BND Magazine

July 20, 2014

Storm Chaser is on Cloud Nine

Marcus Hustedde clearly remembers seeing his first tornado.

It was April 14, 2012. He and other meteorology students from St. Louis University were chasing storms in south central Kansas.

A local radio station was encouraging people to seek shelter as the car climbed over a hill. The tornado appeared straight ahead, about a mile and a half away.

"It was a very humbling experience," said Marcus, 25, of Belleville. "Just the amount of raw power that nature can produce.

"It was exhilarating, but at the same time, you think, 'Oh no, I hope that's not going to go over anyone's house or a town. Please just stay in that open field.'"

Marcus has been chasing storms about four years. He has taken hundreds of photos of darkened skies, angry clouds, lightning flashes and swirling tornadoes.

Twenty of his favorite photos are displayed at Sole Survivor Leather & Art Gallery in Belleville. The exhibit, "Adventures of a Storm Chaser," will run through July.

"People love it," said co-owner Kay Rye. "Especially the images of the (Gateway Arch and other landmarks) they can recognize."

Marcus has been hooked on weather since childhood. He loved watching the Weather Channel as a boy.

"He would get so excited," said his mother, Pam Hustedde, 63, of Belleville. "He would come running down the hall and say (to his sister), 'Jessi, it's going to be a wintry mix today!'"

Young Marcus took a keen interest in snowflakes and sat on the porch during thunderstorms, staring up at the sky for hints of lightning.

He didn't even mind when his Little League baseball games were rained out.

"Other people didn't understand," he said. "I didn't even understand."

Marcus graduated from Althoff Catholic High School and attended Southwestern Illinois College before earning a bachelor's in meteorology at St. Louis University.

He dreamed of working as a behind-the-scenes forecaster for the National Weather Service.

"I really never had the fire to pursue (a career as a TV weatherman)," he said. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with broadcasting, but I thought it was more about passing on information or presenting it to the public."

After graduating in 2013, Marcus volunteered for the National Weather Service and now works as a packaging technician at the St. Louis Tums factory.

This fall, he will begin studying atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and serving a research assistantship with NASA.

Marcus also has a job lined up next spring with a Missouri-based company called P.D.S. Storm Tours.

"We take people on storm vacations, you could call it," he said. "It's for a week. People come from all over the country."

Storm-chasing has become a passion for Marcus. He hits the road in his 2006 Hyundai Tiburon, sometimes inviting friends to go along.

They include A.J. Alberter, 22, of Belleville, who also works at the Tums factory. He's impressed by the way Marcus can find the perfect spot for watching a thunderstorm while also staying safe.

"It's always good, always interesting," A.J. said. "It's a hobby that you don't hear about very often. It's definitely an adrenaline rush. I've never seen a tornado. I've seen some swirling clouds and a lot of lightening, but nothing drops down."

On Mother's Day, Marcus surprised his mom by inviting her to go storm-chasing with him in Nebraska. She drove husband Bill's van while Marcus followed radar on his laptop.

Pam, a pharmacist, got nervous traveling alongside a tornado in a farm field, but listened carefully to her son's play-by-play explanation of what was happening.

"It was very scary, but it gave me a real appreciation for the knowledge that he has," she said. "He isn't out there like some people who don't know what's going on.

"I have faith that he knows what he's doing. He demonstrated that to me. He's not being reckless out there."

At a glance

What: "Adventures of a Storm Chaser" photo exhibit

Who: Marcus Hustedde

Where: Sole Survivor Leather & Art Gallery, 125 E. Main St. in Belleville

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through July

Admission: Free

Information: 618-234-0214

"It reminded me of a war zone"

Marcus Hustedde went on perhaps his most disturbing storm-chasing trip in April. He and a friend from Chicago drove through Vilonia, Ark., shortly after a violent tornado tore through the small town, north of Little Rock.

"It looked like a scene right out of a movie," Marcus recalls. "It reminded me of a war zone.

"You'd look out on the side of the road and see a concrete slab, and you knew that 10 minutes prior to the tornado, there was a fully constructed house there. It was just gone.

"You could almost smell the electricity in the air because of all the power lines down. And another distinct smell was the smell of freshly snapped pine trees. You could smell pine in the air.

"I kind of teared up (at that storm site). It hit me harder than I expected it to. Just to see all the flashlights, knowing that those were people looking for their loved ones in all the debris. It was at night, so that gave it a creepy, negative feel."

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