Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THE LURE OF VICIOUS WEATHER; Jacksonville Physician Cuts to the Chase with a Big Storm

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THE LURE OF VICIOUS WEATHER; Jacksonville Physician Cuts to the Chase with a Big Storm

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM, The Times-Union

Like Gotham City's Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent in Metropolis, Jacksonville physician Jason Persoff leads a double life.

For 50 weeks out of the year, he is a mild-mannered hospitalist, treating patients at the Mayo Clinic.

But for two weeks every May, he sheds his scrubs for the derring-do of a storm chaser, following tornadoes and thunderstorms around the Midwest.

This week he's in Nebraska and Kansas, where he shot some startling photos of the tornado outbreak that ravaged southeastern Nebraska. The photos show the massive size and scope of the storms, one of which leveled the town of Hallam.

"It's really amazing. Most people don't have any perception of how big these storms are," Persoff said Tuesday during a quick between-storm cell phone call from Topeka, Kan. "There's this incredible scale that's just humbling to witness. That feeling of wonderment brings me back every year."

Persoff, 32, grew up in Denver and began chasing storms in 1990. He continued chasing even after moving to Jacksonville to start his residency at Mayo in 1997.

His hobby raises eyebrows with his hospital colleagues. But there's a certain degree of envy, too, Persoff believes.

"I usually get, 'Oh, I always wanted to do that,' " he said.

Persoff is one of several hundred severe weather buffs who crisscross the Midwest every tornado season like Indiana Jones in search of the lost ark. It's part science and part public safety but pure adventure.

Using global positioning devices, the storm chasers alert weather forecasters and law enforcement of dangerous storms ahead. They recoup what costs they can by selling photos and video to news agencies.

Persoff said he was on the phone non-stop during this week's spate of storms, warning about potential dangers.

Most storms follow a pattern. Like medicine, a well-trained chaser will know 95 percent of the time what path a storm will take, Persoff said.

"What makes you a good doctor or a good storm chaser is knowing when you're going to be dealing with that other 5 percent," he said. …

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