Women on the Prairies are chasing extreme storms. Here's why

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Online radical Girls Who Chase has created a planetary assemblage of women who caput into terrible upwind to grounds images, study harm and assistance scientists recognize the interaction of storms to beryllium amended prepared

It's astir taking calculated risks, capturing stunning images and being determination to help, says Sask. tempest chaser

Terry Reith · CBC News

· Posted: Sep 16, 2023 4:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: 8 minutes ago

Woman lasting  successful  a tract  beside tiny  4  instrumentality    thrust  vehicle, with lightning onslaught   successful  the background.

Jenny Hagan is simply a Saskatchewan-based terrible upwind chaser. (Jenny Hagan @LostInSk)

Jenny Hagan drove done the nighttime from 1 broadside of Saskatchewan the different successful mid-August to enactment herself successful the way of a perchance unsafe storm.

She's carried splints and bandages successful lawsuit anyone had been injured. She has a instrumentality for measuring upwind speed, and a assortment of cameras, tripods and signaling gear. Her ngo was to papers this utmost upwind event, and study connected it for her societal media channels.

"I pursuit storms, due to the fact that I've ever had a zest for adventure," she explains. "So it gets maine retired and I get to spot conscionable astir each inch of our Prairies retired there. And I've ever liked to benignant of propulsion boundaries and bash things that are possibly not typical."

As clime models shift, Hagan is portion of a radical of autarkic tempest chasers who papers utmost weather. More a calling than a business, the fiscal incentives are not peculiarly strong. But putting one's aforesaid successful beforehand of a tornado, photographing it, measuring it, and jumping successful to assistance the injured and displaced successful its aftermath is the reward she said she seeks.

The joined parent of 2 teens has been funny successful utmost upwind since she was a child. When the pandemic forced the closure of her photograph workplace in Kindersley, Sask., she decided to spell each in. She taught herself however to construe the earthy information collected by upwind agencies and researchers, and lend her ain observations.

A ample  tornado touches down   successful  beforehand   of farmer's fields.

In an representation captured by U.S.-based tempest chaser Jen Walton, a stovepipe tornado touches down adjacent Benkelman, Neb. (Jennifer Walton)

"It's important for america to recognize upwind and however it affects people. To beryllium capable to support radical harmless and marque changes successful our informing systems," Hagan said. 

Creating beardown relation models

Storm chasing utilized to beryllium the domain of nonrecreational meteorologists, mostly men. But the 1996 movie Twister, which depicted the relation of a pistillate scientist played by histrion Helen Hunt, captured the imaginations of women astir the world. 

Woman stands atop a achromatic  athletics  inferior  conveyance  facing the aurora borealis.

Shannon Bileski stands atop her customized tempest chasing vehicle, facing the aurora borealis successful confederate Manitoba. (© Signature Exposures/ Shannon Bileski Photography)

"When I archetypal started tempest chasing it seemed arsenic though determination weren't precise galore women successful the tempest chasing universe, oregon astatine slightest I couldn't find them and it struck maine arsenic odd," notes Jen Walton, a Colorado-based utmost upwind chaser and clime alteration specialist.

Her extremity was to animate and empower women, creating community and a enactment system.

"As I moved connected successful my tempest chasing travel and discovered determination were a batch of different issues astatine play specified arsenic deficiency of engagement, deficiency of media representation, [and] different issues relating to sex astir successful the tempest chasing universe," Walton said. 

Smiling pistillate   lasting  successful  a wheat tract  with a tornado down  her.

Jen Walton is laminitis of Girls Who Chase. (Jennifer Walton)

The effect was overwhelming, she said. The radical has grown to 250 contributors from 15 countries, including Kuwait. Walton said it reflects her taxable of empowerment.

"I deliberation tempest chasing is simply a badass and engaging mode of showing women doing science, due to the fact that it takes guts to get retired determination and pursuit a storm," she said. "It takes believing that you person the skills, believing that you tin support yourself safe."

Unique challenges

Storm chasing is an inherently risky business, but not for the reasons astir would assume.

Of the 13 chasers killed since 2005, each but 3 perished successful conveyance collisions, according to a reappraisal of media reports and information from the website Stormtrack.com.

Shannon Bileski, who is based successful confederate Manitoba, sees different drivers arsenic the riskiest portion of her job. 

Lightening strikes against a acheronian  sky, with a achromatic  upwind  radar shot  successful  the foreground.

One of Shannon Bileski's prized photos. Lightening strikes down a upwind radar installation successful Woodlands, Man. (Shannon Bileski/Signature Exposures)

There are besides the dangers faced by women travelling along, often successful isolated areas oregon portion sleeping successful their vehicles on the highway.

"It's precise concerning," said Walton. "Somebody could beryllium coming on who's much almighty and bigger and has sick intentions. You're a pistillate alone. I bash instrumentality immoderate precautions."

"So they cognize if they get a substance connection from me, a definite 1 with my GPS location, that is indicative of the information that I request help. So my GPS determination is successful that SOS message. They cognize precisely wherever I americium and they tin travel astir if I request them."

Lightning and hail besides airs important hazards. Hagan's compact SUV bears the dimples of a terrible hailstorm. 

WATCH | Jenny Hagan describes Sask. wintertime storm:

Storm chaser Jenny Hagan shows the wintertime tempest that continues to batter occidental Saskatchewan

Storm chaser Jenny Hagan says visibility is inactive practically zero adjacent Kindersley, Sask. She echoes the Highway Hotline's warnings and says radical should enactment disconnected the roadworthy close now.

Shannon Bileski of Portage la Prairie, Man., carries a hardhat successful lawsuit she's caught successful a hail storm, and an automated outer defibrillator, successful lawsuit she oregon anyone astir her is struck by lightning.

"I'm retired determination beauteous adjacent to lightning. And I ever archer household and friends ... if I get deed by lightning and I I don't marque it, you cognize what? I died happy."

It's astir the image

Bileski, who works arsenic a information analyst, spends arsenic overmuch clip arsenic she tin spare connected the road, tracking terrible upwind and searching for the cleanable photograph.

"There's thing much beauteous than conscionable going retired and seeing that tempest ... just being astatine bid and calm and, you know, being capable to stock what I spot with others," she explains. "There's thing magical, majestical astir being nether storms and conscionable seeing that going connected astir you and feeling that bid and calm and conscionable the beauty."

Blond pistillate   successful  a achromatic  overgarment   holding a camera successful  a tract  of wheat.

Jenny Hagan aims her camera astatine a wheat tract successful confederate Saskatchewan, capturing images of a upwind storm. (Terry Reith/CBC News)

Hagan's 700-kilometre travel crossed Saskatchewan this summer came to a adjacent successful a wheat tract eastbound of Regina. There are nary tornadoes, lightning oregon hail to capture. This tempest brought aggravated winds and small more.

Climate alteration is shifting the situation for tempest chasers. Saskatchewan has seen substantially less tornadoes this year, according to the Northern Tornado Project astatine Western University successful Ontario, portion B.C. and Alberta person faced grounds mounting wood fires. 

Hagan, who's teaching her 17-year-old girl to chase, remains optimistic astir the interaction of clime change.

"My children's procreation are precise good alert of what's happening successful this world. And we've seen them astir apt highly proactive successful changing that. So they mightiness person a immense power connected what we're going to spot successful the adjacent 20 years." 

In the meantime, she plunks down a tripod and mounts her camera connected a clip lapse, capturing images of a wheat tract looking similar an water of golden rippling successful the wind.


Terry Reith is CBC's web quality shaper based successful Edmonton. He's besides served arsenic the network's aesculapian reporter, and elder writer for the user conception of cbc.ca. Reith joined the CBC successful 1992 arsenic a section vigor and tv reporter.

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