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Here, I will provide my thoughts on certain subjects as time permits. This page will be updated on an irregular basis.

So, Do You Really Want to Chase?

September 18, 2004
August 24, 2003
November 1, 2002
September 12, 2001
June 15, 2001
February 19, 2001
November 14, 2000
May 6, 2000

November 1, 2002

Each year, I receive a few e-mails from people who are considering taking up chasing storms and tornadoes as a hobby. Usually they're asking for advice or looking for someone to show them the ropes. Although the e-mails are almost always well intentioned, I usually have doubts as to whether or not the person inquiring is truly serious about taking up a hobby that requires so much dedication, time, and money.

If one desires to chase, then undoubtedly, the goal is to observe severe weather phenomena, such as supercells, tornadoes, hail, derechoes, and haboobs. In order to experience such phenomena successfully, one must be willing to invest many hours in order to learn about storm structure and the atmospheric processes that cause and affect severe weather events.

Sure, the Storm Prediction Center and National Weather Service Field Offices issue forecasts each day highlighting where tornadoes, hail, and damaging winds are most likely to occur, and these forecasts are beneficial in helping to choose a target area. However, the chaser who lacks the basic fundamentals of severe-weather forecasting and relies solely on the above-mentioned sources will find themselves aimlessly roaming the Great Plains while 100 miles away, chasers who made a good forecast are filming a prolific tornadic supercell.

If busting in Childress while a wedge tornado is ongoing south Amarillo doesn't sound appealing, then be willing to educate yourself. If one doesn't know what an RFD is and/or can't tell the difference between a wall cloud and a shelf cloud, then he/she has no business chasing storms. A good place on the Internet to start learning about severe weather and forecasting is Allan Rosenberg's Selected Internet Resources for the Beginning Chaser. Many chasers, including myself, have found this page to be a valuable tool for gaining "virtual" experience before going on that first chase. The ability to identify certain features and discern what the storm is doing will certainly make for a more enjoyable first experience. The learning process will not be short, but will instead become a lifelong endeavor since many facets of severe weather are still not understood and no two storms are alike.

Besides the willingness to learn, one must also take into account the time and money factor. Chasers often find themselves driving 500+ miles in one day over a featureless (but beautiful, IMHO) landscape to be in position for an event that may or may not occur. These marathon drives not only induce wear and tear on one's chase vehicle but also are hard on the body. Prepare for increased vehicle maintenance, limited sleep in sometimes not-so-restful hotel rooms, and a fast food diet, especially if taking a 1-2 week chase vacation. Not including the cost of equipment (laptop, cell phone, cameras, etc…), one can expect to spend at least $1500-2000 on food, fuel, and lodging alone during a two week chase vacation in the plains; certainly not the most inexpensive of hobbies.

Irresponsible behavior
Above Picture: Irresponsible behavior, such as blocking a road, by some chasers can create a hazardous situation for residents and other chasers.
And of course, there is also an element of danger involved with chasing. Those unfamiliar with chasing would probably consider tornadoes the most dangerous aspect associated with it. However, considering the amount of time chasers spend traveling, simply being on the road presents the greatest threat to the chaser's life and property. Dealing with distractions and less-than-ideal road conditions only serve to increase the threat exponentially. The only known chase-related death occurred when an OU student was killed in a single-car accident.

To make matters worse, there may be the occasional encounters with some chasers who, when near a storm, suddenly lose every bit of common sense they once had. By obstructing traffic with either their vehicles or themselves, these careless and irresponsible chasers often present a greater danger than any storm or tornado could. Fortunately, these incidents are rare occurrences for the most part.

Close CG Strike near Hunt, AR
Above Picture: Close cloud-to-ground lightning strikes in front of Scott Blair's chase car on Nov. 23, 2001.
Compared to driving, the limited coverage area of severe storms and supercells make them a secondary danger to chasers, but they do of course present life and property-threatening conditions with the most dangerous being lightning due to its randomness. While the average U.S. citizen stands only small chance of being struck, the increased time chasers spend in close proximity to a storm obviously increases the risk. Lightning has struck chasers in the past, and it will happen again, perhaps with deadly results. It's always wise to pay attention to warning signs, such as hair standing on end and tingling of the skin, which may indicate an imminent strike to the chaser. And, of course, retreat to the safety of the vehicle when lightning strikes too close for comfort.

Large Hail
Above Picture: Large hail, such as the above encountered by Scott Blair on May 27, 2002, can cause extreme damage.

Photo courtesy of Scott Blair
While not as common of an occurrence as lightning, large hail is also an ever-present danger chasers must cope with. The intense updrafts associated with supercells can allow for the formation of copious amounts of hail that can measure more than 4+ inches in diameter, which can not only cause extreme property damage but also make for some slick roads. Knowledge of storm structure can help one avoid the extremely large stones while remaining in a favorable viewing position of the cell's updraft base. However, if one chases long enough, an encounter with large hail is almost inevitable. Depending on the size of the hail and whether it's sporadic or a deluge, vehicle damage can range from moderate to severe and transform a chase car from a pristine beauty to a monetarily worthless heap in a matter of minutes. Of course, if that occurs, hail damage will no longer be a concern when chasing.

Happy, TX Tornado
Above Picture: This May 5, 2002 tornado unfortunately killed two who didn't abandon their mobile home for better shelter.
Tornadoes do present a threat to chasers as well, but because they're fairly rare events and only affect a small area compared to various other severe weather events, the chances of being overrun by a tornado are comparatively less. However, driving under or near mesocyclones and getting extremely close to tornadoes increases the risk considerably. It's important to remember that tornadoes don't have predetermined paths and can become quite erratic, especially during the rope-out stage. I'm not going to preach and tell others that they shouldn't take the previously-mentioned risks when dealing with mesocyclones and tornadoes, but a good chaser will use his/her head and back off if uncomfortable with a potentially dangerous situation.

Well, do you still really want to chase? If so, take the first step and check out the following links:

Selected Internet Resources for the Beginning Chaser by Allan Rosenberg
Storm Track's Educational Resources
The National Weather Service's Online Storm Spotting Guide
Tim Vasquez's Weather Forecasting School
Tim Vasquez's You Be the Forecaster page
Sam Barricklow's The Storm Shop
Dr. Jason Persoff's A Beginner Chaser's Education page
WW2010 Instructional Modules and Curriculum from the University of Illinois