The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 19, 2013

Storm chasers go looking for trouble

Call them crazy. They won’t mind.

They understand that running into a storm might not be everyone’s idea of a good time. And when tornado sirens sound — and authorities are advising people to take cover — they accept that it wouldn’t be inappropriate for people to give them looks of incredulity.

Comes with the territory.

But they want people to know that, while they may be storm chasers, they’re not a bunch of reckless weather cowboys out looking for a thrill. Their work has a purpose, they say. And if the weather ever cooperates this spring, they plan to be out there doing the purposeful work they’ve done for the past few years, helping meteorologists at the National Weather Service accurately predict the paths of severe weather events.

“We’re not just our there gawking at the storms,” local storm chaser Jeremy Den Hartog says. “What we’re doing is helping provide ground truth for the National Weather Service.”

Hartog, Erik Schmitt, Jeremy’s wife Cindy, Jordan Manderfield, Ben White and Pete Wachtel are part of a group of storm chasers that, come spring each year, gets ready to chase what others do their best to avoid.

They’ve been chasing storms since 2006 (seriously since 2008). Hartog does the forecasting. Schmitt and others handle driving duties. Whoever is sitting in back is in charge of recording the chase on video or shooting photos with a digital camera.

Why do they do it? Why run after — or into — a storm when the smart move would be to take cover?

They say they each caught the severe weather bug when they were young. Whether it was Schmitt watching a tornado roar through the Mapleton area or Hartog seeing a similar scene near Chandler, they say the bug them early and they’ve been hooked ever since.

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