- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

WEST BEND, Wis. (AP) - While others may run from severe weather, Jake Stehli of Hartford races toward it. He loves getting near it. Stehli’s a storm chaser — not exactly a hobby or an occupation for the faint of heart.

Stehli, 36, returned recently from a trip through Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado to chase storms. With a degree in psychology, he’d prefer earning a regular paycheck chasing storms.

“It’s a hobby right now. I’d love it if I could turn it into freelance work,” Stehli said. “Getting close to a storm and getting great photos of the clouds, the lightning, everything that’s part of it, is a huge adrenaline rush.” Stehli’s mother, Mary Kuharske, said her son developed a passion for anything about weather at an early age.

“I think I was 8 at the time. A teacher gave me a book to read about clouds,” Stehli said. “After I read it, I just had to learn more and it became my passion. Sometimes I think it’s bothered other people, like teachers for example, but it’s something I just love to learn about.” Stehli remembers one incident where he may have been “obsessive” about his interest in storms, the Daily News of West Bend reported.

“When I was in grade school they announced over the loudspeaker there was a chance of severe weather in the area. I jumped, threw a whole bunch of papers around and gave out a big yell. My teacher wasn’t too happy about it,” Stehli said.

Kuharske said she was amazed by how much weather knowledge her son had when he was very young and how his passion has become even stronger. She understands storm chasing can be extremely dangerous. In fact, some storm chasers have been killed after getting too close or inside a storm.

“Do I worry about him? Yes,” said Kuharske. “But I’ve learned it’s his passion. You have to let your children do what their passionate about so there are no regrets later in life.” Stehli’s been very close to a number of dangerous storms that included winds and lightning, but a storm chaser must learn to stay close to a storm but not go inside it.

“It’s even more dangerous for the average Joe who tries it without having the proper knowledge,” Stehli said. “There’s an inherent risk, but if you are educated your chances are better.” Stehli said storm chasing during the day is dangerous enough, but storm chasing in the dark is beyond that danger.

“Storm chasing at night is a definite no-no,” Stehli said. “I’ve taken pictures of the aurora borealis at night. I’ve taken photos of lightning at night. One time at the Hartford Airport there were all kinds of lightning strikes and it seemed the lightning was following me as I moved inside a building.” Kuharske said her son became friends with meteorologists from Milwaukee TV stations when he was young and remains in contact with some today.

“I started by calling Vince Condella and talked to him about the aurora borealis. I was 8 at the time and I asked him what created all the colors in the night sky. That led to learning from him about the weather,” Stehli said. “I talk off and on with Mark Baden from Channel 12.” Stehli?s storm chasing has allowed him to take a number of stunning weather photos he’s shared with Baden and others.

“Normally when you’re storm chasing you should be with another person,” Stehli said. “When I can’t do that I have my photo equipment set up so I can shoot photos automatically.” His car is also decked out with an anemometer, weather radar, radios and extensive photography equipment.

“Today’s technology makes it a lot easier to know where the storms are compared to years ago,” Stehli said.

Stehli is a walking encyclopedia of weather. Mention a storm or tornado touchdown and Stehli can reel off a lengthy report on what happened and the severity of the weather. He also serves as a local volunteer weather spotter. He said there’s a big difference between being a storm spotter and a storm chaser.

“When you’re a spotter you know there are conditions that make severe weather possible. You report what you see to authorities,” Stehli said.

“When you’re a storm chaser you’re deliberately following the storm and trying to get as close as possible for photos and to learn about that weather phenomena.” Stehli said some storm chasers today are getting too close or going inside of storms.

“Some people are just out to make a name for themselves in the social media,” Stehli said. “They’re into it for the wrong reasons. I and others are on the trip to purposely hunt down weather and provide photos and information to meteorologists and the National Weather Service, not for fame.” Stehli’s dream is to take a storm-chasing trip soon through Tornado Alley, stretching through the nation?s mid-section. Meanwhile, Stehli will continue chasing storms and severe weather and posting his photos online.

“I can’t do it as often as I’d like because I have to work to pay the bills, but I hope to do it more,” Stehli said. “I’ve been afraid, but fear makes you focus even more on doing the job right and being safe too.”

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Information from: Daily News, http://www.dailynewsol.com/

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