Number of storm chasers becomes problem

Storm Chasers

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SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kansas — A Clearwater man is proposing an idea to Sedgwick County leaders that could ease traffic concerns during severe storms.

Art Gentry of Clearwater submitted a one page letter to the county commissioners recently.

The letter in part is proposing an idea to limit the number of storm chase vehicles headed to the scenes of severe storms.

“When a storm is forecast that a certain group of numbers might be allow to do the storm chasing,” said Art Gentry. “But keep the numbers paired down to a manageable number of them out there.”

This idea is the result of the May 19th tornado that tore through parts of southwestern Sedgwick County near Clearwater.

“We saw about a little over 100 cars and trucks storm chasing up and down that stretch of highway,” said Gentry.

The highway Gentry is referring to is K42.

Traffic came to a stop on K42 when a tornado was moving into Clearwater.

Some people like Gentry was trying to make it to safety, but travel times proved to be a problem.

“Because those people who are not storm chasing that are seeking to get a place of safety should not be impaired or impeded in their travels,” said Gentry.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said it has been fielding complaints about this in recent days.

They say that unless you’re a professional storm chaser with a job to do then it’s best to seek shelter.

“Folks that just going out to see if they can get a photograph of the storm,” said Lt. David Mattingly, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office. “It it hampering our efforts to get in and assess damage and get the people who may have been injured.”

Lt. Mattingly adds, “What we’re concerned about is we’re going to have a substantial crash. There’s someone not paying attention. They’re going to try to get home and crash into somebody else.”

The idea has not be formally presented to the county commissioners yet.

Safety issue and severe storms: Legislative or County Ordinance proposal.

Due to the huge number of storm chase vehicles turning out at severe weather events, I believe we need to limit in some fair way, the number of such vehicles.

To wit: Sunday May 19 I and my wife were in west Wichita near I-235 and Kellogg when the sirens blew. We reside in Clearwater and were very interested in making a safe but unimpeded drive home. The weather was still about 4 to 7 miles west of 135th st west when we were traveling southbound to our home in Clearwater.

There were well over a hundred vehicles of apparent storm chasers all up and down 135th from K-42 to the north edge of the City of Clearwater and caused us to slow down to less than half the speed limit in several places causing us up to about 4 minutes of delay to get to a place of safety.

My wife and I have witnessed this situation before in the local area and down in Oklahoma a few years ago at the interstate and Blackwell Ok exit when a tornado was passing from west to east just north of there.

I knew where I wanted to go to get away from that storm but the number of chasers caused us a near 8 and a half minute delay just to exit there to go west away from the center of the storm.

What I believe is needed is licensing of storm chasers of some sort and a significant fine when they impede the flow of traffic in which people are seeking to get to a place of safety.

I would suggest the exempt vehicles would be law enforcement, legitimate media vehicles and of course fire and ambulance and electric utility repair vehicles.

Beyond that, a license requirement and the information of consequences of impeding the flow of traffic during a storm emergency that would include a significant fine and even possible short stay incarceration to stem this nonsense. The old adage of how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb applies to this.

Safety would be the first reason for this and also allowing emergency vehicles to travel without storm chasing vehicles causing impediment to their need for making every second count.

The legislation would somehow have to not include people who are seeking safety in a nearby ditch (as an example) when a storm event is imminent and very close or about to overtake them. Tornados are dangerous storms, but high wind and large hail are also very dangerous to anyone caught out away from safe shelter. This idea of licensing is not to impede freedom, but to strengthen safety in an imminent storm situation. Legitimate Media do a very good job reporting storms.

If licensing is done, a limited group of license numbers could be allowed for a given severe storm forecasted for the area and rotated to a limited group of license numbers for each storm event.

I would also point out that the storm on May 19, 2013, though forecast at it was, intensified with amazing speed from partly cloudy conditions to a fully intense dangerous storm.

Art Gentry
ClearwaterKS

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