North Texas Daily

Caught in the eye of the storm: chasing tornados

Caught in the eye of the storm: chasing tornados

Caught in the eye of the storm: chasing tornados
April 29
01:04 2014

Nicholas Friedman // Staff Writer

On Thursday, April 3 UNT English professor and seasoned storm chaser Amos Magliocco was wrapping up his Intermediate Creative Writing class when tornado alerts began warning students of an impending super cell system.

Equipped with only his iPhone 5, Magliocco jumped into his 2007 Toyota Forerunner and headed home in hopes of getting a better look at what was coming.

Magliocco grabbed his camera and went back out, this time in search of a vantage point to capture images of the storm. The storm began to develop a large wall cloud and near-blinding curtain of rain.

Armed with a Canon Mark II camera and a laptop loaded with GPS software, Magliocco has chased storms like this and about 250 others over the last 18 years as a constant member of the storm chasing community of the DFW area.

“I used to be embarrassed to admit this but when I saw the movie “Twister” I realized that it was possible to forecast yourself,” Magliocco said. “There are enough forecast products online that you could probably find a tornado without knowing the first thing about it, but you may not be happy that you found it.”


Fundamentals of storm chasing

Magliocco said that his fascination with meteorology and the idea of forecasting are what led to him becoming a storm chaser.

“Storm chasing is a hobby where the practitioners forecast severe storms and tornados,” Magliocco said. “Then they drive to where they think the storm will appear and they take photographs with cool cameras.”

Magliocco said that he’s lucky if he can go chasing two or three times during the spring semester. Once that ends he is often gone for two or three weeks at a time, since tornado season begins at the semester’s conclusion.

“In this part of the world we think of spring into early summer as tornado season,” geography professor and meteorology expert Kent McGregor said. “But tornados can and have occurred here every month of the year. In the 1980s sometime there was a tornado that touched down in Mesquite in December. If you didn’t know what time of year it was you’d think it was a spring pattern.”

McGregor said this part of Texas is at a higher risk than other parts of the state because it is closer to the Central Oklahoma ‘bull’s-eye’ of tornado alley – an area of the United States where tornados appear frequently.

“I’ve chased in Montana, South Dakota and almost every other state in tornado alley,” Magliocco said. “The craziest thing that happened to me was when I was hit by a tornado in Tulia, Texas, in 2007.”

Magliocco said he and his chase partners were trying to navigate out of town when a small tornado spun up and became violent.

“It started buzzing toward us and dragged us into a tire store which then collapsed on top of us,” Magliocco said. “A semi in the store had protected us from debris. I had a small cut on the back of my neck and my friend Eric had a cut on his leg and a bit of glass in his eye. It’s not the safest hobby in the world.”

Riders on the storm

Magliocco said he often posts live updates and pictures on his Twitter account and blog so he can chronicle his chasing and communicate with other chasers.

“Chasers are now sharing information over Twitter with one another,” Magliocco said. “The National Weather Service monitors Twitter but they don’t consider it an official means of reporting severe weather. You can either call them, use an app called mPING, or use an amateur radio the old-fashion way.”

Magliocco said that this interaction online often causes him to put his camera down in favor of his phone so he can upload his photos immediately. He said his pictures have been used on TV stations, some with and without permission.

As another chaser in the DFW area, journalism junior Charles Hopkins said that he has utilized social media as well as a radar app on his phone since he began chasing four years ago.

“The app gives me up-to-date information and high-resolution radar images,” Hopkins said. “I also subscribe to a lot of other chasers and weather gurus on Twitter and Facebook so I always have a steady stream of weather-related images, videos and opinions during the day.”

Hopkins said that when he was a kid he would get excited when bad storms would blow through the area, so once he got older and had a means of transportation he began chasing. Hopkins has seen eight tornados in his time chasing storms.

“Chasers are the eyes of the National Weather Service and help provide people with ample time to take shelter,” Hopkins said. “Chasers are often times the first responders after a tornado hits a community as well. That can save lives.”

Center photo: Storm Chaser Amos Magliocco talks about a program that can show each storm chaser’s location. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer 

Feature photo: Amos Magliocco chased a tornado in Oklahoma on April 13, 2012. Photo courtesy of Amos Magliocco  

About Author

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the Editor In Chief of the North Texas Daily. In addition, he's had his work published at The Dallas Morning News, GuideLive and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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