin


1) What is your name and where do you live?
I’m Mike Scantlin, I live in Norman, OK

2) Do you have a website or a brand name that people identify you as?
My website is www.StormChase.TV, also had a small reaction to a satirical acronym on my chase vehicle, Severe Hail Intercept Team. I have facebook fanpages for both. I also chase for SevereStudios.com

3) What got you interested in weather?

One of my first memories was a tornado scare. When I was 3, I lived in Owasso, OK. I was in the front yard playing and the tornado sirens were going off. My mom was screaming at my sisters and I to get inside, I don’t remember much, all I remember was looking up and seeing a black sky. Pretty dramatic to see the sky go from blue to black, especially at 3 years old. I always heard about tornadoes but I didn’t really know what they were. When I was 7, my cousin Nick babysat me during the summer. THIS is where it all started. I was terrified of storms, and anytime it got ugly, Nick would lock me on the front porch. A few close lightning strikes, and a few hairy drives to Grandma’s house during tornado warnings(typical Oklahoma) turned the fear into fascination. The dramatic cloud motions and colors, the adrenaline rush after a close strike and huge thunder boom, we were storm junkies. We were just kids, but we were storm junkies. I checked out every weather book the Owasso Library had to offer(didn’t take them back, probably still have them), rented every Nation Geographic video at the local movie store, and my grandparents gave me an old VHS shoulder camcorder. If it was supposed to storm, instead of going and playing with friends, I would stay home and watch for KTUL First Alert weather bulletins, hoping and praying for something to come through.  If it wasn’t going to storm, I would watch an old NatGeo VHS about cyclones, featuring Hurricane Andrew and the Red Rock, OK F4. I still watch that Red Rock video from time to time. I love when the camera guy zooms in to the very edge of the wedge, and adjusts the focus ring and exposes the individual specs of debris. I wish more chasers knew how important camera focus can be. I’m rambling so I’ll move on…

4) What is your favorite aspect of weather?
My favorite aspect of weather is the fact that it’s ever-changing. Every storm is different and there’s just so much we don’t understand. Things we know we don’t know, and then things we don’t even know that we don’t know. There are so many tiny variables. How many times have you busted on a ‘high risk’? How many times have you scored on a probable ‘bust’ day? You just never know what’s going to happen and you learn something on every chase. 

5) When did you first start chasing?
After a couple years of learning about storm chasing online, I got the chance to put my knowledge to the test. The date was April 19, 2003, I was a Junior at Glenpool High School. Before school, I heard the local ABC meteorologist mention tornadoes being possible in the afternoon. Right before soccer practice, I had a computer science class. While doing my assignment, I kept an eye on the watch/warning page on the KTUL website. The watch went up and class ended with one more ‘class’ to go. I let Coach know about the Tornado Watch, and he said he would keep an eye to the sky. Sure enough, about 30 minutes into practice, the bubbling cumulus exploded into a supercell storm 20 miles SW of Glenpool. He dismissed practice, and by the time I had finished changing, it was hailing. Mostly quarters, but they seemed like baseballs. Half way home, the tornado sirens started blaring. Tornado Warning! My ride home dropped me off, and I busted into the house, where my Dad was already watching the radar. “There’s a tornado on the ground near Kellyville” he said. I grabbed the keys and screamed “LETS GO!” hahah my step-mom Susan thought we were crazy, but she knew I wanted to be a storm chaser more than ANYTHING in the world. We dropped south through the hail back toward the high school. The hail subsided, and we were beneath a GORGEOUS mothership. “WE’RE UNDER THE MESO!” As it drifted East, my first wall cloud developed. I remember how fast the upward motion was “IT’S COMING DOWN!” We followed it east for 10 miles but it never happened. The storm weakened, but I was HOOKED. I did the local ‘chasing’ thing for a couple years, but didn’t start forecasting and going to targets before-hand until 2005. Finally in 2007 I decided Eastern Oklahoma wasn’t the best place to see tornadoes haha so I carpooled with Tyler Costantini to the panhandle and on March 28th and saw my first tornado near Hedley, TX. 

6) What do you see chasing as... a hobby or a business?
Hobby is such a bad word haha like you’re comparing storm chasing to RC Cars and scrapbooking. I’d say it both a passion and a business, but it’s so much more than that. You have to be able to balance your passion and the business side of it, or it loses its meaning. Enjoying the chase and remembering why you got hooked on chasing ALWAYS comes first. If you don’t get that ‘first time’ excitement every chase, you’re doing it wrong. 

7) Who do you credit for getting you into chasing and what have they done to further your career?
I always looked up to my local KTUL chasers because they were the only chasers I knew about, before Al Gore invented the internet. Jeff Piotrowski, Justin Teague, Dave Crowley, Bob Rohloff. After discovering the online chaser community, I learned more about the chasers that weren’t locals. Mike Hollingshead’s pictures didn’t even look real. I thought “I would give ANYTHING to see a storm like that”.  I was a big TornadoVideos.Net fan from the beginning. I loved Eric Nguyen’s photos as well as his in-depth chase reports. When I first started talking to Randy Hicks, he emailed me some insane pictures and videos, I thought he was full of it haha. Truly extreme tornado video. 

8) Do you have any chase partners?
In the early years I would just badger friends to drive me around. My first real chase partner was a friend from high-school, Randy Rhea. I still chase with him from time to time. I also chased a lot with my good friends Matt “Gooch” Douglas and Matt Hagy in 2009 and 2010. This past year I mostly chased solo. I chased a time or two with Mike Ratliff and a few days with the late and great Andy Gabrielson(RIP brother). I ‘chased’ over 5,000 miles with Andy over the last couple of months. Gardenshowers.

9) What is your most successful chase?
My most successful chase was definitely November 7, 2011. Multiple slow-moving, photogenic daytime tornadoes over open country with good road options. It doesn’t get any better.

10) What is your most terrifying moment?
As far as my own well-being goes, I’ve had a few close-calls with lightning strikes. That’s always fun. The most terrified I’ve been on a chase was May 24, 2011. I was behind a storm with a reported large tornado. As I got to where I could see the wedge a couple miles to my East, a radar update came across with a nasty debris ball and a 195kt TVS. Just knowing what I was going to see as I drove East behind  the rain-wrapped monster made me sick to my stomach. It was even worse than I imagined. That’s a story for another day…

11) About how many tornadoes have you seen?
My official number is 99. Like Skip said, there’s definitely a gray area. Sometimes you don’t count a tube that probably was a tube, sometimes you may think it’s a tornado and it’s not. It really doesn’t matter.

12) What do you think about people who chase for sales and the need to get up close and personal with Mother Nature?
Good for them. Who am I to judge them for how/why they chase? So long as reporting hazardous conditions comes first, I have no problem with it. I personally would rather keep chasing than stop to send video. However, it would be nice to make some of my money back. To each their own.

13) Describe your dream chase.
Slow moving supercell, in a completely uninhabited area, with multiple tornadoes of all different shapes and sizes. Basically May 24, 2008.   

14) What is your favorite set up to chase?
I really enjoyed the 2007 early season dryline chases in the TX panhandle.  The string of pearls chases where you can hit a storm for a while, drop south to the next one, and so on. 

15) Which state has brought you the most success? Least success? 
Most success would probably be Western Oklahoma. Hahaha Arkansas without a doubt, but that’s mainly my own fault.

16) Do you want to pursue a career in meteorology? Probably not. School seems to interfere with chasing. Would you ever chase locally for a t.v station?
 I chase for KTUL NewsChannel8 in Tulsa.

17) What do you see chasing as being like in 5-10 years?
Live streaming video will get better, reporting will get quicker and easier. Mobile internet will get faster. Complete idiots will see tornadoes on a regular basis. Hopefully the government shuts down the internet. Chasing has gotten too easy. Anyone with half a brain and mobile broadband can see tornadoes. I’d love to chase with just a paper atlas and a scanner. I’m joking. The world’s going to end this year, remember? 

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?
There is nothing exciting to me about violent class tornadoes. I look forward to helping the warning process and will always provide help with search and rescue if the situation presents itself. On days where violent tornadoes are possible, I pray for a blue sky bust. 

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?
Kind of. Finding a 2 year old boy barely clinging to life after being ripped from his mother’s arms in an EF5 tornado is about as brutal as it gets. That initial feeling of helplessness is easily the worst thing I have ever felt. However, it’s a grim reminder of just how important our reports are. You have to make reporting the top priority. 

20) How long do you plan on continuing chasing?
I will chase in an electric wheelchair if I have to. I couldn’t imagine life without chasing. Maybe someday I will grow up, but I doubt it.

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

I don’t have much of a life outside of chasing and work. I rollerblade(fruitboot) but I’m getting too old and fat haha. I play bass guitar, but don’t really have much time to pursue music as much as I’d like to. I’ve gotten into high-speed videography, but good high-speed cameras are really expensive.

22) What kind of music do you like to listen to on the chase or in general?
Wow haha. I listen to a bizarre variety of music on the chase. Anything from Chick Corea to Dr. Dre to Queen. 

23) What is your favorite professional and college sports team?
The only sport I follow is basketball. I’ve gotten pretty into the OKC Thunder the past couple months. I used to live for basketball, back in the Jordan era. Good times.

24) Do you have a family or pets?
I live with my awesome girlfriend Hailee. We are a perfect match haha. We also have a cat named Gandalf. 

25) Tell me 3 things that someone outside of chasing may not know you for.
In high school, I was an All State field-goal kicker. I hold the Oklahoma state record for the fastest bare-foot marathon time. I also once lost a fist-fight with Taylor Hanson. None of these things are true, I lead a boring life.

26) If you have kids or plan on having them... would you like to involve them in your chasing?
Probably, if they seem like they could handle the long drives.

27) Do you have a job and what do you do?
I’m a contracted land record imager for random oil/gas companies.

28) How do you feel about people who say they chase tornadoes for the sole purpose of saving lives?
I’d gladly donate money to them for their life-saving roof-top dome camera. Seriously, I don’t feel like anyone gets up on a chase day and says ‘TIME TO SAVE SOME LIVES!’ but when you’re presented with the opportunity to help storm victims, it’s the right thing to do. I know many chasers (unfortunately, it isn’t all chasers) who will call off a chase to help victims, be it search and rescue, giving them a ride to a friend’s house, clearing debris for emergency crews, etc. It bothers me when someone drives by fresh tornado damage, camera rolling, and doesn’t stop to check on the victims. There will be other tornadoes to chase another time, and you may be a victim’s last chance at survival. You don’t have to be a paramedic to help. I hear it all the time ‘there’s nothing I can do’ or ‘I’m not qualified to help these people, we need to stay out of the way’. More often than not, it’s a cop-out. If I see it again this year, I’m going on the warpath and it won’t be pretty. 

29) If there was one event in history that you wish you were around for to chase, what would it be?
Wow that’s a tough one. It’s probably a tie between April 26, 1991 and June 24, 2003.

30) Do you only chase severe weather or do you chase hurricanes and winter weather as well?
I have chased the last 2 hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S., Ike and Irene. I do chase winter storms, but don’t stray too far from home. I’d like to document a good blizzard this year but I hate cold weather so we’ll see. 

31) Do you go to a college or university, if so, what do you major in?
I went to college for 2 years as a music major… didn’t work out too well. 

32) What do you expect in 2012?

I expect to be surprised. I’d like it to be a caprock year, as that area has been pretty quiet the last couple years. I expect to chase more this year than I ever have.

Chase every storm like it’s your last. Spread love and positivity. Life is too short for hatred. Boobs.

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