Cherokee Storm Chasers: Nacoma Hutchison, James McMullin
Cherokee Nation citizen Nacoma Hutchison is one of several CN citizens who chases storms for KTUL Channel 8 in Tulsa. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen James McMullin is from Kansas, but now chases storms in Oklahoma for KTUL Channel 8. COURTESY
TULSA – Like many people who chase storms, Cherokee Nation citizens Nacoma Hutchison and James McMullin have experienced severe weather in ways that led to their interests in wanting to know more about tracking it.
Born and raised in Jay, Hutchison gained his interest in weather from his parents, who were part of the town’s emergency management team. “I learned stuff from them. I just kind of got interested in it and just kept looking more into and more into, taking classes and anything I could basically to get more knowledge about it. Then I met (Cherokee Nation citizen and storm chaser) Jeff Robbins and he helped me with getting on at Channel 8.”
Hutchison started with spotter training classes via the National Weather Service. He has worked for KTUL’s Channel 8 in Tulsa for seven years.
McMullin said one day commuting from Oklahoma City, where his father worked, back to the state of Kansas, where he lived, he came upon a storm on the state line.
“There was a tornadic storm coming across the turnpike in southern Kansas,” he said. “So ever since I was kind of hooked on it. That was back in the spring of (19)98. So from there I joined the SKYWARN team around the Wichita area, and I chased around Kansas mostly until I moved back to Oklahoma in 2001. I’ve been chasing independently off and on.”
McMullin said he’s been chasing storms for 19 years, with the past two years working for KTUL’s Channel 8 in Tulsa.
Before all of today’s fast-paced technology, McMullin said he forecasted differently “back in the day.”
“We’d have to call the old bank numbers and get the time and temperature so we could adjust where that cold front is or that dry line is, and then we would set up accordingly based on with those timings and if we could go further west or further north. That’s how we depicted it back in that day and we just drew our own maps,” he said.
Today, technology allows him to advance a storm hours or weeks into the future.
There are also other storm dangers besides tornados that chasers worry about such as precipitation, lightning, wind, hail and flash flooding.
“There’s so many different things that are dangerous about them,” Hutchison said. “The biggest one that you basically don’t have any time to prepare for is lightning because it can strike out of nowhere. If there is a storm in your area, you need to be inside from that fact alone, because even your basic small rain shower can produce lightning.”
McMullin said aside from spring storms, storm chasers also help with other weather types such as snow and ice.
“I’ll cover the winter like the blizzards and the ice and that type of stuff as those progress, freezing rain. That’s just kind of the same aspect,” he said. “You’re watching the data and where it’s raining and what the surface temperature is so you can kind of predict that freezing rain and when it’s going to start. Even non-tornadic storms we’re still out there checking out for wind or hail size and that type of storms.”
Hutchison said his worst experience was when a tornado went through his hometown in May 2019. “It was my hometown, and I tried as hard as I could to get them warning out and to basically get people to realize that it was a serious situation and not just another warning. To see it actually go through part of the town and not really be able to do anything other than report what you were seeing.”
McMullin said with all the “devastating” storms he’s seen in years past, the public’s safety is his top concern and why storm chasers do what they do. “There’s those that are video seekers, and there’s those that are notifying the public or certain personnel.”
Hutchison, who was born with spina bifida and was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, said neither condition has stopped him from living his dream.
“I am dealing with both now, but I am still out there trying to protect everyone else. If you have the right support and the right mindset you can do what you want,” he said.
McMullin said people should talk to storm chasers if they want to know about the job.
“We’re always eager to educate. That’s why we always do our classes and everything else to let people know,” he said.