Monday, April 30, 2012

Is The Kansas Highway Patrol Targeting Storm Chasers?

Before reading any further, please watch the first 37 seconds of this video:

It shows storm chaser Jeff Piotrowski stopping alongside a Joplin police officer pleading that the sirens be turned on -- they had been off -- as the F-5 tornado came into the city. Joplin emergency manager Keith Stammer, at the NWS's WeatherReady Nation meeting in Norman, OK in December, acknowledged that this report was the reason the sirens were turned on as the tornado moved into the city. This tornado, as I explain in my soon to be released book about the Joplin tornado, was completely "rain-wrapped" and invisible along its eventual path.

Question: Given that 161 died in Joplin, how many more might have died had the sirens not been activated as the tornado approached? As least some of the people who survived may well have a storm chaser to thank.

Second question: If a tornado is approaching your city, do you want a qualified storm chaser there to send reports to the National Weather Service and law enforcement?

I would answer "yes." Apparently, the Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) answers, "no." But, considering storm chasing is a completely legal activity, is KHP acting properly?

Friday, Lanny Dean and other storm chasers (seven as far as I can determine) were pulled over by the Kansas Highway Patrol in different parts of the state and lectured about what the officers perceived as the downside of storm chasing. The pretext for pulling over Dean, just inside the border at Coffeyville, was that he had "tinted windows." As you can see in the photo above, his windows are tinted but they are the original factory tinting which is perfectly legal. Lanny, after being stopped for an extended period of time, was not cited for any violation.

As I have previously stated, several times, I'm all for law enforcement ticketing chasers (or anyone else) who drive poorly or violate any other law. Some of the chasers were ticketed Friday and that is fine with me. But, it appears most were not. That concerns me.

Targeting and/or harassing people involved in a perfectly legal activity? That appears to be contrary to the law enforcement Code of Ethics.

I called Kansas Highway Patrol headquarters in Topeka and spoke with public information officer Lt. Josh Kellerman. He stated he "didn't know" whether chasers were being targeted.

I'm hoping Friday was an anomaly. We should want experienced, responsible chasers to keep an eye out for storms and helping the warning process keep people safe.

1 comment:

  1. Based on the information cited in the blog post you linked right under Lanny's photo, at least one of the stops appears to be legit. It isn't clear what the Dominator may have been doing to earn a trooper's attention, but I'm one who has seen Reed violate a number of traffic laws.

    However, the lights incident appears legit from the account on the blog. There are quite a few people (including one VERY well-known and respected chaser whose photo was used on this blog in the last day) who illegally use flashing or rotating lights while driving on the roads of Kansas.

    AFIK, there are only a few exceptions in Kansas law for use of amber flashers/kojak lights while moving. Oversize vehicles, tow trucks, and construction/utility workers are the ones that come to mind. On the roadside, it's a different story, but turn 'em off when the vehicle is in gear. There are even fewer exceptions for white.

    This is different than some of our neighboring states.

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