How storm chasers find their perfect Prairie storms

Storm chasers have been, shall we say, a little busy on the Prairies lately. But how exactly do these chasers find their storms?

'To see a rotating thunderstorm live, there's nothing like it'

How storm chasers find their perfect storms

6 years ago
Duration 1:17
CBC Edmonton's Zoe Todd met up with Nevin deMilliano, a chaser Prairie Storm Chasers, to understand how they find their storms.

Storm chasers have been a little busy on the Prairies lately. 

Greg Johnson, a photographer for the Tornado Hunters storm-chasing team, said the last five years on the Prairies have been "an absolute tornado recession," but for the last week the skies over Alberta and Saskatchewan have been more active than usual.

"It's just nice for us to not have to drive 3,000 kilometres to see something."

But how exactly do these chasers find their storms? 

Dan Madden and Ronnie Rabena. (Oren Sew/Twisted Chasers)

It all starts with watching weather models and trying to predict trends, says Nevin deMilliano with Prairie Storm Chasers.

"About two days out we say, 'Yup, OK this is probably chaseable' and then the day before we begin to pick our targets," said deMilliano.

"We head out in the morning and once we've done that, we know what conditions are in play, so we know what directions they are moving, all this information."

You can't just go out and drive at the storms, he said.

The public is looking for their 15 minutes of fame and they want to capture that. Well, people have died doing that.- David Phillips

"On the morning of, we're looking at visual satellites. That's a huge thing. We're looking for those white puffy clouds.

"Once one of those goes in our ideal area, we're going to jump on that and watch it grow and grow and grow and see what happens." 

While it seems that the chasers have finding the storms down to a science, a meteorologist has a warning for storm chasers.

"What's worse than chasing a storm is catching one, and if you're not prepared for it and you're not protected, you can become a statistic," said David Phillips, senior climatologist for Environment Canada.

"You could also make it dangerous for those people who are chasing storms for a scientific point of view.

"The public is looking for their 15 minutes of fame and they want to capture that and they want to have a conversation piece. Well, people have died doing that."

Nevin deMilliano with Prairie Storm Chasers said "there's just nothing like" seeing a storm at its peak. (CBC/Zoe Todd)

But for the chasers, finding that perfect storm is just too great a pull.

The 28-year-old deMilliano, who has been chasing seriously for five years, said that as a child he was frightened of storms, and that might be why he's now a chaser. 

He said he's been on the lookout for storms since he got his driver's licence, but it was when he saw a supercell swirling over Red Deer in 2011 that he really became hooked.

"Seeing that storm erupt over your target, that's the best feeling," said deMilliano.

"To see what it does from there, that's even better. That raw power that you see in these storms, the motions, there's just nothing like it." 

With files from Zoe Todd