Student storm chaser goes on a thrilling hunt

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

Of all the various student groups on campus, ranging from career-originated networking clubs to religious coffee tents on the Main Quad, storm chasing would seem to stand in stark contrast to the collective. The intensive meteorological study is one many have seen practiced by professional networks and research teams similar to those on the Discovery Channel. Nonetheless, one student is on a mission to bring his extreme hobby and academic passion to campus by creating a storm chasing team at Illinois.

Max Claypool, senior in LAS, has taken most of the undergrad atmospheric science classes available at the University. But his love for meteorology started all the way back when he was six years old. Claypool grew up watching tornado documentaries that he rented from his local library. He grew obsessed with weather, particularly severe and extreme weather events.

“I loved the ‘Storm Chasers’ show on Discovery and idolized Reed Timmer (star of the show),” Claypool said. “I had the privilege of grabbing dinner with him last spring after meeting him chasing in Montana.”

Claypool has converted his childhood fascination into reality. He has gone on several storm chases which he showcases on his TikTok, “Mad Max Claypool.” He has over 100,000 followers on the platform.

Over winter break, Claypool appeared on the air as a meteorologist for WOAY-TV, an ABC affiliate in West Virginia. He was also a weather intern at WCIA3 during the fall semester and has written over two dozen weather-related stories for CNN.

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    For Claypool, the goal of storm chasing is to observe the “business end” of the storm. The business end is where the structure is observing the updraft while staying out of the rain and hail. The business end is also where a tornado would form if there is one occurring in the area. The ultimate goal is to see tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms.

    An image Claypool captured from one of his many storm chases. (Max Claypool)

    Nina Ratnakar, junior in the University’s nursing program and Claypool’s girlfriend, has tagged along on several chases across the Midwest.

    “This is something that is super important to him, so I said I would join him on a few of his chases,” Ratnakar said. “I have been on about four chases with him, all were exciting and I enjoyed seeing Max in his element.”

    Claypool said he has had to drive thousands of miles to chase a storm. He has been through Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and other states on his own to chase storms.

    “Once you’re in the target area, you just have to monitor satellite and radar and wait for storms to go up,” he said. “It’s nice to be in the target area early because often storms go up not where you thought they would, so you may have to drive even a few hundred miles to adjust.”

    But, according to Claypool, storm chasing is a lot more work than a single person can handle.

    “Chasing on your own is hard, which is a big reason I’m trying to get a team together,” Claypool said.

    Recently, he has been reaching out through social media to get members together for a storm chasing team on campus.

    “It’s not easy to forecast, navigate and drive at the same time, so I really want to pull together a team for my own safety and to have a better operation,” Claypool said. “The ideal storm chase team has a driver, a navigator/forecaster and a camera person. I’ve been really pleased with the overwhelming response from people who wanna be a part.”

    Across platforms like Reddit, Claypool has been interviewing those interested in partaking in the chase, mostly vetting for positive attitude and enthusiasm in potential chasers.

    He stressed that his storm chasing group is not officially affiliated with the University at all  but is rather a private venture. Any students wanting to join are recommended to message @MadMaxClaypool on Twitter or email him.

    Ben Weingarten, friend of Claypool, described his optimism for the team.

    “Max will bring an immense knowledge of the subject, unstoppable attitude and an authentic, unique energy to the new team,” Weingarten said. “Expect continued success and awesome content from Claypool in the near future.”

    Above all, Claypool stressed the importance of storm chasing behind its thrilling practice and how the safety of communities across the Midwest are tied to it.

    “I think storm chasing is critically important,” he said. “Having eyes on the ground to call in tornadoes and file reports with the National Weather Service can save lives.”


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