GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The deaths of three veteran storm chasers in Oklahoma last week is a sobering reminder that while storm chasing may look glamorous on TV, it's serious and extremely dangerous business.
Professional storm chasers say they do it for the science rather than the thrill. The work they have done has saved lives.
"There have been strides with lead times, but we are talking about just a minute or two. Essentially, that is enough time for folks to take appropriate action," Jim Maczko of the National Weather Service Grand Rapids office explained.
"I don't have a doubt in my mind that it saved lives. Maybe hundreds. Maybe thousands," Storm Team 8's Laura Velasquez added.
But Friday, Tim Samaras, his son Paul and partner Carl Young -- who previously starred on The Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" -- were killed near El Reno, Okla. while chasing an EF3 tornado.
Three other storm chasers with The Weather Channel sustained only cuts and bruises when their SUV was picked up by the twister and tossed about 200 yards.
The incidents are a reminder of the dangers of the job.
As part of her master's degree program, Velasquez is leaving Saturday for her first storm chasing experience.
"It is something that I have wanted to do for a very long time and I am excited to see the science behind it," Velasquez said.
But she's also aware of the danger.
"It's certainly something you think about. That being said, I don't have reservations about going. You go out storm chasing and you assume those risks," she said.
Assuming the risk is one thing when you are properly trained, but fueled by streaming video and reality TV, there is a growing number of amateurs.
"You are having a lot more people putting themselves in danger because they are just trying to get some access to a storm when they shouldn't really be there at all," Maczko said.
Despite the danger, there is currently no other way to get the data chasers gather.
"We have the means to get the data this way and we are learning every day," Velasquez said. "You can make the argument that we have made huge strides, and I hope that I am sitting in the same position 10 years from now and saying, 'Look how far we have come in 10 years since that horrible day.'"
GRAM Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony in front of a festive downtown crowd at Rosa Parks Circle Friday night.
Two people were taken to the hospital after one vehicle crossed the center line, causing a head-on crash in Ada Township Friday night.
Police say snow made roads "treacherous" Sunday and urged people to stay home if possible.