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Friday, February 23, 2024

A Wisconsin college storm chaser finds his career in turbulent skies

Step into the world of weather with Charlie Bourdo.

When most people wait out headache-inducing hail or whipping tornado winds, Charlie Bourdo fills with adrenaline. For him, extreme weather means another day of chasing his atmospheric passion. 

Bourdo is a storm chaser, motivated by his love for the sky.

“It's like seeing the atmosphere in motion,” he said.

As a fourth-grader growing up in Oconomowoc, Bourdo became enamored by storm chasers on the Discovery Channel. Their scientific instruments and their fearless sense of adventure caused his mind to spiral with wonder, he said. 

Once Bourdo bought a small camera of his own, his fascination turned to clarity, and he knew he needed to pursue chasing deeper. 

Bourdo, now 19 years old, forecasts and drives to extreme weather events around the upper Midwest to document thunderstorms, tornadoes, the aurora borealis and more for his YouTube channel and freelance job. 

Between weather events, Bourdo is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying atmospheric science. 

“It’s been a passion ever since I was young,” Bourdo said. “I just loved thunderstorms.”

Before college, weather chasing started as an independent passion project, so Bourdo had to teach himself weather forecasting, photography, videography and editing in his free time.

“It was a big learning curve,” Bourdo said. “For the first few years, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed more of a forecasting process.”

Bourdo pursues up to 40 storms during a busy year, but chasing them is risky. He often walks a fine line between great footage and dangerous situations. 

During a storm in Illinois this April, Bourdo saw baseball-sized hail eerily descend into a nearby field as he wrapped up filming. 

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“Me and all my friends just started speeding down the road,” he said.

Bourdo safely escaped a concussion and a car crash. Some storm chasers speed toward the best footage, but Bourdo has learned to take a step back and prioritize his safety.

“A lot of times, the most dangerous part is falling into a herd mentality,” Bourdo said. “So for me, it's following my own intuition.”

Storm chasing continually guides his personal growth.

“In the past, I’ve been a bit more cautious,” Bourdo said. “It's definitely helped broaden my horizons and make me a more adventurous person.”

Bourdo hopes to continue blending his lifetime passion into a lifelong career. As a freelance journalist for Limitless Media, Bourdo’s footage appears on large news outlets, including Time Magazine and The Weather Channel. 

Whether he’s following northern lights or elephant trunk tornadoes, Bourdo’s motivation is his draw to the atmosphere and the community. 

“You got to be a little bit crazy to do this,” Bourdo said. “Everyone in the weather and the storm-chasing world, we're all characters in our own way. That makes it a little more fun.” 

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