For weather spotter Tim Ahrens, the number one goal is keeping the community safe.
Goal number two, of course, is getting as close as safely possible to severe weather.
“The first time I came in contact with a funnel cloud,  it was this rush of adrenaline,” he said. “Time just sort of stops.”
Ahrens, a former firefighter who now works full time as a patient care technician at Boone Hospital, became trained as a weather spotter at 15 years old. Since then, he has become a licensed HAM radio operator and has taken several advanced courses on radar and weather patterns provided by the National Weather Service.
He said there are about 20 spotters in Audrain County, although not all of them are active.
To monitor weather patterns, Ahrens has an application called Radar Scope installed on his phone and on his laptop, which he brings along in his car whenever he is chasing a storm or other serious weather event.
“We’re the eyes on the ground,” Ahrens explained. “When I see an interesting weather pattern on our radar, I start following it and relay that information to the weather service through the HAM radio.
“With a tornado, they can see rotation on the radar, but they can’t see if a tornado has actually touched down, so I provide that information.”
Ahrens and his weather spotter partner, Ryan Clifford, also survey the damage after a storm and take photographs, which they upload to their Facebook page, Mid Missouri Storm Chasers. The page allows Ahrens and Clifford to interact with the community, providing quick updates about weather conditions and answering weather-related questions.
He said a video he took of a funnel cloud over Highway 54 last summer went viral with 500,000 views.
Ahrens said that part of his work as a weather spotter is also dispelling dangerous myths about weather, especially tornadoes.
“A lot of people still think they won’t cross rivers: they can and they do. They can also hit the same place twice. Big cities can get hit, like we saw with Joplin, and they can happen in the wintertime. Tornadoes can happen anywhere when the conditions are just right, and the weather here in Missouri is crazy. The first day of spring we had snow on the ground.”
He said another important distinction for the public to make is that a funnel cloud only becomes a tornado once it starts picking up debris.
“That’s what gives it its shape and color,” he said. “That’s why sometimes you’ll see a tornado ‘disappear’ as it moves around - there’s just no debris for it to pick up over that area. I can’t call in a tornado to the weather service until it actually starts picking up debris.”
Ahrens also said that “microbursts,” or downdrafts of wind right before storms, and straight-line winds, which can reach speeds up to 90 mph, can cause just as much damage as tornadoes.
“They can blow out windows, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it,” he said.
Ahrens said he plans to be working closely with Audrain County Emergency Management Director Steve Shaw in the future, along with other emergency agencies in order to coordinate the local response to severe weather conditions.
The National Weather Service will be holding a weather spotters class March 31 in Jefferson City. The class is free and open to the public.
Ahrens said that while chasing storms is his passion, he still tries to use as much precaution as possible.
“I like sticking to the two-lane highways so I know I can turn right around and go the other way if I really have to,” he joked.  
“If you see us flying in one direction, you should probably start driving the opposite way.”