Health & Environment

Storm Chasers Eye Tornadoes

The Texas Aggies Storm Chasers is believed to be the only student-run storm chasing team in Texas.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications March 30, 2010

The chance to see Mother Nature in her foulest, blackest mood is the No.1 goal of the Texas Aggie Storm Chasers, Texas A&M University’s student storm-chasing team, and while other people are scrambling to get away from a storm, they like to drive straight for it. Super cells mean a super time.

The Texas Aggies Storm Chasers, or TASC for short, is believed to be the only student-run storm chasing team in Texas and its members have a common goal: a love for the weather – and the nastier the better. The program is organized and supervised by the Texas A&M Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (TAMSCAMS) in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Joseph Hill, a senior from Boerne, serves as the group’s leader this year and he supervises other team members who are qualified to take storm chasers out into the field. Each team leader has had at least three upper-level meteorology classes and many have several years of storm-chasing experience. About 90 members are on the team this year, ranging from freshmen to graduate students.

Weather conditions this spring have been relatively quiet so far, but that could change in a hurry – April and May are prime storm times in Texas.

“Our goal is always to see a tornado, but usually, that’s not the case,” says Hill.

“In fact, our chances of seeing a tornado are probably less than 10 percent. But even if we don’t see one, we always learn something on every trip. Some of the cloud formations this time of year are really spectacular.”

Texas Aggie storm chasersThe team likes to make its own weather forecasts, and when the lead forecasters believe severe weather is likely to be near in the next few days, the team makes preparations. The final decision to go is usually made about 24 hours in advance.

If severe weather is spotted, the team tries to relay its information to the National Weather Services offices in Fort Worth or Houston. Each outing is videotaped and photographed and many team members use their cell phone as cameras. During some chases, TV stations have used footage shot by TASC members, and they are already taking requests from several Texas media outlets to accompany them on trips in the next few weeks.

“We are meticulous about documenting everything,” Hill explains. “We keep very good records of every storm we see.”

While those 1 in 10 chances of seeing a tornado are hardly slam-dunk odds, the team does sometimes get lucky. It had such a day on May 4, 2003, when the TASC team reported an F-4 tornado near Leavenworth, Kan., and relayed useful data to weather stations in the area. More than 90 tornadoes were reported that weekend.

Team members are required to take a series of safety courses, and when completed, they are ready to jump in their own cars, dodge hail and lightning along the way while often making a 600-mile round trip to see spring storms at their finest.

“What motivates me is that we have a real chance to save lives,” says Matt Raper, a graduate student from Houston and team member.

“This is the best hands-on experience we could ever get. I have been doing this for four years and still haven’t seen a tornado, but yet I’ve never been on trip when I didn’t learn something. We can always learn something about Texas weather.”

For more about the group, go to

Media contact: Keith Randall, Texas A&M News & Information Services.

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