April 28, 2014 1:18 pm

Storm chasers get too close to tornado, spark outrage


WATCH ABOVE: Cotton Rohrscheib of the storm chaser group Hail’s Angels Arkansas captured this incredible raw footage of his team being overcome by the tornado they were chasing. 

TORONTO – A team of storm chasers got too close to a tornado in Mayflower, Ark. on Sunday, sparking outrage on Twitter.

The chasers, who call themselves Hail’s Angels on Twitter, posted the photo at 8 p.m. Sunday night.

Almost immediately, people called the chasers reckless and irresponsible.

On May 31, three seasoned storm chasers and researchers — Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and chaser Carl Young — died when the widest tornado in the history of the U.S., an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale (which measures tornado strength), changed direction suddenly, sweeping up their chase vehicle.

The Weather Channel chasers were also caught in the same tornado that day, but were lucky enough to live to tell about it.

READ MORE: Storm chasing: Worth the risk?

Renowned storm chaser George Kourounis, who hails from Toronto but chases storms around the world, said that he doesn’t know the chasing team but that its decision to chase the tornado wasn’t a wise one.

“I know that terrain. I’ve been to Vilonia. It’s difficult on a good day, because there are hills and trees,” Kourounis told Global News. “Finding yourself in a bad situation — that’s the place to do it. Not necessarily in the open plains in Nebraska in June when the visibility is so good you can watch your dog run away for three days.

“You have to change your style of chasing… What happened in El Reno, even though it was almost a year ago, seems to fade pretty quick, it would appear.”

Local Ontario storm chaser David Patrick said that storm chasing is about planning and observing from a safe distance.

“I do not drive into circulations and I certainly would not head directly into a known tornadic storm doing EF3-EF4 damage,” Patrick told Global News. “Storm chasing is about using your eyes and complete understanding of how thunderstorms and tornadoes transpire and planning a safe interception of it. We always plan escape routes, different ways to approach a storm or just bail on a storm if it is too intense or dangerous to proceed. We love doing this but we want to live to do it for a long time.”

Kourounis and Patrick agree that there are far more amateur chasers out there who lack the knowledge, experience, and tools to chase. They can not only endanger their own lives, but others around them.

“I see stormchasing groups with names like ‘Too Close’ or stuff like that, and it’s like, really guys? You’re glorifying the fact that you’re doing something, not just dangerous…but foolhardy,” Kourounis said.

Kourounis, who is preparing to head a storm chasing tour, recognizes that some may think that he’s being hypocritical.

“It’s all about having respect for the storm that you’re chasing. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and when you’ve seen as many ruined towns as I have, you understand exactly how powerful these things can be and how fast things can change,” said Kourounis. “With the tours we try to get close…but we always have an escape route planned out in advance. We never put ourselves in the path of these tornadoes.

“No photo is worth dying for.”

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