With years of experience chasing storms, Chad Alcares of Lincoln said his drive for storm chasing started when he was a child, like most chasers.
“It’s the love of weather in general,” said Alcares, who grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota and now works for Allstate Insurance.
Steve Blum, who grew up in Oklahoma and works for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Information Technology Services, said with the development of smartphones, storm chasing has become easier as of late. Blum is one of Alcares’ two chasing partners, with the other being Mike Lachendro who lives and works in Omaha as a mortgage officer.
The ease of chasing has led to an increase in people who participate in the hobby over the last decade, creating an “absolute pandemonium of convergence,” according to Blum.
“It’s kind of the wild west out there,” Blum said. “You get everybody, from someone who has zero training, and they just go out in their truck and chase with no experience at all to people who have been doing it for years and years and spend thousands of dollars on equipment.”
Alcares and Blum originally met when they worked for the same company in Lincoln. Eventually, they realized their shared passion for severe weather.
In 2011, Alcares and Blum realized they didn’t have to sit back and watch the storm roll into town. They started chasing storms together and streamed their live chases through Chaser TV which was an online chaser streaming channel. Around the same time, they created an online forum for weather conversations that eventually morphed into storm chasing after a while.
Their page grew in followers through their streaming platform and a year after, they turned it into the Nebraska Storm Chasers page. After having nearly 2,500 followers in their first year, the Nebraska Storm Chasers page which is run by all three chasers now has 44,000 followers.
Blum said the followers range from people who are generally curious about what’s happening with the weather near them to people who are interested in storm chasing. Whether Blum, Alcares or Lachendro is the one on the chase, they post videos, pictures and occasionally live stream to the page.
Despite the large following, Alcares said the increase in people chasing has taken some of the thrill of chasing big outbreaks away because he can just watch their videos online. Blum, Alcares and Lachendro typically chase in Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas.
“It felt like more work before, and it felt more accomplishing,” Alvarez said. “I see myself chasing more of the marginal stuff that other people aren’t looking at.”
Blum said when they first began, they had to have a high performance laptop, a separate internet connection, camera and GPS. Now, with iPhone and Android smartphones, Blum said it’s simplified what they do from a technology standpoint dramatically, making chasing safer and less distracting which has helped lead to an increase in chasers.
But with new chasers, Blum said it’s important to be prepared from a strategic standpoint.
“Anybody can basically drive to where they see a storm on the radar and if it’s tornadic,” Blum said. “If you don’t know how to position yourself with the way the lighting is or the way the structure is, you might see nothing or get stuck in a hail core. Just being able to navigate around the system and position yourself safely, it takes more experience.”
With their family lives, the three chasers don’t ghetto chase together as much as they would like. For example, Lachendro chased the storm system that produced the tornado that hit Winterset, Iowa on March 5 alone. Alcares said more caution is typically taken when chasing alone.
“He knew that the best storm was going to be the one that hit Winterset, but he had been watching other storms and knew he couldn’t catch up to it,” Alcares said. “He didn’t do what some other chasers did, which is blow through towns, run stop lights and speed just to keep up with the storm. That comes with experience.”
Blum said the storm chasing community in Nebraska is a mix of tight-knit and competitiveness and with the start of the spring season on March 20, the three chasers are gearing up for another season.
At this point in their lives, Alcares said rather than having their adrenaline pumping, chasing clears their racing mind and helps them focus on what’s happening in the present rather than worry about the future.
“It’s almost like a meditation type situation. It’s like being zen, being in the flow,” Alcares said. “Some people do it through exercise. Some people do it through reading. I think we do it through storm chasing. We hit almost this like the next level of consciousness when we get to be on a storm.”