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Spotter Checklist
Submitted by:David W. Purkiss
Storm Spotters and storm chasers experience a number of interesting situations while in the field. The wise spotter or chaser benefits greatly from these events and uses them to further the art and science of watching weather at work. Some of these also lead to the improvement of the species through natural selection.

The following are very loosely based on the actual experience checklist used by the South Plains Spotting Team. They are presented here for your amusement. See how many of these incidents you can recognize.

DISCLAIMER: This is FICTION, though too many of these are based on real observances. Don't take this as a serious document.



A. "I live for Core Punching!"

B. "I am looking east at the precip area, the grapefruit hail's quit falling on me, no sign of any tornado, but I'm starting to hear some kind of loud roaring behind me...."

C. "Here comes the RFD, it's supposed to choke off tornadoes, so I guess it's safe enough to drive up under that rotating wall cloud, and watch the scud get sucked up."

D. "These HP storms never have large hail or tornadoes! I'm going to drive through the heaviest rain here on the southeast side and get my car washed. See you on the other side.................."


A. Overabundance of storm spotters, storm chasers, local spectators, research groups (multiple research groups suggest a strong updraft area), the odd weather research aircraft, and of course, the local media weather-people in an area or watching an area of clouds ( usually referred to as "that neat looking area" by the uninitiated) without any apparent precipitation falling.

B. The wind isn't blowing dirt and trash into your eyes when you are facing the storm, and the cap that blew off your head moves toward the storm.


A. You can no longer look toward the storm without getting dirt and trash blown into your eyes and your cap is coming back to you.

B. The crowd starts to break up.

C. Rain Foot i.e. at least a foot of rain is coming down on the remaining crowd. If heavier precipitation occurs this term becomes rain-feet.

D. Dust Plume(s) related to B above, columns of dirt raised by vehicles leaving the shoulders of the road, a sign of a strong crowd outflow. These plumes will be blow by winds from the rain area. You will lose sight of your cap as it goes past you moving away from the storm at a high rate of speed and at least 20 feet over your head.

E. Gustnado - A small, weak tornado which forms along the outflow boundary as a result of the remaining crowd breaking up, and all attempting to leave at once. Formed mainly of empty paper and foam cups, beer and soft-drink cans, more dust from the last cars pulling off the shoulder back onto the roads, maps, caps, cowboy hats and if a strong gustnado, even beer bottles of up to quart size.


A. See an extreme example of item 2-A above.

B. Striations in the crowd, the more knowledgeable will move to the rear, so as to affect a faster getaway from any serious development.

C. Research groups begin to put things in the path of the storm and launch balloons. They may also become extremely excited, the level of excitement may serve as an indicator of mesocyclone strength.

D. The truly foolish start moving up to get a better view of any rotating wall cloud and the more timid suddenly remember other commitments.


A. The trained spotters move to a distance of at least 3 miles from the UDI (updraft/downdraft interface area) and find the best location to view the forthcoming fun.

B. The research groups drop the last of their devices and also start to move to a more prudent location to monitor the situation.

C. Strong SE inflow ( 20-40 kt wind), and strong easterly, southeasterly, or southerly migration of the majority of the general audience. The latter is highly dependent on the local traffic conditions, available routes, and the general intelligence of the people involved. The more sane locate the fastest routes and quickly relocate to the "safe" areas being used by the storm spotters or the research groups. The most intelligent decide they need to check a TV for information from the local stations or the Weather Channel. Preferable a TV located in a basement or a storm shelter.

D. Rapid vertical motion of various items belonging to the few remaining spectators and those foolish enough to be trying to do close observation of the wall cloud or the possibly developing tornado. As conditions develop further larger items will also show rapid vertical motion, such as spectators; vehicles; farm animals ( those which weren't smart enough or lucky enough to find cover previously); bushes; trees; utility poles; old dog-snatching bicycle-riding, witch-type old maids; young farm girls from Kansas, etc. etc.

NOTE: Recent footage shows that certain late model pickup trucks are immune to the above phenomenon, despite the levitation of much larger, heavier objects or vehicles. At least while occupied or not actually within the funnel area.

E. Rear Flank Downdraft/Bright slot: Slang for the mental kick in the pants/sudden bright idea of those untrained souls still in the immediate area that what they are doing is actually not very wise and that it just might be dangerous. This mental process is often helped along by the visual aids provided by the now violently rotating column of air suspended below the rain-free base and doing a small part in the removal or at least redistribution of much of the local debris, remodeling of structures, urban or suburban renewal and the improvement of the genetic pool of the local area by removing those of insufficient intelligence to stay away from weather phenomenon which they are not properly trained to observe safely.



A. Single Cells, that aren't worth the trouble it took to get in position to observe a storm that collapsed and rained itself out about 10 minutes before you got there or that runs away so fast that all a spotter can do is comment on its amazing speed.

B. Multicell Clusters from long range that won't maintain a decent updraft long enough to allow proper observation or positioning.

C. Multicell Cluster from close range, schizophrenia on a storm scale, a parade of short, weak updrafts, just waiting for you to stop paying attention so it can hybridize to something else, and at least one cell is bound to have delusions of grandeur and try to make itself into a supercell, at the expense of all those poor, developing towers waiting behind it. And it will probably go severe just as soon as you leave.

D. Squall Lines that make you try and observe via the rear-view mirror method while you're running away from the gust front, or which make you retreat a few, miles stop for a few minutes to observe, then repeat the retreat, over and over and over......

E. Supercell (long range) - so impressive from long range that turns out to be a real fizzle when you get there and find a high base, no persistent features in the intake area, and causes you to be out of position for another really impressive supercell about 40 miles away, that was of no interest at all when you started for the one you're watching, (and which is actually just as mundane as the one you are stuck with, but only the spotters observing it realize. They wish they were up watching that really classic storm you got so lucky to choose.)

B. Supercell (close range) - which tries to drown you, beat you and your car to death with hail the size of cantaloupes, hit you with incredible downburst winds, or sucker you into seeing exactly what is hidden by that rain curtain wrapping around the RFD, and make you wonder exactly what it was that enticed you to take this up in the first place.


A. Overshooting Top ( large), that you can't see due to local clouds, dust from the gust-front, bad positioning, or the only grove of trees in that entire section of the South Plains.

B. Cumuliform Anvil on the storm you decided not to go after and which someone else is reporting as showing some truly awesome severe behavior, while your chosen "storm" turns out to be another slow-moving multicell cluster dropping some rain, some rather measly hail, and downdrafts that are usually mistaken for passing cars.

C. Sharply-outlined Main Storm Tower on a storm that's at least 100 if not 120 miles away in someone else's area of responsibility and which is drawing off all the moisture and energy from your area leaving you to watch a couple of small cells rain themselves out.


A. Single-Vortex, that someone else is reporting and that is gone by the time you can get into position to observe.

B. Multiple-Vortex, that developed from what you had decided was a cluster storm with little potential and which due to the sudden shift to the right in the storms chosen direction of travel has left you facing a "core punching" experience as the only possible means of escape.

C. Partial Condensation Funnel, with any debris cloud totally obscured by some local terrain feature and that you can't confirm as a true tornado or just another funnel cloud.

D. No Condensation Funnel, just a debris cloud under the rain-free base that suddenly appears over the slight rise in front of you while you have finally chosen to leave the vehicle and answer natures call.



A. High Precipitation, just daring you to try and look behind the "curtain", you wonder why that chaser who tried going in a few minutes ago won't answer the radio?

B. Low-Precipitation - long-range, that you can see but the weather service is insisting doesn't exist, they just see some dust or insects or something.

C. Low-Precipitation - short-range, that turns out to have some really impressive hail that neither you nor the doppler radar thought was present. It also looks like it's heading toward a major change in its lifestyle. See item 5-B.


A. Multicell-to-Supercell, usually occurs right about the time you decide that you can either ignore it or that you can drive under or through to get to something more impressive.

B. LP-to-HP Supercell, yes the lifestyle change mentioned above in 4-C. Wonder if that strong rotation in the wall cloud developed anything or not? Guess you'd better drive up and check it out. After all bears don't usually attack unless they're provoked ( as in approaching one a little too closely, maybe?)

C. Cyclic Supercell, either bores you or scares the *&(@#! out of you, again, and again, and again...................

DISCLAIMER #2: Storm spotting and chasing is dangerous. If you don't know what you're doing, you may become a statistic like the fictional characters above. If you want to do it, get the training, real training, not just the stuff on the TV or in the movies. Be an asset to the community not a liability.

Last Modified : 5/14/99