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Tornado Chasing: Why It's Not Just About the Adventure

A Hoosier chaser says one of the strongest tornadoes ever changed his life and his mission.

INDIANAPOLIS--Tornado videos shot by storm chasers have been helpful to scientists who study how they form. Chasers are also helpful when they act as storm spotters and call in tornadoes so that people can get as much advance notice as possible.

Chase One is a group dedicated to chasing the in the Midwest. Members of the group attended the Central Indiana Severe Weather Symposium at IUPUI.

Motivation

"My motivation for chasing was originally just the adventure. I wanted to experience storms," said Robert Gilstrap, a member of the chasing group.

Gilstrap experienced the May 3, 1999, Moore, Okla., tornado that killed 36 people and produced the highest wind speeds ever recorded on Earth, over 300 mph. Gilstrap was five years old.

"Honestly that fear, cause I was petrified of storms for a long time, motivated me to make things safer," he said. "As I got older, as I matured, as I got more professional, I understood more about how the world worked, my motivation was a lot less about adventure and more about helping people."

Wanting to help

While the video is useful, tornado videos are so much more common than they used to be, that they may not be very profitable. But, HD videos hold the potential to help researchers find out new info. Still, Gilstrap said helping warn people is one of his goals.

"It's cool to help be able to bring that lead time up. I don't want to sound arrogant, but, it's good when you call 9-11, you call the Weather Service, on a tornado that doesn't show up on radar."

What computers can't do

And, storm chasing cannot be replicated by machines because of the special skills and human instinct that is required.

"You get what computers can't get and that is humans helping humans, with the aid of computers. I think that right there, at least with storm chasing, is as perfect as you're gonna get," said Gilstrap. "I think now what we have to do, as an industry, is fine tune and get people to listen. That's the big ticket right now."

His favorite storm chasing experience in Indiana was with a tornado that happened in Jasper on June 12, 2015.

"It was a low-risk day. We stuck with it. I had my drone. We were able to take a day that everybody bailed out on. Me and I think one other crew, stayed out. And we captured the only video of the tornado," said Gilstrap.

PHOTOS Chris Davis/Emmis/BoswellMedia

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