Cherokee Storm Chasers: Sequoyah Quinton, Jeff Robbins
Cherokee Nation citizen Sequoyah Quinton sits in storm chasing vehicle, displaying a radar he uses when out on a chase. COURTESY
A photo of a tornado taken by Cherokee Nation citizen and storm chaser Sequoyah Quinton in 2019 in Beaver County. COURTESY
In this 2011 photo, Cherokee Nation citizen Jeff Robbins, storm chaser for KTUL Channel 8 in Tulsa, sets up storm-chasing equipment in his vehicle. Robbins is still chasing storms for KTUL. ARCHIVE
In this 2011 photo provided by storm chaser Jeff Robbins, a funnel cloud hovers above the ground. COURTESY
VIAN – Being a storm chaser is more than running outside to look at the sky for an approaching storm or chasing a tornado in a vehicle. Cherokee Nation citizens Sequoyah Quinton and Jeff Robbins have years of experience in knowing weather conditions and its different aspects to safely chase a storm and report on it.
Quinton, of Vian, has worked for KTUL Channel 8 in Tulsa for 15 years, although he’s been chasing since 1996. He was in public safety before officially becoming a storm chaser. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps, then was a police officer and worked security as a CN marshal.
He became interested in storm chasing after seeing an EF-4 (enhanced Fujita) tornado destroy an Arkansas trailer park.
“I was visiting my mother in Arkansas, Jan. 8, 1978. A tornado had come through and classified as an EF-4. I was like 10 years old. I watched it just destroy this trailer park behind our house. It was like an almost half a mile-wide tornado. And ever since then I had always been interested in weather,” he said.
While in law enforcement he took storm spotter training courses.
“As a police officer, one of the things you do is storm spotting,” Quinton said. “I took those courses, and during the meantime I had gathered everything I could even find, video or in libraries on weather. In turn, I began to understand it and began to love it because it’s such a miracle our weather, everyday around us.”
Robbins, of Oaks, also started out taking spotter training courses called SKYWARN, a volunteer program that trains sever weather spotters.
He eventually met Quinton, who helped him get a position at KTUL in 2011.
Robbins said when he goes out, he takes the day to prep and gets into position of areas where he thinks the storms will approach.
“We usually get an advanced noticed like some of us forecast. I forecast my own areas and we just prep the day of and go out to our what we call a target area to where we think storms will fire up,” he said.
He said one job of a storm chaser is to relay information to the news station.
“We provide ground truth reports because the weather radar that they use can only identify the rotation of the storm,” he said in a previous Cherokee Phoenix article. “It takes our voice from the ground to relay visual data. Like if you have a tornado on the ground or a wall cloud or it depends on how big the hail is, we send actual reports to them.”
Quinton said over time, the equipment they use has changed and they are able to give quicker and more advanced notices. In the past, he had to rely on maps and the National Weather Service radio updates. “Back then it was maps, no technology whatsoever. You kind of knew where storms were going to take off. You would get it down to an area smaller than a state and then know fundamentally how things go such as cold fronts and warm fronts. Then listening to the scanner you can hear a severe thunderstorm warnings. Then we’d go and chase it.”
He also recalls initially getting a cell phone and hooking it up to a laptop to get dial-up internet. “I thought that I was so cool because after an hour I could look at a radar.”
Robbins said every storm he’s chased is different, but some stand out.
“Each storm has its own memories. May 22, 2011, was one of my favorite chases because the conditions were just prime and just about every storm that popped up produced a tornado that day,” he said.
Quinton said one his most memorable chases happened in 2019 in Beaver County.
“In the summertime, this dry line or dry air comes off the Rocky Mountains, and pushes to the east and we have the warm moist air over Oklahoma and Texas. It interacts with that dry line, and it gives it a lift and everything was all together, and I saw 12 tornadoes that day,” Quinton said.
Quinton and Robbins said aside from the thrill of ever-changing weather, a main reason they do what they do is the public’s safety.
“Personally, it’s always been our Cherokee heritage to help others. I feel like that’s the way I contribute. It can help keep people safe and give them advanced warning to take shelter,” Robbins said.
Quinton said, “I’ve been in public safety and serving the country and serving the state, the counties and cities I’ve worked for, serving the Cherokee Nation. In Oklahoma, we’re getting pretty good because here lately we’ve had almost the fewest deaths because people are more aware in Oklahoma about weather.”