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Storm chasers alert public to dangers

The radar doesn’t detect everything when it comes to storms.

That’s why the Urban Interceptor Chase Team, based in Marseilles, plays a vital role when dangerous weather hits.

The team’s objective is to report storms to weather stations to help keep the public safe.

Jeremiah Miller has chased storms for 12 years; Jim Palmer has four decades of experience; and Tristan Miller has spent two years as a storm chaser.

Since they’ve been a team, they’ve chased five storms, including in areas such as Grand Ridge, Marseilles, Utica and south of Streator.

“I’ve been interested in storm chasing since I was a kid,” Palmer said. “My interest lies in how amazing storms are, but my main priority is always for the protection of the community. When we see a dangerous storm, we call the National Weather Station at Illinois Valley Community College to alert them.”

Palmer was a storm chaser when an EF5 tornado struck Plainfield on Aug. 28, 1990. Twenty-nine people were killed and 353 people were injured, and the memory sticks with him.

He said that according to weather records, Marseilles is a high-risk tornado area.

“We do rely on radar and other technology, but mainly, we use our eyes,” Palmer said. “We aren’t wasting minutes for the next radar scan to come in. We’re actually watching the storm in real time as it happens.”

When a dangerous storm appears, teams gather to make plans. One team handles communication. The others scatter around the area. While witnessing a tornado is the Marseilles’ team’s biggest objective, lightning and thunderstorms are also on its radar.

“Radar doesn’t pick up everything,” Jeremiah Miller said. “We’re here for the public’s safety, and we do our part to notify weather stations.”

In his two years of experience, Tristan Miller has become a promoter for weather education when it comes to chasing storms. There are online computer classes for storm chaser certification.

“The weather service offers several classes a year,” said Tristan Miller, who was recently certified. “There’s one class per county that’s free to the public. And there is definitely a lot to learn. It’s not something you can just jump in a car and do.”

The team chased a storm earlier this summer in Grand Ridge.

“When the half-to-three-quarter-inch hail started, we watched the storm move a little, then move back to where it started,” Palmer said. “Those are dangerous because they cause flooding and other problems in the area they’re stalled in.”

Storm chasers undergo weather and safety training. They remain trainees until they’re certified to chase/spot storms on their own. Amateur chasers rarely know the rules.

“A big problem with amateurs is that they meet on roads where severe weather is developing and cause traffic problems,” Jeremiah Miller said. “Many times, they’ll park in the middle of a road to watch and take photographs. The biggest problem is that amateurs place themselves in danger without even realizing it.

“We don’t condone amateurs participating in storm chasing just for the thrill of it. We understand that people get excited about seeing that big tornado, but they create problems for the professionals that are actually doing a job to protect the communities. We drive at high speeds many times and when you see a car in the middle of a road with people taking photographs, it creates safety issues.”

Storm chasers are often working while the majority of people are safely weathering it out in their homes. Expenses for a storm chasing team can be costly.

“We use a lot of fuel,” Jeremiah Miller said. “We average $80 daily when we chase storms. We need a new truck and we have to upgrade the one we use. That’s why we’re so grateful for sponsors and donations.”

Those sponsors include individual, local and national organizations.

“Storm chasers are the ones that often give the only advance notice to weather stations,” Jeremiah Miller said. “That’s why our team does this. It’s dangerous, but it’s what we do. Our main priority is to make sure no one dies in a tornado or any other dangerous storm.”

Tips for weathering the storm

Watch your animals. “If they act differently, don’t blame them. Pay attention to the weather,” Palmer said.

Avoid underpasses. “Cars create traffic jams, and if you’re under a bridge during a tornado, there’s a chance a wind tunnel will develop, so just avoid them,” Palmer said.

Get a weather radio. “When a tornado hits, a battery-operated weather radio is your best investment,” Jeremiah Miller said. “A battery might cost $20, but it’s worth it when a severe storm is in your area.”

Get into the most interior room. “Stay away from windows and use pillows for protection from flying debris,” Jeremiah Miller said. “Actually, we carry helmets in our truck, so it would be a great idea to have some helmets set aside somewhere for severe weather.”

Learn more about the Urban Interceptor Storm Chase team

To learn more about the team and view weather photographs, visit them on Facebook at fb.com/urban.interceptor.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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