Storming Back: Storm chaser awed by nature’s powerWritten by Jason Mack | | email@example.com
When riding along on a storm chase, the last phrase you want to hear is, “Speed up or we’re going to die.” Brandon Copic, a 17-year-old storm chaser, said those words as we raced away from a May 29 tornado in Dundee.
“That was my most dangerous chase,” said Copic, a rising senior at Whitmer High School. “That tornado developed within a half to a quarter mile from us, and it was coming for us fast. If it did drop, it wasn’t on the ground for too long.”
After watching a wide funnel cloud start to drop, Copic called 911 to have a tornado warning issued.
“It was getting close, and we had to speed off to avoid getting killed,” he said. “At this time, we were driving along a lot of dirt roads. Lightning was striking close, but I was getting scared by the potholes we were hitting.”
Copic’s interest in tornadoes started at the age of 12. He founded Thundering Skies Media with co-owner James Gustina in 2009.
“I’ve always been interested in weather, but I really started in tornadoes and severe weather in particular after seeing the movie ‘Twister’,” he said. “I just love how small and weak I seem compared to the power of nature.”
Copic and his driver went on their first chase May 7, 2010.
“Me and my best friend Austin Stalhood went out chasing supercells near the Indiana border, and we got a wall cloud, funnel cloud, roll cloud and shelf cloud,” Copic said. “It was pretty good considering we had nothing more than our eyes and an atlas. We even beat Reed Timmer of ‘Storm Chasers’ to the area in which the tornado would have formed.”
These days, Copic uses advanced meteorology programs on his laptop to assist in the chase.
“Luckily I got my knowledge from Norm Van Ness at NBC 24,” Copic said. “He taught me all I know in weather as of right now, and for that I give NBC 24 free live streaming video.”
To help pay for chasing expenses such as gas and mobile Internet, Copic streams live video from a webcam on his dashboard. The video is sent to ChaserTV.com and is sold to news stations by KDR Media.
After he graduates next year, Copic plans to follow his passion for weather and major in meteorology at Oklahoma University. The weather patterns in Norman, Okla. played a major role in his choice of college.
“I mainly want to go to OU because that’s where all the storm chasers go,” Copic said. “All my friends are going there, and I love being around people like me. I really don’t plan on getting anything big for a degree, just to expand my meteorological knowledge for storm chasing. I will definitely be chasing once I get out to the plains.”
Copic hopes to translate a degree in meteorology into a career as an Oklahoma state trooper.
“I plan on becoming an Oklahoma state trooper because it’s in Tornado Alley, and state troopers cover a large area of land to patrol,” Copic said. If there’s a severe weather outbreak, I might still see it while I’m working. I’ve wanted to become a cop for the longest time.”
He is getting a head start on becoming a state trooper by taking courses in Whitmer’s criminal science program. He was also in the Toledo Police Explorer program but quit to focus on storm chasing.
“Whitmer’s criminal science program is amazing,” Copic said. “We learn and then do mock scenarios of what we’ve learned, like traffic stops. Honestly, it’s the teacher who makes the class. Mr. Palmer is the best teacher ever.”
Copic is combining his passions for criminal justice and meteorology on June 4. He is attending the Ohio Safety Festival in Canton to teach local law enforcement members how to use a weather radar program.
While it may seem like a simple concept, Copic warned of the dangers of storm chasing and the importance of a proper education.
“Do not go chasing if you’re uneducated,” Copic said. “You need a degree in meteorology and knowledge of storm structure, storm dynamics and how to forecast them. No Skywarn meeting can teach you that.”
Copic also warned of the personal dangers of being a storm chaser.
“If you want a girlfriend, don’t become a storm chaser,” Copic said. “It’s very nerdy, and nobody likes a nerd. It’s hard being a storm chaser and keeping a relationship because one day you will randomly pack up and leave for a couple days at a time. I’m still working on one girl. Flowers help. All jokes aside, only chase if you know what you’re doing.”
For those uninterested in chasing, Copic also shared advice on tornado safety.
“Take all tornado warnings seriously,” Copic said. “If there is a tornado warning, then you need to get to the lowest level of your home. If you don’t have a basement, then get into a bathtub on the lowest floor, or the most interior room in your home. If you’re in a mobile home, get out. It’ll get thrown. Stay away from windows.”
For more information on Thundering Skies Media and links to live streaming, visit the website www.ToledoTornadoTrackers.webs.com.