Storm chaser

By on June 25, 2010

Thrill and goodwill are motivators for Elburn man’s hobby
by Keith Beebe
ELBURN—Brad Hruza was fascinated by clouds and storms while growing up in Iowa. And his interest in inclement weather only grew stronger when he was exposed to an abundance of lightning and tornadoes after moving to Illinois in 1985.

“I’ve always loved bad weather, and I spent a lot of time in my youth following the rain,” he said.

Hruza’s fondness for stormy weather eventually led him to his ultimate labor of love—storm chasing, which he has done for the last 15 years. While most people will try to find shelter below ground during a severe storm, Hruza prefers to get dangerously close to storm clouds and tornadoes to take pictures of them.

Hruza also became a National Weather Service-certified storm spotter last spring.

Not everyone understands his unusual hobby.

“People ask why I (chase storms) and what the point is,” Hruza said. “My only response is, if I can save just one life by helping to get a 10-second-earlier warning to them, then that makes every second I have ever chased worth it. I do it to help save lives and property.”

One thing Hruza doesn’t chase storms for is money. He volunteers, without pay, to get up close and personal with disastrous weather for the Skywarn Spotter Network. And he currently has plenty of time to spot and chase storms, having a disability since January 2009 when a 616-pound entertainment center fell on his foot while he was helping a friend move.

Hruza originally wanted to become a meteorologist but managed to sit through only one class at Northern Illinois University before deciding meteorology wasn’t going to work out for him. Hruza wanted to see storms and twisters in-person, not just on radar.

Hruza, now 34, moved to Elburn in 2005. Living in the area has given him the opportunity to chase some formidable storms, one of which was a tornado that swept through Dwight and Streator, Ill. two weeks ago.

“I traveled down there to see the devastation. I actually walked around taking photos right in the middle of the destruction,” he said. “It was heartbreaking. People just didn’t know what to do.”

“My first thought in Dwight was that their situation was horrible,” Hruza said. “Not only did (the tornado) hit a populated area, but it was dark out. No one could see it coming. Thankfully, no one died.”

Hruza also found a particular memento in Dwight that perfectly embodied how a dangerous storm can change everything in a few moments.

“I looked down at my feet and there was a ripped-in-half picture of a newborn baby. My first thought was how people always say there are things that can never be replaced, and this is what they meant by that,” he said. “I took the picture, telling myself that this is one memory someone lost that I could not let be lost forever.”

While there is plenty of goodwill in Hruza’s storm-chasing motives, he admits he really enjoys the scary, thrilling aspect of the work, too.

“It’s a definite rush, and it’s really hard for me to explain exactly what it feels like,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing, though.”