Meet the women who chase storms in Alberta
Twisters, lightning and ominous cloud formations lure extreme weather fans
Beth Allan used to be terrified of storms.
In 2007, her mom decided she needed to face her fears head on. She signed up Allan for a storm-chasing tour — and she was hooked.
"The first time you see a storm, that adrenaline rush — it's like skydiving, right? You chase that forever."
Allan, who lives in Calgary, is the only female member of Prairie Storm Chasers. She's noticed a lot more people interested in storm chasing this summer compared with previous years, especially women who are looking for the same exhilarating experience.
"There are more women realizing, 'hey, you know what, I actually can do this.'"
There have been a lot of storms to chase in Alberta. So far this summer, there have been confirmed tornados near Bergen, Coronation and Alliance — and windshield-smashing hail near Innisfail.
For Allan and others in the small community of chasers, being a woman who pursues storms means thinking about personal safety. A chase can mean standing on the side of a quiet road, sometimes at night.
"When you're talking with women who chase storms, that's almost always the first thing that comes up, is like, how do you keep yourself safe? What happens if a stranger shows up?"
"I think that stops women, especially, from maybe going out there and photographing lightning at nighttime and sort of getting involved in some of those things where you're alone in the middle of nowhere with maybe sketchy cellphone service."
Allan makes sure her friends know where she is by sharing her location before heading out on a chase.
'Do what you love'
Theresa and Darlene Tanner, a married couple, were both in Edmonton in 1987 when the deadly Black Friday tornado hit the city.
They said the experience left them traumatized. Years later, they turned to storm chasing to help process those feelings. The couple now live in Alix, Alta., northeast of Red Deer, and have been chasing storms for the past 14 years.
Darlene said each time they go out, there are more cars filled with storm chasers than the last time.
"Especially if it's very severe … people either with a camera or their cellphone and they were just everywhere, even little, little back roads."
Theresa said Alberta's storm chasers are there to help each other.
"It's good to see young girls, older girls, anywhere in between, get out there and do this, too.… It doesn't necessarily have to be a male-driven thing, as long as you know what you're doing and have a bit of research," Theresa said.
There are social media accounts and resources dedicated to women who chase storms. Among them is U.S.-based Girls Who Chase, which features female storm chasers from across North America, including Alberta.
Fewer women appear to be out there storm chasing compared with men, said Jennifer Walton, the founder of that group, but that doesn't mean there's a lack of interest.
Girls Who Chase started as an Instagram page. But due to overwhelming interest, Walton started compiling online educational tools for beginner storm chasers.
"What I've noticed has been an influx of women who I think have always wanted to chase and really do believe that's for them, but they just really didn't know where to get started."
Walton said despite one of the most well-known storm chasers being a woman — fictional character Dr. Jo Harding, played by Helen Hunt in the movie Twister — there needs to be more representation.
"Twister came out 26 years ago, and the fact that Helen Hunt … is still considered one of the primary role models for women in storm chasing is just tragically sad," she said.
"In a lot of ways, that movie pioneered all of these things that we're talking about, but it wasn't enough, and it's probably because it was fictional. I think it really does come down to creating some realistic role models that people, girls and women, could actually talk to, learn from."
The Tanners say Alberta is the perfect place to chase storms, and anyone interested in doing so should get out there — with the necessary safety precautions in place.
Darlene said she didn't let anything stop her from storm chasing, and others shouldn't either.
"Anybody can do anything they want to. We did. We didn't know anybody out there and we just went for it anyway. We love doing it, and do what you love — if you really enjoy it, don't let anything stop you."