On March 28, 2007, I had my first face-to-face meeting with a tornado. On that particular evening, in the Texas panhandle, my team ended up "catching" a total of three confirmed twisters. The strongest was rated EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, destroying a mobile home, a barn, and two windmills.

Why was I out in middle-of-nowhere Hall County, Texas, perilously close to a dangerous supercell thunderstorm? It was part of my job — meteorologist at KSWO-TV in Lawton, Oklahoma.

My first tornado sighting, near Childress, Texas on March 28, 2007. (Dan Zarrow)
My first tornado sighting, near Childress, Texas on March 28, 2007. (Dan Zarrow)
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That was the first and only time I successfully "caught" a tornado. One of the defining moments of my career — that encounter cemented in my mind the awesome, unstoppable power of Mother Nature.

You may be familiar with the concept of "storm chasing". Maybe from Twister, every meteorologist's favorite movie from 1996. Possibly from Storm Chasers, the long-running documentary reality series from the Discovery Channel. Or from live storm coverage on one of the national weather television outlets.

On the left, one of the DOROTHY props used in the movie Twister. On the right, actual weather instruments used to research tornadoes. (NOAA, National Weather Center)
On the left, one of the DOROTHY props used in the movie Twister. On the right, actual weather instruments used to research tornadoes. (NOAA, National Weather Center)
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Yes, chasing tornadoes is thrilling. And of course, it can be very dangerous.

But there is a safe way to track and spot thunderstorms from the field.

Center For Severe Weather Research Scientists Search For Tornadoes To Study
Getty Images
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And there is an important reason for it too — live reports of "ground truth" observations are critically important for forecasters and broadcasters (like me!) Photos and video are also important for post-storm surveys, research projects, and education/outreach initiatives.

When I moved back to New Jersey in 2012, I made a few attempts at "chasing" on particularly nasty weather days. Despite my meteorological training and "Tornado Alley" field experience, I ran into all sorts of problems.

My best attempt at "New Jersey storm chasing" - watching swirling clouds from the Grover Cleveland Service Area on the NJ Turnpike in Woodbridge. (Dan Zarrow)
My best attempt at "New Jersey storm chasing" - watching swirling clouds from the Grover Cleveland Service Area on the NJ Turnpike in Woodbridge. (Dan Zarrow)
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Before anyone thinks that you can safely or successfully chase storms in New Jersey, let me explain why it's not a great idea.

11 reasons why storm chasing in NJ is a very, very bad idea

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey, and his former Skywarn spotter ID is MENJ-081. Follow Dan on Facebook or Twitter for your latest weather forecast updates.

KEEP READING: What to do after a tornado strikes

NJ/PA Tornado Outbreak: July 29, 2021

Following an insane severe weather outbreak across Eastern, PA and much of New Jersey on Thursday, a ton of damage was reported. So the National Weather Service surveyed the damage to evaluate if tornadoes did touch down.

The strongest tornado, an EF3 was reported in Bensalem, PA.

Tthey have confirmed a total of seven tornadoes touched down across New Jersey and Eastern Pa. Here's a complete list:

The Power of Thunderstorms: March 21, 2021

A strong line of thunderstorms that moved across New Jersey on Sunday evening ripped parts of a roof off a hotel on the Jersey Shore and a factory in Trenton.