Confessions of a tornado chaser

By Kendra Litwiller – Horizon News and Features Editor

When tornadoes touched down near Hesston the evening of April 14, most of the campus may have been worried at the thought of pending disaster. Not Jonathan King.

King, a sophomore planning on majoring in meteorology, was enthused at the opportunity to see a tornado in action.  So he followed it.  Situated some 4-5 miles from the storm, King and others with him were able to watch the funnel cloud touch down and lift up for about 15 minutes before nightfall made it unsafe to continue.

Tornadoes are intriguing to King partly because they are not fully understood.  Scientists know a lot about predicting weather, but not how to control it, he said.  Since tornadoes are so much larger and more powerful than humans, they are frightening, yet enticing.

“You might know what they’re going to do, but you don’t know how to stop them,” King said.

As someone with a vested interest in weather, it’s no wonder that King finds a thrill in tornado-chasing.  But he expressed concern in becoming too caught up in the excitement of the moment.  His fear is that chasing tornadoes for the thrill causes him and others to overlook the destruction that occurs as a result.  King explained that finding a balance between passions for nature and respect for humanity is key.  One way he goes about striking such a compromise is helping with clean up after a storm.

Russ Gaeddert, Director of the Disaster Management program, led a group of students including King to assist a family with clean up on April 18.  About ten students moved branches and debris off this small farm outside Hesston.  King explained that witnessing circumstances like this help him see the whole picture of what tornadoes really do, and find the balance he is looking for.

“Rather than chasing the tornado for fun, what would be better is following after to see if people are ok, and what damage is done,” stated King.  “That makes a lot more sense to me.”


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