By BECKY GILLETTESome people might think it well, a bit foolhardy, to be chasing after tornadoes. But Brandon Clement of Terry finds it exhilarating to observe weather in its most extreme forms — and sharing that information with the National Weather Service, emergency responders and the general public in the form of live feeds goes beyond entertaining to being potentially life-saving.
“Chasing storms is a big thrill,” Clement said. “Weather can be fascinating, especially in its most extreme forms. It can be intense. It can be an adrenalin rush. For the most part, it is absolutely fascinating. It is extremely challenging.”
But isn’t it also really dangerous?
“It is no more dangerous and no more looking for trouble than the dangers of being a firefighter or police officer,” said Clement. “If you know what you are doing, dangers for the most part can be avoided. The biggest danger in storm chasing is the long drives to and from target areas.”
Clement said it is probably more dangerous to be texting and driving — something the kills people far too often. He has a great deal of technology in the vehicles he uses to chase storm including multiple camera facing all directions so the storm can be seen from every angle. He also has multiple forms of radar that can help him track the storm. But he doesn’t use the laptop computer while driving, and he uses a hands free phone.
“Texting and driving is very dangerous and distracting,” Clement said. “Many times, I have a driver who comes with me and doesn’t do anything but drive. Or if I am with a storm chase partner, I will drive and he is doing all the stuff on the computer.”
Clement actually takes few still photos now, and instead prefers to stream live video. In the middle of the storm, the information available from him at
http://livestormsnow.com/live/brandon-clement/ provides real time information about the movement of a potentially deadly storm to emergency workers including police, fire and emergency medical technicians.
“The National Weather Service watches our live feeds on the ground and will call us to get updates on dangerous storms,” Clement said. “We work with emergency coordinators from counties and the state. In the Columbia tornado in December 2014, I was the only chaser on it. I was bombarded by FEMA and emergency managers, plus local and state police trying to figure out what was going on because I was actually in the area looking at damage. Pulling up on places hit hard after a tornado, we will do search and rescue, as well. We are a bit limited in resources for search and rescue, but we do what we can. I feel like I do more by helping coordinators to get first responders on the scene than doing any type of first aid. It just depends on the situation.”
Watching his live streaming is the next best thing to being there.
“When I’m chasing, you can watch from my car what is going on live,” said Clement, who has been interested in weather for as long as he can remember. “Even if I’m in a super cell, there is only a small portion that contains tornadic activity — an area of about two miles. We use radar to track the storm and combined with knowledge and experience it helps to reduce the dangers.”
Clement goes all over the country doing his storm chasing work. He has had as many as 10,000 viewers at a time when he was chasing a live tornado doing damage. There are more viewers, generally, in metro areas with a higher population. The Weather Channel, Weather Nation, ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS, BBC and many others have aired his stream live.
“Even out in the middle of nowhere, you can get a lot of viewers especially if it the outbreak is hyped up by the media,” he said.
Clement gets paid for video sales of the storms. That pretty much pays his expenses, but not for his time.
“At end of the year, it is basically a wash,” Clement said. “But anytime I get to do something I love for free, it is great.”
Clement is married to Amanda Smith. Since kids have come along, it is more complicated dropping everything when Mother Nature starts acting up. But he doesn’t catch flak from his wife.
“My wife actually loves it,” Clement said. “I just wish she could go with me more often. Clement said. “She is 100 percent supportive.”
Clement also has a unique business that he loves. Four Seasons Garden Art in Crystal Springs contains five acres of statuary art, with more than 300 fountains on display.
“It is a destination business,” he said. “People come all over the Southeast to come see us.”
He encourage people in high school to chase their dreams — whatever they may be.
“It is a cliche, but money doesn’t buy happiness,” he said. “Find something you are passionate about it. If you find a way to make a living doing something you love then it is no longer work.”