Tacky Tornado Selfies

I’ve seen one too many of these this week, and I can’t keep my itchy feet off my soapbox any longer.

Stop taking tornado selfies. Just stop. They are tacky and tasteless.  They make a caricature of a harmful event and of you.  They are perceived as cheesy and thoughtless at best, selfish and arrogant by many, and downright rude and heartless to those whose lives are impacted by the tornado over your shoulder.

I am a storm chaser myself, and I appreciate the awe and majesty and raw power of tornado thunderstorms.  Chasing is hard, and I also appreciate the effort and achievement of creating a forecast and making driving decisions that come together to bring you to see a thunderstorm and then a tornado develop.  I get it.

Many of us celebrate in at least some small way when the forecast combines with our positioning to allow us to witness the birth, maturity, and demise of a (tornadic) thunderstorm.  What separates the classy from the cheesy/selfish/rude is how we celebrate and why.  I am never celebrating that a tornado strikes homes, cars, fields, lives. As I have said before, a tornado will form or not form regardless of whether I am there and whether I want to see it or not. But I do celebrate my ability to forecast a single thunderstorm within a drivable range of distance. That kind of pinpoint forecasting is difficult, and doing this as a hobby reinforces my ability to forecast storms in my job.

Public celebration of the occurrence of a tornado will always rub some (many) people the wrong way.  Jumping up and down, cheering, and yes, posing for pictures in front of it are all perceived as immature or disrespectful.  Like the good mentors say to guys scoring touchdowns in football, act like you’ve been there before and will get there again.  Call it storm chasing sportsmanship.

Yes, we have free speech in this country, but it does not free you from judgment based on your speech.  You can say or post whatever you want.  There is, however, a code of ethics and morals and conduct that govern us as a society and a smaller component of us who choose this hobby. You don’t block roads to take pictures, you don’t drive unsafely to get to a storm… and you don’t disrespect the weather event itself by being a cheesy smiling face in front of it.  If you do, I won’t be the only one who judges you.

How would you have felt if you took a smiling selfie of the El Reno tornado at the moment it was killing three of our own?  A moment like that could happen again, and you wouldn’t know it at the time you took the photo, perhaps not before you plaster it on Facebook.

When it comes to pictures, as in the treatment of Nature itself, please get out of the way of Nature. Show us the storm, not your smiling face in front of it.  (You’re blocking our view of the storm, anyway, and that’s what we really want to see.) Keep your selfies off of social media.  Show respect to the storm itself and the harm it can inflict.

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