If you don't already know him, Tom Skilling is the Chief Meteorologist for WGN-TV. For 42 years he's issued tornado warnings from a windowless weather office, but never in his wildest dreams did he ever expect to be chased by tornadoes himself.

"It is looking extremely dangerous," said Jim Reed, the storm chaser guide for WGN-TV's storm chase in May 2010. "My only concern is it's just got skull and crossbones written all over it." 

Reed has been a photographer specializing in severe and unusual weather for the last 20 years.
He was in South Florida in 2004 when Hurrican eCharley rapidly intensified, turned sharply, and ran right over him.

"For the past 5 minutes or so we have been experiencing winds in excess of 100 mph, it is tearing off roofs," Jim explained in a video documenting his experience in the storm.

"When you have a storm like Hurricane Charley, it's like being meteorologically ambushed.  I really thought this was our plane and we're going down. I taped a video goodbye to my Mom."

When Huricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Reed captured the storm surge in Gulfport, Mississippi.

"Everything that I've seen over 19 to 20 years makes me believe that storms,  hurricanes included, are getting larger, more frequent and trickier to predict," Reed said.

 And he's seeing more tornadoes.

Jim's unusual career started in Springfield, Ill. His mother, Audrey, gave him a camera for Christmas in 1969. And when a destructive ice storm hit their home in 1978, he pulled out the camera.

"And that was the first time I ever documented the aftermath of a natural disaster. I think the ice storm here in Springfield and the impact it had on this back yard was the first real impact on me kind of putting somewhere in the back of my mind the power of weather." 

Reed graduated from Southeast High School and headed for Southern California with dreams of becoming a filmmaker. But he returned to Springfield recently to surprise two science teachers he acknowledges by name in his book, "Storm Chaser."

Reed's former teacher, Marvin Hoeck, is now retired, but when he got his hands on the book, he held it up proudly, saying, "he gets as close to the hurricane and close to the tornado as he can get."

Reed's other teacher, Wanda Britt, said, "As far as I'm concerned, he's THE #1 storm chaser in the United States."

Britt has taught at Southeast for 42 years. The two teachers hadn't seen Jim Reed since around 1980, and at first, they didn't know it was him right before their eyes.

"This is really the rewards of teaching," Hoech said. "When students make good and remember you.  You never know in your classroom how you touch the lives of kids and that's really what it's all about."

 
Monday, May 10, 2010, Wichita, Kansas