The life of a storm chaser

Storm photo by Alyona Punch

Joanne Brookfield

Posted November 29, 2021


Immortalised on the Hollywood big screen, storm chasing has some practical applications in the real world.

Storm chasers were immortalised in the Hollywood film Twister, featuring a star-studded cast screaming “Go! Go! Go!” as they pursue tornadoes across the USA’s Tornado Alley.

The reality on the ground is a little different.

Comprised of a mix of scientists, meteorologists, photographers and hobbyists, Victoria’s storm chasers are passionate about weather events, which can include lightning and thunderstorms, snow storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and cyclones.

Though Hollywood would have you believe that it’s all just fun and games, the Victorian Storm Chasers (VSC) work together to share information and resources with the Bureau of Meteorology and the public, to warn of any impending dangers.

The Victorian Storm Chasers are all too familiar of the dangers and the damage extreme weather events can have, and not just on property, but people's health and safety. The actions undertaken by this community is done with the upmost respect for Mother Nature and is undertaken adhering to strict safety precautions and protocols. People wanting to explore this hobby should contact the experts before taking part.

Alyona Punch, weather chaser. Image by Alyona Punch

Storm chaser Alyona Punch. Image credit: Alyona Punch. 


Where the wild winds blow

Alyona Punch was 11 years old when she became fascinated by thunderstorms. The incandescent explosions of electricity veining through the darkened sky, while heralding the imminent thunder, ferocious winds and heavy rain did not scare her. Instead, “I was more interested in how they were happening,” she recalls.

As over-the-top as a lot of the movies are, Alyona says their monitoring and preparation “is very similar to how you would chase”. Alyona, who lives in Portland, on the south-west coast of Victoria, similarly spends her time poring over weather radars, satellite images, maps and apps, figuring out where the next storms will be, so she can be ready to take off.

“I got a notification that there was a lightning bolt about 48 kilometres away, so that was my cue to get in the car and go,” she says of a recent chase.

With the spring and summer months being the best for storm chasing, a mixture of experience and expertise helps keep them safe. “You can tell how close you are to a storm by the lightning flash and the thunder... you do a little calculation, and then that'll give you your distance from the storm,” she explains.

“You’ve got to know your stuff, know the hazards and the precautions.”

While the accomplished photographer will attempt to capture the elements on her camera, that’s not her primary focus. “I enjoy it just because I love the weather.“

Alyona is one of the volunteer administrators of the VSC, boasting a Facebook page with over a quarter of a million followers. “If you love capturing the fury of mother nature and discussing everything to do with severe weather, there’s no better place to be!”

Storm Chasers. Image credit: Alyona Punch.

Storm clouds. Image credit: Alyona Punch. 


A growing community

The VSC is one of several similar groups that have sprung up over the years around the country. The BoM also have their own Storm Spotters Network - a group of volunteers made up of storm chasers, police, emergency services and fire agencies, as well as climate, rainfall and river observers and students.

Each collective of storm chasers contribute "on-the-spot" information to the BoM’s Severe Thunderstorm Warning Service. “They are all around Australia. They report back to the Bureau on how severe the storm is, if it's dangerous, how big the hail is, where it's coming from,” explains Alyona.

“The Bureau’s main thing about severe storms is making sure that people are safe,” she says. “Any thunderstorm is dangerous. Lightning is dangerous. Full stop.” 

The Victorian Storm Chasers post the severe weather images and video they capture on their website and social media channels to share important weather-related information and warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) for residents across Victoria. 

 

Storm at sunset. Image credit: Alyona Punch.

Storm clouds at sunset. Image credit: Alyona Punch. 



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