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Stormchaser urges people to take cover

By Staff | Jun 18, 2010

Eddy Weiss, professional stormchaser and director of Chasing4Life, gave a program on severe weather safety Thursday at the Estherville Public Library. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Some people have lost dogs or cats follow them home all the time.

For Eddy Weiss, it’s tornadoes.

Weiss, a professional stormchaser from Wood River, Neb., and director of Chasing 4Life, gave a presentation at the Estherville Public Library Thursday on what it takes to prepare for severe weather. Coincidentally, there was a tornado watch for the Estherville area Thursday.

“I don’t chase tornadoes. They chase me,” Weiss told the group.

A repeated question Weiss had for the parents and kids in the group was what one should do in the event of a storm. The answer, even from small children, was to take cover.

Each green dot on the above map shows towns where people have been killed by tornadoes over the past 50 years.

Weiss should know. He follows severe weather throughout the year. Wild fires, blizzards, tornadoes – you name it – Weiss is there to record and report them to area media. In addition to stormchasing, he gives 800 presentations a year at libraries, schools and other community groups, something he’s been doing since 1984.

Weiss pointed out that when people think of Tornado Alley they’re going by old maps. He then showed a map with green dots showing towns people have been killed by tornadoes over the past 50 years in the U.S. There were very few places that were not green.

Another problem, said Weiss, is that radar takes a picture of a storm only every six minutes.

“Radar can’t tell you where the storm is,” Weiss said, but only where it was.

And if you think tornadoes are a spectator sport – well, you’d better find a safer game to watch.

Weiss said tornadoes can fling debris up to 10 miles away. That’s because the inside of a tornado can have winds of up to 300 miles an hour. Small tornadoes can cross the countryside at 40 miles an hour while big ones can travel 100 miles an hour, Weiss said. He said one storm had 72 twisters.

Weiss said a lot of people who live in a community like Estherville think they’re protected by hills and water. But that’s not the case either.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people think they’re okay because they live in a basin,” Weiss said.

As for water, Weiss said one tornado traveled over four ponds and people finally decided to take cover when catfish started raining down on them.

Weiss glanced at the clock. It was 11:30. “You have about four and a half hours” until a severe storm event, Weiss said, noting that he would be stormchasing in the Estherville area Thursday. Sure enough, about an hour later, tornado watches were announced on the radio.

So is it possible to predict tornadoes?

Weiss said not necessarily. Green-turning skies, something people say is typical prelude to a tornado, occur when sunlight passes through hail. But with warmer fronts, Weiss said often hail doesn’t come before a tornado – but after.

Weiss told a story about a tornado that took down all four walls of a girl’s bedroom and ripped the carpet off the floor. And yet her bed was still neatly made with the covers and pillow intact.

“Tornadoes are the one chunk of weather we still don’t understand,” Weiss said.