Storm Chaser Interview: Corey Ecton – Nature Untamed 

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Name: Corey Ecton

Storm chasing name: Nature Untamed 

What influenced you to start storm chasing? 

Ecton: My entire life, I’ve had a fascination with severe storms of all types.  From tornadoes, to hurricanes, to supercell severe thunderstorms, seeing these entities up close and personal has tickled the senses. Not for the devastating reasons some may think, but it’s the ultimate test of my abilities to ‘be in the right position at the right time’ and maintain pace with the storm consistent with the challenges of maintaining the best view. There’s always something to learn. Perhaps my number one influence is the knowledge that a lot of elements remain unaccounted and the answer is in every storm. After over 32 years of doing this, I learn something new just about every time I’m in the field still to this very day. One day, one of us, truly interested in the meteorological aspects of these scenarios may uncover a key on the keyring that starts to provide some traction on the path of deciphering why these happen, and over the years, I’ve developed some theories consistent with this endgame.

How many storm chases have you been on and what’s your favourite to date?

Ecton: Oh wow. I’ve been on many, many chases/intercepts over the years…too many to count. My favourite to date is going to sound like a cliche, but all of them are my favourites for one reason or another as every chase/intercept has something unique to offer and learn, from unpredictable storm motions, to view, to storm-level evolution, to mode of severe. Believe it or not, even ‘bust’ days have something to offer, for there is a chance entailed that will make me a better forecaster for the next event. Storm chasing is a wild balancing act that not only contains the element of reading and analysing the datasets (mesoscale analysis and model data), but perhaps most importantly, being able to identify when the datasets you are seeing are not correct and being able to make on-the-fly adjustments to account for these elements.

During a chase, what excites you the most?

Ecton: Everything.  Again, not a ‘dodgy’ answer. The anticipation begins once I believe that I have a good feel on the general location of the event(s) and the mode of severe weather I expect, then this evolves as the event(s) draw closer, data begins to reveal in the higher-resolution CAMs (Convection-Allowing Models), and decoding which has the most accurate and realistic representation of what is to be expected the day of. The excitement morphs into another stage the day of the event with the transit to the target area.  I love the tornadoes, don’t get me wrong, but I feel where I go right that others go wrong is by viewing the tornado not as the only prize, but as the top prize. In every event, there’s something brilliant to witness. Being omnipotent enough to appreciate that is a huge key for me personally.

Photo credit: Corey Ecton – Untamed Nature

– LET’S DISCUSS CHASING IN DETAIL –

When do you start planning for a chase?

Ecton: I typically begin the planning phase for a chase 3-5 days leading up to an event.

What steps do you take to plan out where your severe weather (tornado) target will be?

Ecton: It’s a cumbersome process. I know it sounds redundant, but accounting for every variable possible is the best formula. Model data analysis takes up most of the time, from run to run, gaining a conceptual understanding of how and where the features responsible for storms may move, and being versatile. There’s also a key contained in the model data, but I’ll not divulge that here, as that’s one of my ‘trade secrets’. Not to fret, all of us seasoned chasers have some secrets we will not reveal that took us years to uncover and perfect. System evolution and analysing how the model data meshes up to what is occurring in real-time is perhaps the most overlooked key. It’s not just about the storms, it’s about the timing, road network, and believe it or not, the time of day the convection (storms) are expected. Not much to see if it’s in the middle of the night all the while the ‘danger’ element remarkably increases. 

What do you take when you go chasing?

Ecton: I have amassed a great deal of gadgetry that I take into the field with me. From three laptops, to the iPad, to 7 cameras, there’s a lot that joins me on a chase, including vehicle safety gear, gear for search & rescue, backup batteries for everything I’m taking, to personal nourishment, it’s better to over-prepare than under-prepare. Most (but not all) of the gear can be seen in the supplied photo of the car setup. The car is set up with proprietary data services and the equipment to receive and render this data, just about all of which is ‘subscription data’ that provides a more uninterrupted, granular representation of what is happening.

What equipment do you use to chase?

Ecton: All of the gear listed above. The laptops and the iPad are perhaps the most important tools in the car at any given point in time. A combination of strong computers with a multi-monitor setup at home help with the lead-up preparation to chase day and video and photo editing post-chase. All-in-all, there’s a very healthy yearly salary worth of gear that I have that is specifically-tasked with my chasing.

Also, what equipment do you use during a chase?

Ecton: Most of the equipment that I take gets used at one time or another and everything is geared for a particular implementation. About the only exception to this would be the extra batteries. I’m pretty particular about power management and an overkill mindset is my method with respect to this.  

Photo credit: Corey Ecton – Untamed Nature

If someone wants to start chasing, what should they learn or do and what should they expect?
Ecton: This one is a bit more complex, so bear with me. For those that wish to start chasing, it is highly recommended to find someone that has been doing this for quite awhile and ask to join them, not just the day of the chase, but for the processes that lead up to ‘chase day’ so this person may observe the entire process. Don’t observe your peer’s process with the goal of replicating it fully, but to assist in developing your own proprietary process and appreciate the challenges contained therein.

Successful storm chasing is a delicate balance of being both proactive and reactive, especially the day of the chase, as features can and will change throughout the entire time-frame leading up to storm initiation. Versatility with respect to everything is key, especially the day of the chase. Respect everything about that day including the fact that you are approaching a storm/storms that have great potential to deal a tremendous amount of harm in a very short amount of time with little or no advanced warning. After all, you are placing yourself in harm’s way.

Getting into the more intricate and what some deem as ‘mundane’ or ‘boring’ elements of the process, having a good conceptual meteorological knowledge is key. Pairing this with experience and a good mentor that has plenty of experience of his/her own will assist with laying a solid foundation for the aspiring chaser. Having ‘eyes in the back of your head’ in the field is key beneficial as it is very easy to get transfixed on a feature you don’t commonly see and this can detract from the overall situational awareness that is necessary to preserve your own safety.

Lastly, but definitely NOT least, do not…and I mean NOT…get caught up in the ‘closer is better’ game a lot of chasers are playing. Of course, as a seasoned veteran of this craft, I would recommend watching our video content rather than actually going out and doing it, as this is the best and safest way to witness these storms. If you are insistent on going out into the field, I urge one to do this fully and for the right reasons. Don’t get caught up in the fad and respect the hazards that these storms present. 

This is not a competition if you are doing this correctly. It’s a method to witness storms firsthand and there is a process that is fluid and lengthy. Knowledge of the full scope of storms, from evolution to dissipation, is critical.  Watching for unforeseen hazards, from traffic, to storm motion, to storm mode, to road networks, to anything else you can think of that could go wrong, is essential. Also, when you stop to view a storm, make sure that you have multiple routes you can use to escape the storm should the unexpected occur. 

Please do not interpret me providing this feedback as my condoning storm chasing in any way, shape, or form.  I do not condone performing this activity due to the risks entailed. This information is provided for the worst-case scenario where someone chooses to do it anyway and forfeit the advice to not do it.

Stay tuned to Discover Tornadoes for more tornado news, information, and more. Stay tuned for more storm chaser interviews.

If you’re a storm chaser and would love to be interviewed! Email us at discovertornadoes@gmail.com.

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