Chasing the thrill of the hunt for storms

When it comes to tracking extreme weather, it can often be more about the chase than the storm.

Thunderclouds race through the atmosphere at highway speeds. Tornadoes form and dissipate in a matter of minutes. And, despite all the cutting-edge forecasting technology, it can simply be hard to keep up with it.

"The thunderstorm we're trying to chase is moving away from us at 60 miles per hour," WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling said Thursday from the road in Missouri. "It is moving away from us about as fast as we are moving toward it."

During Skilling's weeklong storm-seeking trek, he and his team drove more than 2,000 miles through Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Their computer models, satellite images and radar plots led them to tornadoes, hail, rain and lightning. But most of their time was spent crammed into vans, searching for the next big storm.

"Weather is a moving, developing, dissipating entity," said Skilling, who produces the weather page for the Tribune along with his duties for WGN (both owned by Tribune Co.).

"You are trying to anticipate a phenomenon that even in the best of times may only exist for an hour," he said. "(So), you spend a great deal of time researching, planning" and chasing.

But for storm chasers, finding that extreme weather event makes all the work seem worthwhile.

"There is something just majestic about the way the atmosphere works," Skilling said. "It can just be breathtaking."

— Cynthia Dizikes

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