Drought Hampering Texas A&M Storm Chases

Apr 22, 2011

COLLEGE STATION, April 22, 2011 – The current Texas drought has put a dusty chokehold on the Texas A&M Storm Chasers, and since there has been little or no rain, that means storms have been a no-show this spring. But that might change in the days ahead, says Matt Raper, one of the team's leaders.

The Texas A&M Storm Chasers, or TASC for short, is believed to be the only student-run storm chasing team in Texas. The Texas A&M University group has about 80 members this year, and whether it's Wixon Valley or Tornado Alley, they don't think twice about hopping into their own cars, driving 600 miles round trip and heading into storms that make the nightly news on The Weather Channel.

The group's No.1 goal is always to see a tornado, but that rarely happens, says Raper, a graduate student from Houston and a fourth-year member of TASC. In fact, the chances of seeing a tornado are only about 1 in 10, but that doesn't dim the enthusiasm of the Texas A&M students.

"What has happened this spring is that the storm patterns all seem to be far away from us, either way to the north or the east," Raper explains.

"It's been so quiet, we have to yet to go officially. It's been an unusually quiet spring, but late April and May are often good storm-chasing times in Texas, so we are ready to go out if something happens."

As for forecasts, the team likes to make its own, and when the lead forecasters determine that severe weather is likely to occur within a few days, the team makes preparations. The final decision to go out is usually made about 24 hours in advance.

"Our forecasts are pretty good because we often see storm-chasing teams from the Discovery Channel on the same trips we go to, and those guys are real pros," Raper adds.

If severe weather is spotted, the team often relays information to National Weather Service offices in Fort Worth or Houston. Each outing is videotaped and photographed, and many team members use their cell phones as cameras. During some chases, TV stations have used footage shot by TASC members.

"We document just about everything on a trip," Raper confirms.

May 4, 2003, will go down in the TASC storm chasing books as a red-letter day. The team reported an F-4 tornado — only an F-5 is stronger — near Leavenworth, Kan., and relayed vital data to weather stations in the area. More than 90 tornadoes were reported in the area that weekend.

"This is the best hands-on experience we could ever get," Raper says.

"I have been doing this for four years and still haven't seen a tornado, but yet I've never been on trip when all of us didn't learn something. We can always learn something about Texas weather."

For more about the group, go to http://atmo.tamu.edu/tamscams/tasc/