Storm chasers are individuals who make their way toward the storm when everyone is fleeing from it, and typically include news reporters, electric power technicians and first responders. These are people who have to stand in front of hurricane-force winds and get hit with torrential rain and debris as they try and yell into a soaked microphone in order to provide the general public with the most up-to-date information. In some instances, they put their lives in danger to come to our aid when we need rescuing and assistance in dangerous weather.

The moment natural disasters happen, weather and news reporters often put themselves in harmful situations attempting to capture precise data. Some of the most eye-catching reporting that emerged from Hurricane Irma showed journalists and meteorologists doing live feeds as they battled the full force of the hurricane.

Video footage of reporters and first responders quickly goes viral because of the high-intensity situations they work under. They know the accuracy of their stories and the boldness of reporting on-location raises the credibility of the news source. At the end of the day, they put themselves in danger so we at home can remain safe and aware of what measures we need to take to stay safe.

Irma was recorded as one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in history, and at one point it covered the entire state of Florida. Moving with winds of up 175 mph, Hurricane Irma was also very unpredictable, leaving first responders with very little time to act.

Photo by Doug Freeman

There are a lot of dangers involved with facing a hurricane. “You put your life at risk for the safety of the general public,” said Action News Jax Reporter Russell Colburn, who covered the storm extensively. “It was surreal to watch the St. Johns River flow into the streets, spilling into the road gushing over in 8- to 10-foot waves in Riverside and San Marco. You couldn’t tell where the river or the road began.”

“Nothing is more important than your life; those situations can intensify in just a matter of a couple hours,” said Senior Photographer for Action News Jax Rob Born, who also documented Irma. “First responders have to rescue individuals that are unable to leave their locations, a lot of time due to negligence and lack of preparation of others. They now have to put their lives in danger in order to rescue others. This is why it’s so vital to listen to authorities when they ask you to evacuate. It is not worth the risk.”

These unsung heroes are the ones who must venture into the heart of the storm so that we can remain safe, and there is a quiet courage to that which deserves respect and commendation.

“A lot of people are in their bubble and don’t listen. People have lost their homes twice in 11 months. When government officials tell you that you should evacuate, you should listen. We saw what Hurricane Matthew and Irma did without being a direct hit,” Born continued. “A window will hurt you, but the water will kill you. There are individuals in professions who can’t leave or evacuate, like reporters and first responders. When you don’t evacuate, you are putting more burden on them and putting them at even more risk.”

Photo by Doug Freeman

Both Colburn and Born rode together for over a week before Hurricane Irma hit, and during the storm as well. The infamous Storm Tracker Jeep is built with special satellite features to assist them while reporting in treacherous weather. It’s vital for them to know exactly where to be during a storm, and the data they collect assists the meteorologist in providing a more accurate forecast.

“It’s important to ensure that the vehicle is working properly and that everything checks out when it comes to safety. Just like our equipment, trying to keep it dry in the rain while also ensuring that you capture a quality shot for the viewers is not an easy task in 70 mph winds,” said Born, who was in charge of ensuring their equipment was inspected and met quality standards.

Hurricane Irma was a real horror of Mother Nature, unpredictable and unapologetically strong, and it took a lot of people by surprise. She destroyed complete islands and caused devastating damage to thousands of homes and towns in the Caribbean and Florida, even taking many lives. Recorded as one of the most devastating natural disasters in history, Irma tested the bravery of many first responders and news reporters. These are the people who risk their lives to ensure we don’t have to, and for that, we should be truly grateful for these storm chasers.


This article was originally published in our Hurricane Irma Recap Issue.