Storm Chaser Interview: William T. Hark

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Name: William T. Hark

Storm chasing name: N/A

What influenced you to start storm chasing? 

Hark: I have always been interested in the weather especially tornadoes. Although I did a couple of local chases on my own, I first went chasing with Cloud 9 Tours run by Charles Edwards in 1997. I started chasing on my own the following year. I have learned a lot over the years from Charles Edwards, Jim Leonard, Jeff Piotrowski and David Hoadley. I also have learned a lot while chasing with friends.

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

Hark: I have been on more chases than I can count since 1997. It’s hard to pick a favorite since I’ve had many exciting chase days. Maybe May 19, 2013 where I intercepted tornadoes near Edmond, Oklahoma and then dropped south and intercepted an EF4 tornado near Shawnee, Oklahoma.

During a chase, what excites you the most?

Hark: Watching a long-lived tornado.

What is the most dangerous thing you’ve had to deal with whilst chasing?

Hark: Being caught in the circulation of the El Reno, Oklahoma tornado on May 31, 2013. That being said, over the years, the biggest dangers have been fatigue while driving, other drivers, possibility of hydroplaning, and flooding.

Photo credit: William T. Hark

– LET’S DISCUSS CHASING IN DETAIL –

When do you start planning for a chase?

Hark: I plan months in advance for a  vacation in Tornado Alley for about two weeks. Locally, I am prepping for a chase a couple of days in advance.

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

Hark: I do my own forecast first. I typically start with the predicted 500 mb flow using multiple models. I then look at the 700 mb level to get some idea of the cap. Then I look at the 850 mb level flow, again for windspeed and direction. Afterwards, I look at current and predicted surface maps (fronts, surface winds, position of the low, moisture, CAPE) along with satellite images. I end the forecast with a review of CAMS (convection allowing models) and looking at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) forecast nationally and local National Weather Service (NWS) office forecast discussions.

What do you take when you go chasing?

Hark: Cell phone (RadarScope, maps), Baron XM WxWORX (satellite radar data), power inverters, laptop, dashcam mount, window camera mount, flashlight, eye safety googles.  I take a dashcam camcorder, a large camcorder for tripod use, GoPro for additional wide-angle dash view and another one on the trunk looking backwards. I also have a DSLR, point and shoot camera. I also bring a paper atlas.

Photo credit: William T. Hark

If someone wants to start chasing, what should they learn or do and what should they expect?
Hark: The best option is to go with a tour or educational group first. Other options include going with an experienced chaser. A storm chaser should have a detailed knowledge of storm structure in addition to forecasting. A good start would be taking a free Skywarn course by the NWS if in the United States. I’d also suggest reading some of Tim Vasquez’s forecasting and storm chasing books. His company is called WeatherGraphics.

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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