Monday, July 18, 2011

Employee Spotlight: Matthew Budwill

Matthew Budwill is a mild mannered system administrator by day, but in his free time he’s an adventure seeking storm chaser!

The Rio Salado College employee has been chasing storms in Arizona and across the country for the last 15 years. He started out as an amateur doing time-lapse photography at night and has evolved through both training and experience into a certified SKYWARN spotter.

“I kind of stumbled across it,” Budwill said. “It just started out through my photography doing time-lapse at night. Over the years I’ve amassed more training and now storm chasing is what I do. “

Budwill received training as a storm spotter from the National Weather Service. As a certified SKYWARN spotter, he is able to report severe weather events and storm damage to any NWS office.

“While I’m out, I issue weather reports to the national weather service that allows them to issue warnings. I send in damage reports so they can analyze what happened during a storm. And of course if someone is broken down or a victim or something, I’m able to stop and assist,” Budwill said.

Although he has had some formal training, quite a few of Budwill’s skills were self-taught or incidental.
“I was looking for new technology to use so that while I’m out I can upload GPS data in real time. Along with that technology, came training for how to more safely maneuver around tornadoes and such,” he said.

Budwill operates completely out of his truck which is equipped with GPS, full internet capability, three hand held cameras, and a high definition dash-cam capable of streaming live video to his Web site, He also has a dew point sensor that he engineered himself. “It’s based on a fairly standard design, but it took 3 years of trial and error to get it the way I wanted it,” Budwill said.

The truck also has custom headlights and a light bar that can be seen from up to 10 miles away. Budwill can track his location through an iPhone app called Radar Scope which helps him keep a safe distance.

“With tornadoes I’m very cautious,” Budwill said. “I chase with radar. Even on my cell phone I have GPS enabled radar so I can see exactly where I am in relation to the storm.”

Budwill chases all kinds of storms and weather conditions. He said location plays a big part in what he expects to see. “In the Midwest you’re looking for a different kind of footage. Tornado footage, hail damage…stuff like that.” He added, “Around here, people are more focused on dust storms and haboobs as well as lightning. In the Midwest they get a lot of cloud to cloud. Around here we get more cloud to ground, so it’s a lot more impressive in photographs.”

As for the haboob that struck Phoenix on July 5, Budwill said it’s the first time in 15 years that he’s shied away from a storm for safety reasons. “It’s probably the worst one I’ve seen in my 15 years chasing, or actually 20 years that I’ve been living here.”

“I will chase pretty much anything because I’m trained to, but I didn’t want to chase that one because I didn’t feel safe,” Budwill said. “I’ve almost been struck by lightning five times, which is five times too many.

According to Budwill, visibility and wind speeds are the most dangerous elements of those types of storms. “Debris is not such a big deal around here. Mostly it’s just dirt, but I have had a headlight broken by a very dense tumbleweed.”


Dave Fotoboek said...

Wow Matthew, you have got quite an exiting job. The thing I like is that you really turned your passion into a job. I am also an amateur photographer but in Europe (where I live) we don't have such extreme weather conditions, so for me it is still a hobby to capture all kinds of nature phenomenons like storms (not such ones as in the US), heavy rainfalls, lightning etc. Last year I travelled to the US with a friend of mine, who is also an amateur photographer, and we also faced some very heavy weather conditions. It is really amazing how 'angry' mother nature sometimes can be. We never saw such weather conditions in real life in Europe but when we were in the United States we were really in the middle of these extreme weather conditions. The result: magnificant pictures of mother nature.
One time I also hope to do this for a living, that's why I really loved reading your story. I also visited your website and saw the video's of your work, really amazing to see the Phoenix dust storm overtakes South Mountain.

Jed said...

Awesome that you got your start through amateur photography Matt! Sounds like you now have an awesome and exciting career!

iPhone Repair said...

You are blessed that you have awesome career. You are simply amazing!

mike "mr. hail map" johnson said...

my hat's off to you matt. I'd give anything to be out on the road again, laptop and gps and two phones (no texting of course)been stuck inside making software for the roofing industry, but I sure miss the wide open spaces. stay safe out there!

blackberry repair said...
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Nic Coventry said...

Yeah, I live here in Michigan, and we get some really wicked Tornadoes and Thunderstorms, which can be pretty intense. I wasn't sure if you actually do the storm chasing as a job or just as a hobby, either way, its super cool what you do good job! I really like how your dash cam to stream to your website, that's really cool!

Topnotch Customized Roofing said...

That would be soooo much fun to do. But, my job is to fix the houses damaged after.

How To Make An iPhone App said...

Wow! That is an interesting hobby. With all the advancements in modern technology, I wouldn't be surprised if someone created an iphone or ipad app which could assist Matthew with his storm chasing.

Chittenden Builders said...

I enjoy a good storm every once in awhile myself. Some of the devastation I have witnessed as a result of these storms. It is always sad when you see the impact the storms have on the families who live within their path.

Eric Hokanson said...

Hats off to your career. You must have worked very hard to be thr. Cheers.

jack said...

i used the Distance calculator to check the free truck rate
and it gave me the exact rate you guys can check it..

Terry said...

Living in Oklahoma, we see our share of tornadoes. My wife is from California. When we bought our house, we got it for a good price. She wondered why houses were so much cheaper in Oklahoma. I said, "well we do live in tornado alley." She paused and said, "we just bought a house on the street tornadoes come down?!" True story.

I admire storm chasers greatly and would love to do it sometime. Cheers and stay safe!