EDMONTON – As dark clouds swirled ominously over Hardisty, Alta. on Sunday, storm chasers in growing numbers were there, too, hoping to catch a tornado.
Nevin deMilliano has been chasing storms for about six years and says there’s been a huge jump in the number of storm chasers.
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The Edmonton-based 28-year-old says he thinks that’s because smartphone technology has given people the ability to instantly share videos.
He also says there are apps that give people better weather radar access or allow them to watch other storm chasers — which makes it easier to chase.
DeMilliano says that can be good because more people can report severe weather to Environment Canada.
But deMilliano, who took atmospheric science courses at the University of Alberta, says it can also be bad if people are inexperienced and get themselves into dangerous situations.
“It’s good in the sense that anyone, if it’s affecting their backyard, can snap a photo, and report it and the warnings will reflect what’s going on right then and there,” deMilliano said.
“But I think the part of it that’s kind of harder is that it also draws a lot more people who are like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be insane, let’s go do this’ and I think that part of it is, you’re going into it almost not knowing.”
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DeMilliano tells the story of a man who was chasing in Oklahoma for the first time and was on the phone with a friend when he started getting hit by debris and then the phone went dead.
The man died, he said.
“The aspect of amateurs going out there and chasing for the first time just using a cellphone, I mean that’s kind of the scary part about it, the bad part about it.”
He says people might think that you drive right into the storm to chase it, but he says that’s not the case.
DeMilliano, who operates under the Twitter handle @PrairieChasers and runs the Prairie Storm Chasers Facebook page with two colleagues, says they look at weather models and forecasts before picking a target area for a storm.
He says some people drive through the core of the storm to get into a better spot to see a tornado, but he never recommends that approach “because you never know what’s in there.”
There could be hail or worse and “that’s where you run into trouble,” he said.
“We want to station in an area where we’re kind of chasing the storm, rather than being chased by it.”