My fascination with weather began as a young child when I moved from the comparatively tranquil southern New Jersey to the D/FW Metroplex in the mid-90s. That was back in the era of Troy Dungan, who was chief meteorologist at WFAA-TV until 2007. With the exception of major snow storms I didn’t care much about the weather. That changed about a week after moving into new house in Grand Prairie. A late-evening severe thunderstorm dropped hail up to the size of hen eggs and welcomed me to Texas with style. Being a seven-year-old child, I didn’t particularly enjoy the ‘style’ and was petrified of thunderstorms from that point well into my teens.
Fast forward ten years or so into the year 2009. After a few years spent aspiring for a life of commercial aviation, my passion for weather had returned in force. I had spent the previous year observing high-impact weather events from an online perspective. By using online sources I was able to gradually self-teach myself the basics about severe weather. I first attended a Skywarn training class in the early spring of 2008, which is noteworthy because it is before I even considered going on a storm chase.
My first storm chase was on November 10, 2008, just south and eventually west of Fort Worth, Texas. My equipment included my father as the driver and an AM/FM radio in an old minivan. I ended up seeing a brief glimpse of a high-precipitation supercell but wasn’t in a good position to see more than a beaver tail.
With continued study and guidance from others, I continued chasing in the spring of 2009, including on February 10, 2009. That day marked my first ‘real’ chase involving a risk for significant tornadoes and not just the hailers I had been chasing previously. I ended up watching a shower rapidly evolve into a gorgeous supercell from Bellevue north to Ringgold, Texas, in a matter of thirty minutes. I caught a glimpse of my first tornado as the storm was moving northeast across the Red River. Sadly this storm would go on to produce a violent tornado in Lone Grove, Oklahoma, that killed eight and seriously injured fourteen. That day is etched into my memory even to this day and marked the true beginning of my storm chasing career.
In late March 2009 I co-founded what is known today as Texas Storm Chasers. My personal goal was to get practice building basic websites with my old copy of Microsoft FrontPage. Personally, I would have been pleased had 100 folks visited the website I had built. Compared to today’s websites, the old websites I had developed were basic and generally just built for me to pass the time. A Texas Storm Chasers Facebook page and Twitter account were also registered in the event we decided to move into the realm of social media. Little did I know how much that decision would impact my life.
Fast forward into the late summer of 2011, which seemed like it was never going to end. The TSC Facebook page had grown to just over 16,000 followers, with our Twitter account also quite active. Everything changed on September 4, 2011, not only for me but for many others Texans. A perfect storm with a catastrophic drought and strong winds caused dozens of disastrous wildfires to break out across Texas. It became apparent to me personally by the mid-afternoon hours that a high-impact disaster was underway. A simple Facebook status originally would end up causing the TSC Facebook page to become an information hub for evacuation information, shelter locations for animals, and new wildfires. Our Facebook page grew from 16,500 to near 76,000 followers in two days. It was in the following days that I realized we had an opportunity to transform into an organization focused on communicating weather information.
The evolving world of social media and mobile technology has vastly changed the way we share information even compared to 2011. More and more individuals rely on digital media for weather information both in the near and long term. With nearly everyone having a smartphone camera, we have a unique ability to confirm weather conditions on the ground nearly instantly. That is especially true during winter weather events, flooding, and severe weather. My personal goal is to continue evolving Texas Storm Chasers into the digital age. Social networks come and go but the need for accurate weather information will always be in demand.