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Local storm chaser reflects on risks | News

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Local storm chaser reflects on risks
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Sun City Center, Florida -- "You're excited for what you're seeing, but you're also scared, because you know there's a risk," is how Jason Foster explains his addiction to storm chasing.

For years now, those feelings have kept him chasing storms across the country -- hurricanes, tornadoes and even blizzards.

Foster was with a team of storm chasers in Punta Gorda in 2004 when Hurricane Charley slammed ashore. One photograph shows him buffeted by winds with both feet off the ground. 

"That was one of the scariest storms I've been in," says Foster. "We got some great footage of that."

Like many storm chasers, Foster is shaken by the deaths of celebrated tornado researcher Tim Samaras, his son Paul and chase partner Carl Young. On Friday, their vehicle was crumpled by an Oklahoma tornado. The same storm system also tossed about a Weather Channel vehicle and its crew, but they survived.

"We've always talked about the safety and the dangers, but now it's like real, it's tangible," says Foster of the deaths. 

Foster did not know Tim Samaras well, but he did have a few conversations when their paths crossed stalking storms.

At the National Weather Service in Ruskin, meteorologist Michael Gittinger says some storm chasers like Tim Samaras do important research with specialized equipment. 

"They have radars on wheels they take out into the field and retrieve data that otherwise we wouldn't be able to get."

However, other storm chasers are simply thrill seekers or, like Foster, they sell their video. And with the popularity of TV shows featuring the dramatic footage, hot spots like Oklahoma are seeing more and more storm chasers. Sometimes traffic even adds to the dangers.

However Foster says, despite the risks, storm chasing is in his blood. "I will do it until I physically cannot."

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