Adam Lucio has a passion that fits perfectly in the category ‘adventurous dream jobs’. The 32 year old from Chicago has been a professional storm chaser since the age of 22 and there’s nothing in the world he’d rather do. Violent weather, calculating risks and never knowing where you’re going to end up, are all part of the game.
“I have always been fascinated by the power and chaos of storms,” Adam recalls. “Whenever a storm hit my local area, I was drawn to go outside and check it out. You’d have this beautiful sunny day and all of a sudden it’s like someone flips a switch and it turns from day to night. Suddenly there’s rain, winds, thunder and lightening. A storm doesn’t get more powerful than a tornado, and from a young age I wanted to see and experience one for myself.”
Fellow storm chasers / Discovery Channel
“Usually I go out storm chasing with one or two other people, but I’m also capable and equipped to go out on my own. When it comes to the financial aspects, it’s better to have more people in the car so you can split the costs of gas, which is the biggest expense. I don’t have an official team, but I often go chasing with fellow weather enthusiasts. Many of you might have seen the TV program ‘Storm Chasers’ on Discovery Channel, where the cameras follow three teams around on the job. I’m friends with most of the guys from the program. Especially with filmmaker Sean Casey, who’s part of team TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle). I am the backup driver of the vehicle, but in the future we will be working together a lot more.”
Ego, competition and amateurs
The storm chasing community isn’t that big, although the number of people who call themselves storm chasers is growing fast. “This can be slightly annoying,” Adam admits. “Because there are traffic jams with many people trying to get to the same storm first, to get a front row position. On top of that, the inexperienced teams often tag along and follow me around. When they ask me if they can follow me, because they don’t have enough experience when it comes to navigating, usually I’m alright with that. Although I do inform them I can’t help them if they get stuck or anything, they tag along at their own risk. But if there are rude or annoying people following me, the ones who chase storm chasers without doing their own decent meteorological preparation, I try to shake them off or make them go the wrong way!”
Adam knows most of the people in the close network of the stormchasing community, but informs me not everyone gets along. “There’s a lot of ego and competition involved, with people trying to outdo one another. But for the most part we’ve got each other’s back and we watch out for photo and video thieves for instance, or people spreading false information. It’s very important that you know where you get your information from. Always check the source and make sure it’s a reliable one, because there are a lot of amateurs around who present themselves as legitimate professionals.”
Best aspects of storm chasing
The best aspects of Adam’s passion luckily exceed the downsides by miles. “I just love the adventure of storm chasing. I’m the kind of person who gets bored with routine, but every chase is different. You never know where you’re going to, who you’re going to run into or where you’re going to end up that day. You get to travel all over the country and see small towns, landscapes and the countryside. But to experience a storm itself is almost indescribable. Being in the presence of nature doing what it does, is just amazing. However, tornadoes often cause a lot of damage to towns and cities. Storm chasers are usually the first ones on the scene, so we clear debris, look for victims and help out where needed. It feels good to be able to do something for people in need.”
Most exciting experience
Of course it’s not only civilians who can get hurt by a tornado. Storm chasing isn’t without risks for the extreme weather enthusiasts either… “Last year we went after a very large tornado in Nebraska. We had a hard time getting it in sight, so I thought if I adjusted my position to the north, I’d have a better view of the tornado. But I misjudged the speed and direction of it, and ended up getting sideswiped by the storm. It actually blew out my back windshield and ripped a part off my truck. I had to put the gear in reverse and floor it, driving half a mile backwards on the highway, to get out of the tornado’s path. It was the most interesting and at the same time most terrifying moment I’ve been through in my life!”
Although near escapes happen every now and again and are part of the risks of storm chasing, it’s rare that something goes tragically wrong. It did however happen last year. A good friend of Adam, professional storm chaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul Samaras and their teammate Carl Young died during the chase of a violent and extremely unpredictable wide tornado in Oklahoma City, in the spring of 2013. An event that shook the storm chasing community.
“The men were top of the field and well respected scientists,” Adam says. “I miss them dearly. But we’re going to honour their legacy and hopefully help finish what Tim and his team started by gathering data, doing research and helping to spread awareness of severe weather, that will advance the science of tornado studies.”
Despite the risks of this sometimes tricky business, Adam has to support and approval of his family and friends. “Im glad they approve of what I do,” he says. “They know it’s difficult to predict when and where a storm is going to hit. That’s why they know I might miss a birthday party or even a wedding. It’s not up to me to decide when the weather turns bad. I’m lucky they’re understanding of my way of life.”
Most storm chasers don’t make enough money out of the storm chasing itself, so for a sustainable income and to finance their passion, they have a regular job on the side. “Ideally I’d be chasing storms fulltime, improving reports and producing good quality videos, that is the ultimate goal,” Adam muses. “But for now I have a flexible job that pays the bills and gives me the opportunity to keep chasing. I’ve turned down jobs with way better incomes. But there’s no point in making a lot of money, if that means having no time off to do the things that make me happy. I’m fine living in a one bedroom appartment, if that means I get to go out and chase. That’s all that matters.”
If you want to read more about Adam and storm chasing, please check out his official website www.aerostorms.com!