For as long as he can remember, Huntington stormchaser Michael Koch’s world has revolved around weather. It all started in September of 1985, when he was just seven years old, and Hurricane Gloria was making its descent upon Long Island.
“My mother took us into the basement as the storm really got going and my father came from upstairs and asked if I wanted to see what was going on. I was looking out my living room window and you could just see the destruction–trees coming down, branches flying all over the place, you could hear glass and windows breaking. Pretty much from that day forward I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Koch said.
Koch spent the rest of his childhood watching meteorologists like Jim Cantore on The Weather Channel after school in lieu of cartoons and setting up weather-related science experiments in his backyard. Koch took his passion for weather with him throughout high school at Walt Whitman where he aced all his earth science classes and eventually to college at SUNY Oswego where he studied meteorology.
Upon leaving school, Koch returned home to work in his family’s HVAC business for some time before eventually returning to meteorology. “Once social media started coming around, it gave me new life. All of a sudden I could reach people with my pictures, videos and my chasing,” Koch said. This led to ABC meteorologist Amy Freeze reaching out to Koch with an invitation to visit the studio.
This was followed by contacts from dozens of meteorologists from networks like The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and WeatherNation. Koch is now followed on social media by almost every major meteorologist in New York State and his stormchasing videos are shown on television news broadcasts several times a year.
Now that Koch was using social media to promote his work, he needed a catchy name for himself to promote his personal brand, a standard in the stormchaser community. After initially working as “ChaseStorm” and “WeatherGoneWild,” he started doing business as “WeatherGoingWild.” You can now find this name emblazoned on his special stormchasing vehicle, a Dodge RAM 1500, fully equipped with dashboard cameras for live streaming to The Weather Channel, four-wheel drive which enables safe driving on uneven and off-road surfaces, and mobile internet for connecting to online weather radars.
While things are pretty quiet for Koch right now, as major storm systems aren’t expected to pick up for at least another week, his schedule is usually jam packed with stormchasing expeditions that take him all around the country throughout most of the year.
“The way it works is April 15th to June 1st is considered the primetime for tornado season. For the last six years I’m usually gone by May 1st. I start in Oklahoma and as each weather system comes in, you follow it through various states. I spend six weeks driving around the Midwest searching for tornadoes. I then transfer into hurricane season in June, July, and August. Last year I went to Florida for Hurricane Irma and Texas for another hurricane. Wherever a hurricane hits, I don’t care if it’s Long Island, Texas, West Coast, I’ll be there. Getting into the winter, it’s usually all blizzards, and luckily I happen to live in one of the better spots to video blizzards, right here in New York,” Koch said.
Of course, stormchasing can be a very dangerous job and Koch knows this all too well. He recounts that one of the most dangerous encounters he has ever had with Mother Nature happened during Hurricane Sandy.
“I’m sitting on the piers watching the waves come in and I’m still sitting there videotaping and watching the waves crashing into the boardwalk and go over it. As I walk away, I see a whole wall of water and now it’s inundating the entire area. The water is literally chasing my vehicle. The water is going after me and I have to drive on the oncoming side of traffic because the other side is soaked with water. My vehicle starts to lose power and I thought I would have to exit through the window and swim, but I was lucky enough to get through,” Koch said.
However, according to Koch, its all worth it because of the opportunities it gives him to help those in need affected by these storms while at the same time enjoying their beauty. “You want to appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature but it’s a fine line to walk because people could die. You can appreciate its beauty, but you need to understand the people it’s affecting.”
For example, just last year Koch helped a group of 15 people hunker down in a gas station freezer to protect them from an oncoming tornado in Canton, Texas and three years ago, in Van, Texas; Koch helped first responders clean up debris at a local high school that was destroyed by a tornado. “I enjoy being first on the scene and helping people.”