I first met Chris Novy upon relocating to Oklahoma back in 2002, first as the moderator of the wx-chase e-mail list, and later from his NSWW presentations on storm spotter safety. Chris is a multimedia wizard, an ethical chaser, and a tireless advocate for safe spotting. His video-rich presentations are always eye-catching, amusing, informative, and occasionally sobering. His message is always the same – no spotter report, no video clip, no smidgen of name recognition, is worth losing your life for.
Chris has gained some undeserved notoriety, chiefly for calling out famous storm chasers when they engage in unsafe and illegal behavior while chasing. Like a good journalist, however, he seeks to verify his sources, and often provides video evidence that he shot himself, unedited. Not surprisingly, his YouTube channel is stacked deep with abusive, ad hominem attack comments.
Chris was out spotting on Tuesday, 24 May 2011 in his car full of video gear, when he was manhandled by the titanic, rain-wrapped El Reno, Oklahoma tornado. By all accounts, this tornado was shrouded by opaque rain curtains, and so large as to be disorienting to those chasing near it. The way Chris tells it, he thought he knew where the tornado was moving based on previous radar images. But the storm hooked right and the circulation grew, dragging the huge tornado directly over Chris’ vehicle.
Please watch Chris Novy tell the story in his own words in an interview with our local Fox 25 affiliate, where he works.
The irony of the predicament was not lost on Chris – “Mr. Spotter Safety” got his butt kicked by a tornado. Instead of retreating in humiliation, he recognized the opportunity for a profoundly teachable moment, “a personal story to share with others in training.” Two of his in-car cameras survived and recorded the entire incident. He posted some of his dashcam video on YouTube and posted his gripping first-hand account on wx-chase. In doing so, he made a point that he himself likes to make in his spotter / chaser safety presentations: There is no point in getting right underneath a tornado to get a “money shot,” because you can’t see a damn thing!
Not surprisingly, Chris has endured no end of additional villification and judgment, particularly from those who were already angry at him for calling out unsafe chase practices of others. He’s been variously accused of exploitation, fame-grabbing, and outright hypocrisy. (Commentators appear to willfully forget that Chris is not making a penny off the publication of any of this footage, because YouTube is free. Not to mention that his primary chase vehicle, “pimped out” with camera gear, was totaled.) In contrast, I find that Chris has been tremendously humble about his “near death experience.” He endures the slings and arrows because he feels that the potential lesson he can bring to spotters and chasers across the country is worth the abuse.
I applaud Chris Novy for sharing his harrowing experience, and for doing so quickly and with humility and maturity. I’ve always made a point to keep a respectful distance from tornadoes, but I’ve certainly learned from his experience that tornadoes must be given an even wider berth than normal when they are large, rain-wrapped, and difficult to see. Tornadoes look contained, and perhaps even a bit tame, on a television screen, but Mother Nature always has the ace up her sleeve.
As my uncle says, “Spot safely; don’t be a spot.”