Used with permission
Courtesy of: Eric Nguyen
Copyright 2001

All About Storm Chasers:

Storm Chasers are people who try to get close to storms for the purposes of observation or science. Chasers are usually amateur photographers, hobbyists and private citizens who pursue tornadoes and severe weather for personal reasons, often logging hundreds of miles during a single event. So why do people put themselves through the ordeal? The motivations vary, some chasers experienced a close encounter with a tornado or terrible storm when they were children, feeding their fascination with severe weather. Some are driven by a scientific curiosity. Others are simply captivated by the beauty and awesome fury that mother nature can unleash from the sky. Part of the appeal is that every storm is different with it's own personality, a puzzle to be worked out by the chaser. Chasers come from all walks of life and many travel hundreds or thousands of miles and map out their entire vacations to chase storms in the Plains of the United States every spring and summer.

The Typical Chase Day:

Most chasers start a potential chase day by checking weather data sources on the Internet. There are several data sources available including the Storm Prediction Center's daily outlook, satellite and radar maps, maps of temperatures and dewpoints and information on watches and warnings. After analyzing all the data, the chaser picks a target where the storms might fire. Usually chasers develop a forecast for target area days in advance to have a successful trip. Chasing requires good forecasting and even after hours are spent making storm predictions, a forecast can make a complete turnaround in just a few hours.

A chase target may be hundreds of miles away and chasers often have to drive for hours to reach their target areas. Chasers often stop at truck stops with data ports and Internet connections looking for weather updates. They are looking for satellite images that show bright white high cloud tops that indicate blossoming storms, watches and warnings and recent surface maps that show any change in temperature, dewpoint or wind direction that indicate a dryline, cold front or low-pressure system that could fire off storms.

In the chase vehicles, chasers often use a GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite receiver to track their location as they move. GPS offers an excellent addition to old fashioned maps and charts and according to Eric Nguyen, a seasoned storm chaser,is one of the most important tools used during chases. Often times, chasers travel many miles down unmarked roads literally in the middle of nowhere! With a GPS receiver, the chaser is able to locate his position in relation to the storm and call in accurate reports to the National Weather Service. Chasers also must be able to "go visual" and figure out what the sky is doing. Chasers look for towering cumulus clouds called "towers" that can be the first stage in the formation of a supercell. They then look for other cloud features and if the storm does develop into a tornadic supercell, they usually move to the southeast side of the storm to stay safe and out of the path of movement. Sometimes chasers end up "core punching" or penetrating the rain and hail core to get closer to the part of the storm where a tornado can be forming. Punching a core can be very dangerous because the core can be hiding a tornado!

Used with permission
Courtesy of: Jason Politte
Copyright 2000

How to become a Storm Chaser:

Storm chasing can be a very dangerous activity and without sufficient knowledge can result in injury, the loss of limb or the loss of life. No one should become a storm chaser unless they are willing to learn as much as they can about the weather. Chasing involves a good deal of money to cover the cost of equipment, fuel, food, and motel accommodations! You could take a storm chasing tour, they are a fun, though somewhat expensive way to get started. This is one way to make sure you really want to do this. It takes a very special type of person to be a storm chaser! You can also become a storm spotter by taking a Skywarn training course offered by your local National Weather Service office. It's a great way to become acquainted with both storm features and dangers.

What is Storm Spotting?

Storm spotters are usually people within a local community that report to local weather service personnel or Emergency Management agencies from their homes, offices, or predefined field locations. They can be stationary spotters or mobile spotters operating from their vehicles. Spotters usually stay within the borders of the county they serve whereas chasers roam the landscape crossing county and state lines. Since both activities can be very dangerous, you should have extensive severe weather safety training before engaging in them. Like chasers, spotters should have dependable transportation, reliable communications (cell phones are not reliable in remote areas) and a method of obtaining accurate storm information. If you plan on spotting from a remote area or an area you are not familiar with, GPS equipment is a must!

A spotting partner is strongly suggested. It is almost impossible to report accurate information while driving, reading maps and watching the sky and can be very dangerous.

Used with permission
Courtesy of: Scott Blair
Copyright 2000

What does a Spotter do?

The National Weather Service uses a number of devices for detecting thunderstorms. These include radar, satellite and lightning strike detection networks. Even with all this technology, the most important tool for observing severe storms is the trained eye of a storm spotter. Trained spotters travel to areas of severe weather and make observations of the storm structure and motion and report these to the Net Controller who relays them to the National Weather Service.

One example of how a storm spotter aids the NWS is reporting actual tornado conditions. If radar indicates a circulation in a storm and a spotter confirms rotation at the cloud base, then in most circumstances a tornado warning would be issued. However if the radar suggests rotation and the spotter does not see evidence of the rotation, the warning might be held off until conditions change. This improves the accuracy of tornado warnings.

Using Amateur Radio in Storm Chasing/Spotting:

Amateur Radio works as a key communications system during emergency situations. It is very important to storm spotters and chasers in the field. With a license and proper equipment and training, you can transmit your reports directly to the National Weather Service or local government agency and receive information from them as well. Amateur Radio is a must for communications between cars and other chasers. Cell phones are often useless in remote areas and CB radio is not a good means of communications at all. Very low power on low frequencies with no system of repeaters and no one to relay information to! The state of Oklahoma for example has a linked amateur radio repeater system that allows spotters and chasers who are licensed radio operators to receive and share information throughout the state while remaining on one frequency. No more frequency hunting when moving from county to county. Another method used by amateur radio operators in the field is that of the Universal Simplex Frequency. A simplex frequency is a great way of receiving information since repeaters are usually busy with formal network traffic, especially in areas that are being hit with storms. This is essential in states that do not have a linked emergency repeater network. The accepted universal frequency is 146.550 Mhz. No doubt a very interesting frequency to monitor during severe weather!

What is SKYWARN?

SKYWARN is a concept developed in the early 1970's that was intended to promote a cooperative effort between the National Weather Service and local communities. The effort is focused on the storm spotter who takes a position near the community and reports wind gusts, hail size, rainfall and cloud formations that could signal a developing tornado. Another part of SKYWARN is the receipt and effective distribution of National Weather Service information.

SKYWARN is not a club or organization, however, in some areas where emergency Management programs do not perform the function, people have organized SKYWARN groups that work independent of a parent government agency and feed valuable information to the National Weather Service. While this provides the radar meteorologist with much needed input, the circuit is not complete if the information does not reach those who can activate sirens or local broadcast systems.

SKYWARN spotters ore not by definition "Storm Chasers" While their functions and methods are similar, the spotter usually stays close to home and has ties to a local agency. Storm Spotting and Storm Chasing is dangerous and should never be done without proper training, experience and equipment. The National Weather Service conducts spotter training classes across the United States, and your local Weather Service office should be consulted as to when the next classes will be conducted.

Skywarn Logo used with permission
Courtesy of: Tim Tonge

Veteran storm chaser Scott Blair's website.
Fantastic chase accounts and photos from a fellow
amateur radio operator

The chaser and spotter weather information source.
Operated by Steve Miller KC5TRR.
Steve provided valuable information for this page.
Another "must see!"
Thanks Steve!

Fantastic storm chase photos and chase accounts.
Eric, KD5HPZ, is a veteran chaser and provided great information for this page.
His site is a "must see" for super quality photos!

The website of veteran chaser Jason Politte KD5HRF.
Jason shared valuable information for this page and
his site has some fantastic chase accounts, links and pictures!
Thanks Jason!

Many thanks to Tim Tonge, KA0MWA
for allowing me to share information about the National SKYWARN concept!
Tim is the webmaster for the National site and a meteorologist with his own weather service!
A really interesting site to visit!

Eastern Oklahoma/Northwest Arkansas Skywarn!
Webmaster and Net Controller is
Steve Bluford KD5JQC.
Steve's site is a fantastic example of the Skywarn organization.
A visit to this site shows just how dedicated
these people are to saving lives and property!

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