has been a lot of discussion lately about who can and cannot chase storms. Much
of the chasing community is heavily involved with a definite opinion on one side
or the other. Here are some of the main reasons that are given to discourage new
chasers from entering the field.
must have a purpose for chasing.
All chasers have a purpose in
chasing. Some chase for the scientific aspects, to measure the storms and attempt
to gain data on the formation of tornadoes. Some go for journalistic reasons,
to photograph and video the storms. Some are out for the thrill and excitement,
similar to those who hunt big game. Are any of these reasons more valid than another?
No. They are all reasons to chase.
of new people will demean the integrity of storm chasing.
is fear and jealousy talking. Some are afraid they will lose something if more
people get involved in the hunt. They want to keep chasing all to themselves.
Well, new blood is not to be feared, especially if it brings in talent and recognition.
More recognition can mean more funding for the scientific side of things. And
more money never hurt anyone.
newcomers don't know how to chase safely.
This is probably true,
but the best way to teach them is not by discouraging them, but by inviting them
to join experienced veterans and learn the correct methods to follow. Encourage
them to take classes on storm spotting and weather. Teach them to be aware of
what's going on around them, especially traffic and road hazards.
only valid reason for not going storm chasing is safety. The main question we
must ask is how to chase with safety and prudence in mind. To that end, I would
encourage any person interested to contact a local chaser and see if they would
be willing to allow you to tag along. Names of potential chasers in your area
can be found through the Stormchasers Home Page.
read anything and everything written about tornadoes, storm chasing, or thunderstorms.
It has been said that knowledge is power. Well, in this arena, knowledge is safety.
The more you know about thunderstorms and tornadoes, the better off you are. Purchase
as many videotapes as your budget will allow, starting with Tom Grazulis' Tornado
Video Classics I, II and III. Other excellent videos are the ones provided by
Stormtrack editor Tim Marshall. Tim does an excellent job in taking you through
a complete trip, explaining his forecasting technique and showing you how the
storms evolve from their infancy to maturity. Don't just look at these videos
with entertainment value in mind. Play them again and again and look at the structure
of the storms and how the chaser pursues them. There are a lot of subtleties contained
in these videos showing a wide variety of supercell thunderstorms and their environments.
Examine the clouds to see what they tell you. See what they told the chasers who
were filming these tornadoes. If possible, stop by the nearest National Weather
Service office and see if they could provide you with informational materials
on weather and storm chasing. And if you haven't done so already, sign up immediately
for the next storm spotter class offered by the NWS.
storm chasing, common sense and good judgment must be used at all times.
Don't go driving pell-mell down the road at 90 mph every time the NWS issues
a tornado warning. To my knowledge, no chaser has been killed by a tornado, but
chasers have died in traffic accidents. Other chasers have been struck by lightning
and had their lives forever changed by that experience. Any time you are around
a thunderstorm when storm chasing, a certain amount of danger is present. Lightning,
hail, wind, heavy rains, flooded roads, and numerous other hazards exist around
these storms, any one of which can kill you.
equals safety margin when storm chasing.
You don't have to be
a hundred yards away from a tornado to get a good picture. Tornadoes, especially
when they get into the "rope stage" or dissipation stage, can become
very erratic in their movements. The supercells can sometimes become right or
left movers and begin moving toward the photographer with little or no warning.
Common sense tells you that it is far better to put some distance between you
and the tornado. From a photographic standpoint, you can show a lot more storm
structure in the frame when you are five miles away than when you're one mile
away. And the beauty of chasing in the Plains is that you can get very good shots
from five to ten miles away. One day while west of Wichita, Kansas I saw an elephant
trunk tornado on the ground from 25 miles and it was quite a treat to be able
to get not only the tornado, but the entire storm in the viewfinder at once.
The totally wigged-out, maniacal thrill seeker
type is dangerous. This type of fool wants to core punch every storm they see,
and doesn't mind if their windshield succumbs to a grapefruit-sized hail stone.
A safe chaser is cautious and respectful of the weather. He is courteous to others
on the road, respects personal property, and is mindful of the driving laws.
of "tornado fever".
It is quite possible to become
awestruck by the sheer beauty and splendor of the storm when out chasing. There
is a great temptation to stay just a few moments longer. That's a very dangerous
trap to fall into. When around severe thunderstorms or tornadoes it pays to stay
vigilant. With storm chasing you must be aware of what going on around you at
all times, and have an escape route planned.
thing to consider is the local road topography. The roads in Iowa are vastly different
than the ones in Oklahoma. Most roads in Iowa have shoulders that a vehicle can
park on safely. In Oklahoma, they have bar ditches, which will swallow an unsuspecting
vehicle. In northeastern Kansas, their secondary roads are often covered with
large sharp stones, the size of a man's fist, which can slice tires easily.
attention to your gas gauge.
When I'm on the road I make constant
stops at gas stations just to top off my tank. Several years ago a series of tornadoes
went through the Texas panhandle and shut down the power grid. A lot of folks
were stranded until the next day when power was restored and the gas stations'
pumps could operate. I had a full tank and was able to leave the area.
is still the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Until someone invents
a way to control thunderstorms and tornadoes, the acts of nature are free for
the enjoyment of all. Legally, any person can go storm chasing. However, not every
person who can drive a car is prepared to chase a storm safely. There is a lot
of weather knowledge and common sense involved. The unprepared person is the only
one who shouldn't chase.
Storm chasing is dangerous. You could be hurt or killed in its pursuit,
especially if you have little or no knowledge of severe storms and their
environment. Chase hazards include but are not limited to heavy rain, flash
flooding, lightning, high winds, large hail, tornadoes, and flying debris.
Hydroplaning on the road and traffic accidents also occur. If you desire
to chase, get informed and educated about weather. Contact your local National
Weather Service Office, and enroll in a SKYWARN training class. Read and
view all of the published information regarding severe weather, thunderstorms,
and tornadoes that you can. You are responsible for educating yourself.
Next, contact an experienced chaser in your area, and arrange to travel
with them, until you've gained sufficient experience to go it alone. Even
at that, veteran chasers get caught in harm's way from time to time. Play
it safe. This page is for informational and educational use, and the authors
disavow any responsibility for actions you may take.