Midwest storm chaser Zach Walters is no stranger to dangerous activities; he has seen his fair share of both Mother Nature’s wrath and beauty. Zach has chased storms all over the nation and in doing so, has also seen the terrible tragedy that accompanies severe weather. As a NOAA Weather Ready Nation Ambassador, Zach has had the opportunity to best to inform others of how to be best prepared for severe weather emergencies. We spoke to Zach, a West Lafayette, Indiana native, about his experience as a storm chaser and about severe weather preparedness as part of National Preparedness Month.
How did you become interested in storm chasing?
I became interested in chasing severe weather at a very young age. When I was roughly 9 years old, my Mom was driving my sister and I home from my baseball game. They had ended the baseball game early due to incoming weather. My mom, Sharon, decided to stop and document the supercell thunderstorm (just as it went tornado warned). I was terrified!! As we got home, my Dad grabbed me and my sister out of the car and we ran for cover in our tornado safety location. Ever since that day, I have had a fascination for severe weather and what she can produce (both ugly and beautiful).
What’s been your most memorable moment from storm chasing?
My most memorable moment from storm chasing will have to be the first time I was nearly struck by a tornado, it was the August 2016 Kokomo, IN EF3. The tornado passed only a mile behind us and the force of the vortex was so strong that our vehicle wouldn’t go over 50mph as the tornado was pulling us back in.
Have you storm chased outside of the Midwest?
In my career, I have had the opportunity to chase all across the U.S. chasing severe weather including the central plains, northern plains, Midwest, and northeast. I am still yet to intercept a hurricane or a Haboob in the Arizona desert. Those are a couple of bucket list items. In the future, I would love to travel outside of the U.S. and intercept severe weather.
What’s something surprising about storm chasing that most people don’t know?
Something surprising about storm chasing is it is harder than it looks. Lots of time needs to be put into educating yourself in forecasting as well as being able to read a thunderstorm without the use of technology (cell service can be non-existent in some locations of the US). Also, be prepared to eat on the road a lot as traveling is 95% of what storm chasers do.
September is National Preparedness Month through Ready.gov – what’s something people should remember about preparing for bad weather?
People should always remember to check the weather every morning. Get in the habit of glancing at your phone’s weather apps every so often so you can be prepared for that day’s weather events. Always have a way to receive warnings and know where you can go to seek shelter from severe weather.
Week 3 of National Preparedness Month is Prepare for Disasters – what advice do you have for people for preparing themselves, their families, and their homes in case of disaster?
Preparation for severe weather is extremely important in the safety of you and your loved ones. Be sure to purchase emergency weather equipment like a alert radio, a crank radio in case you lose power, and stock up on supplies such as first aid kits, water, and food.
Have you witnessed a lot of disaster-struck areas?
In my 10 years of chasing storms, I have been at ground zero of many disaster struck areas including the 2011 Joplin EF5, 2016 Kokomo, IN EF3, 2016 Smoky Mountain Wildfires, and most recently the 2020 Nashville, TN EF3.
You are a Weather Ready Nation Ambassador – how has this changed your opinions about being prepared for all types of disaster?
As a WRN Ambassador for NOAA, I have had the opportunity to travel and educate many businesses and government buildings for severe weather preparedness (including Law Enforcement agencies, Fire Departments, Schools, & Factories). I can use my history of being in disaster struck areas and speaking to survivors and apply that to my courses.