Most people do their best to take cover when severe weather and tornadoes are headed their way. But there’s a group of people who are running toward the storms, known as storm chasers.
Each storm chaser has their own motivation: some are serious meteorologists collecting hard data with scientific instruments; some are thrill-seekers who are looking for the adrenaline rush of seeing a tornado close up; and there’s a growing industry of people who actually make a living bringing tourists to a front row seat to see the destructive power of nature.
It’s April 23, 2021 near Lockett, Texas, and storm chaser Russ Contreras has caught up with a tornado. To Russ, storm chasing is the ultimate hobby. He’s been fascinated by severe weather since he was a kid watching a classic movie.
“The tornado scene in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you know, and I remember going outside when I was young and seeing storms come through DFW and I just remember the sky would just turn black, you know, purple, dark purple … the storm was coming in,” he said.
Contreras owns his own pest control business in Carrollton. It gives him the flexibility to pursue his storm chasing hobby. His chase car is a 2012 Ford Escape outfitted with a weather station on top and a mounted laptop inside running specialized radar software, flashing caution lights, extra fuel and a tow rope in case he gets stuck. Storm chasing is hard on vehicles.
“I probably lost about two or three windshields in the last couple of years,” said Contreras.
His last chase car sported large dents from golf ball-sized hail.