Information About Chasing

Before reading any further, I would like to politely ask you to forget every preconceived notion you have ever learned from Hollywood. Storm chasing is not nearly as glamorous as made out to be in the movie Twister. There are some truths to Twister of course, such as most chasers’ preoccupation with food, road networks, and well-organized maps. However, aside from those small details, chasing is a whole different ball game…

“The Money” Myth:

The majority of chasers drive thousands of miles every year, spend nights in not-so-great hotel rooms, eat greasy food, and purchase and maintain all of their equipment with their own money. Very few are able to make up the difference with video and photo sales, and even fewer are paid to chase as a job.

“The Non-Stop Thrills” Myth:

Waking up at 8am to look at observational data and numerical model output, followed by three to ten hours of driving, followed by a few hours of observing a storm, followed by another three to ten hours of driving, followed by the dreaded chase hangover the next day cannot be considered non-stop thrills. Pure adrenaline junkies would never survive chasing, mainly because it is about 80% normal highway driving. I think chasing is best described as 80% driving, 15% observing storms, and 5% observing heart pounding extreme weather events. Its true that a tornado would get the blood flowing, but the other 16hours of driving may make you decide chasing is not for you.

“The Crazy Person” Myth:

Chasers are not crazy. We don’t ever intend to do death-defying stunts involving tornadoes and severe storms. Most are very experienced, well-informed, and responsible persons capable of weighing the marginally increased safety risks associated with safe chase practices.

“In General, Chasers are Unsafe and Irresponsible” Myth:

Again, I would have to say that most, not all, chasers are very responsible, well-informed individuals. While an extreme event of chaser convergence will often be followed by a few examples of chasers lacking common courtesy and some isolated cases of blatant disregard for traffic laws (just as in any case you get enough vehicles together), the event is merely analogous to increased traffic experienced during rush-hour in a city. Local law enforcement sometimes welcomes the chaser community, recognizing their ability to make severe weather reports. Every once-in-a-while, law enforcement balks at the traffic and makes comments that chasers impede the abilities of emergency services (yet I have never seen an emergency vehicle blocked and stopped by a chaser). However, most of the time they just recognize that traffic is traffic, and they continue their jobs as normal.

Few chasers ever take unnecessary risks. There are a few out there interested in shock-value video of a tornadoes practically sucking the shirt off their back, but most just document the storms from a safe distance. For a great list of safe practices that every chaser should follow, see ”Storm Chasing with Safety, Courtesy, and Responsibility” by Dr. Chuck Doswell III.

Interested in Chasing?

One certainly does not have to be a meteorologist to chase storms or become a storm spotter. However, you should definitely invest serious amounts of time in learning the basics well before hitting the road. The National Weather Service will typically host storm spotter classes annually, which will give a very basic overview of storm structure and a bit of the physical theory behind it. A much more detailed education can be attained through reading. Get some books on meteorology and have at it. Some of the concepts may be above your head, but stick with it and you will be a much more successful chaser.

When starting out, NEVER chase alone. With a lack of experience, a chaser can easily get into a bad situation by not recognizing certain features of storms. It is a good idea to chase with an experienced person for a while, then eventually branch out on your own. There are forums available for new chasers to get involved with forecasting discussions and general conversations about chase-related news and events. One such example is Stormtrack.

Finally, if you are interested in chasing, enjoy it. Don’t get caught up in what other people saw. Just enjoy your experiences and learn from every chase day. Develop you skills in forecasting and, if you so choose, photography or videography. If you stick with it long enough, and your interest in meteorology doesn’t fade, you will eventually be rewarded!

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