Why Storm Chase?
This is a very dangerous hobby. It is not for the fainthearted. Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes cause terrible and devastating damage to homes, buildings and often result in human fatalities. In light of this reality it is quite insensitive to refer to storm chasing as a "hobby", to be overjoyed at the sight of dark, ominous mothership storm clouds, to feel the thrill of the chase and to feel excited at the touchdown, rotation and debris cloud of an approaching tornado. Hearing and seeing reports of damage, injuries and fatalities is sobering. That's why the more eyes and ears that are out there seeking and chasing storms the better. Chasers and spotters are most often on the front line. Tornado reports from spotters and chasers are vital for adequate warnings to those in the path of destruction.
Recently and not so recently storm chasers have received some negative press. In any community there are always a few bad apples - the yahoos that want another notch in their belt, another "story" about how close they came. These yahoo's care little for the communities in the way. They get in the way of emergency vehicles, and never bother to make the call to warn of approaching destruction.
The majority of chasers are not like these yahoos. They are passionate and prehaps a little crazy, but they will stop to make the call, to help those in distress. I know which kind of chaser I want to be!
Stormchasing requires wheels preferably 4x4, a weather radio, a mobile phone (to make the necessary emergency calls), good map books, GPS, compass, camers (digital) inclu video camera, tripods and a laptop. Chasers can work solo, or in teams. Some chasers even offer chase tours. If a laptop is not an option, then access to public libraries is a must. You can have all the bells and whistles, or you can rely on sight, intuition and luck.
Kevin and I are not in the bells and whistle category. We don't have a 4x4 prefering instead my mercury tracer christened "Lizzie". We don't (yet) have a laptop, we carry a computer with us, which we plug in during our Motel stays. We rely on stops at public libraries to try and get data. Obviously we are extremely limited - when libraries close we are out of luck. Our weather radio is vital. For us Lady Luck plays a huge role in determining whether we have a successful chase or not. Sometimes technology can be overwhelming. I like to stop the car, get out and FEEL the wind, the temperature, and the moisture in the air. Not very scientific- but wow to feel a sudden blast of hot air out of a storm is awesome.
For those of you who are wondering- why storm chase? There is something extremely satisfying about deciding where you think severe weather is going to occur, driving many many miles to get there and be right on target! There is another side to this of course - driving many many miles and getting nothing.
Here are some storm chasing links:
Try Stormtracks We find this an important resource. It carries great information and FAQ's about storm chasing, equipment and forecasting. Click on "forums" for forecast discussions under "target area". Here more experienced storm chasers and forecasters share their thoughts on where severe weather will occur. For novices like us this forum is invaluable. Also click on "Data" for some great links to weather sights - this information provides the nuts and bolts of forecasting.
Reading and researching weather and forecasting is vital. My storm chase bibles are "Storm Chasing Handbook" by Tim Vasquez ISBN 0-9706840-7. The other book is "Weather Map Handbook" by the same author ISBN 0 9706840 4 5. Check out his website here
There are a load of different computer programs out there. We use Digital Atmosphere. But there are many different products available.