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Dying to Shoot Tornadoes

By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist
Apr 14, 2012; 2:01 PM ETIn this May 19, 2010, photo taken near Kingfisher, Okla., storm chasers and spectator vehicles clog the road and shoulder of Highway 81. According to the Associated Press, the subculture of chasing has gone mainstream in recent years, thanks to digital cameras and mobile radar. And it's getting more dangerous. Highways are increasingly clogged with chasers trying to beat each other in a risky race to capture the storms, and some have even been killed. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

In the wake of the tragedy in Indiana during the filming of a tornado and at times scores of chasers filming mother nature's big show: Are people crossing the line of safety as a tornado and thunderstorms approach?

According to CNN, a husband and wife were filming an approaching tornado just prior to the storm striking their home on March 2, 2012, near Henryville, Ind. There was every indication that they had plenty of time to seek shelter.

As an organization dedicated to saving lives and property, our hearts at AccuWeather.com go out to those killed, injured and left homeless by storms.

However, we as part of the meteorological community continue to notice incident after incident in which people unnecessarily put themselves in harm's way.

Four people were injured by lightning last week during softball practice at Seymour, Ind. Late last week, a hot air balloon pilot died as his craft was drawn into a thunderstorm.

There seems to be a feeling among most people that "it won't happen to me."
It may be a case of something similar to being so hooked on a TV show that you can't look away and face the reality that the storm may be heading right for you.

For others it may be just the urge to get the video on the internet and enjoy your few minutes of fame... "Look, that's my video!"

Lightning Kills
Tornadoes are produced by thunderstorms. Like the name implies, thunderstorms produce lightning.
There is no reliable way to predict exactly where lighting will strike.
Essentially, if you are standing in your yard, in a doorway or along side your car filming the storm, you are at risk for being struck by lightning.

In this Wednesday, May 19, 2010, photo, Andy Cottingham, of Dallas, stops on the side of the road near Burmah, Okla., to take pictures of a tornado-producing storm. Storm chasers are drawn from all over to Oklahoma in hopes of spotting a tornado. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Even a storm that is miles away poses some risk. According to the National Lightning Safety Institute, the record distance for a cloud flash is 118 miles and occurred the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
According to the National Weather Service, on average, there are nearly 60 lightning strike fatalities and 300 injuries in the United States each year.

While there has been some evidence to suggest that hair standing on end is a sign of the beginning stages of the lightning strike, there is no guarantee the discharge (actual strike) will occur in your area. And, there is often no such warning of a lightning strike about to occur. If you hear thunder, it is time to seek shelter.

According to veteran storm chaser and Senior Vice President/Chief Innovation Executive of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, Mike Smith, "You put yourself in mortal danger by being outside attempting to photograph a tornado rather than seeking shelter."

Generally, if you see threatening clouds in your area and/or a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for your location, your priority should be to round up loved ones and seek shelter.
"The vast majority of tornadoes are not easy to see. The May 2011 Joplin tornado was completely invisible along its path of destruction," Smith said.

We value your tornado pics, but we value your life more. Please take shelter during dangerous situations this weekend.

Debris and small projectiles can be propelled well away from a tornado. If you are out in the open, you could be struck by the objects.

Scores of videos and photographs have been taken of thunderstorms and tornadoes. As a result, most people in today's world have a good idea of what one looks like without your shot.
"Videos shown on documentaries covering specific tornadoes are sometimes swapped with more photogenic, non-related storms," Smith stated.

Some tornadoes move along at speeds of 40 mph or higher.

There is the possibility that the time taken up by your video shoot could make the difference between escaping the storm unscathed and dying.

If violent storms are in your neighborhood, all of us here at AccuWeather.com want you to get out of harm's way, instead of shooting the storm. Leave storm chasing and spotting to the experts.

Smith added, "If a person wants to see a tornado, the best and safest way is to sign up with a reputable storm tour company."

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