GLOSSARY As in the other sections, you can click on the glossary image wherever you see it, and the glossary will open in another window. Just close that window when you are ready to continue.

In this module, you will learn a few basics of being a storm chaser. This is very basic! It is planned to add a great deal more to this area when the time and material becomes available.

This area presumes a thorough knowledge about storm structure. That is a minimum amount of knowledge necessary for storm chasing! If you haven't been through some SKYWARN classes, or the online SKYWARN MODULES we have here, please go and read them now. BASIC SKYWARN MODULE, ADVANCED SKYWARN MODULE. In addition, before embarking on a chase of your own, please get some spotting/chasing experience with an experienced SKYWARN spotter or storm chaser. You can get in touch with your local SKYWARN group through your local National Weather Service. Also, for your first chase season at least, find an experienced storm chaser to go with.

There are many resources available online about storm chasing or related topics. You will find links embedded throughout this module to some of these. You might notice that some experienced weather chasers are not particularly welcoming to newcomers to the hobby. This "cold shoulder" response is multifactorial, but undoubtedly stems from a feeling that newcomers enter the hobby on a whim without researching the realities of chasing.

Preconceived ideas on the part of inexperienced chasers about the safety of chasing, or the benign appearance of tornadoes based on Hollywood's dramatic (but not necessarily accurate) portrayals of these storms, leave experienced chasers unclear on newcomers' motivations, intentions, and degree of knowledge about the risks and realities of chasing. Unlike the movie TWISTER where a pickup truck withstands an F2/F3 tornado without damage, the realities of tornadoes are that they are deadly, powerful, and often random (and, given the wide expanses of land potentially prone to storm development, tornadic events are EXTRAORDINARILY RARE).

This module is an attempt at keeping you from falling into the following categories:

  • taking a risk by chasing severe weather which power you may not fully appreciate.
  • tending not to have communications equipment which could help issue warnings for people in the path of the storm, and thus are not helping to save lives and property but being more akin to a "gawker" at the scene of an accident.
  • not realizing that chasing is not just hopping in a vehicle when a tornado watch or warning is issued (which can be potentially life-threatening!), but usually begins up to 24 hours in-advance of SPC watches and NWS warnings, and can require greater than 12 or more hours' worth of driving to see even one severe weather event (which may not include a tornado).
  • not realizing that most chasers spend hundreds of "off-season" hours studying basic weather forecasting, learning about severe storm models/tornadogenesis, and reading or discussing with others every aspect of severe weather they can absorb.
  • seeming uninterested in understanding the unique conditions required to form a tornado--a situation which places you at increased risk for getting injured or killed on a chase. Furthermore, a lack of understanding about weather terminology often leads to inaccurate reports to the NWS and law enforcement, hampering efforts at relaying accurate, reliable storm information.
  • frequently misidentify storm structures and features leading to inappropriate warnings which can potentially foster public lassitude about NWS weather alerts (potentially resulting in lost lives).

There are many ways to overcome being in one of the above categories, and fortunately, many of them are available on the Internet to everyone.

You need to realize that successful chases are rare. The average length of a tornado chase can be between 200 to 500 miles. There are those have chased storms that have taken them much further. The possibility of most experienced chasers seeing a tornado is less than 10%. As a chaser, you will sacrifice a lot of time, money, and miles in this hobby, and you should realize the amount of the miles, wear, and tear that your vehicle will endure on the plains. Many car rental places, as well as auto leases have mileage restrictions, and storm chasing will rapidly fill that if you are not careful. Likewise, increased distance means increased maintenance and other costs. In order to see more than one tornado a year, inexperienced chasers seldom realize the toll that chasing will take on their pocketbooks and cars. Some chasers may offset a small amount of chasing expense with the sale of videos or photos, or riders, but most will lose more than they gain, financially, by chasing.

Basically, chasing requires preparation, knowledge, equipment, and time. Not only will most of your chases end without seeing a tornado, but you will take a measured, calculated risk each time you pursue a tornado. You risk lightning, flooding, the tornado itself, vehicle damage, and financial expenses in order to see maybe a handful of tornadoes each year. Likewise, you will chance encountering destruction, human suffering, and sometimes death. It is critical for you to understand the severity of tornadic thunderstorms, and that the role of the chaser is specialized and relegated to trained individuals who are aware of the risks involved.

We hunt, like all chasers--experienced and inexperience--for the opportunity to see nature as it bares its mighty power in a display which is offered little justice on photos or video. Tornadoes are simply indescribably beautiful and amazing...They rival some of the greatest natural wonders known to man. If you wish to witness these rare events, you must prepare yourself adequately. Just as you cannot hope to play an instrument, play a sport, or drive a car without any education, you must also invest time and money into this hobby so that you may increase your success and decrease your risks.

You must also weigh the fact that tornadoes do maim and kill people, and also destroy their material possessions: how you help these individuals is up to you. You can donate your time or money to help those who have been affected by tornadoes. I personally don't see how anyone could witness this without rendering aid if there are no emergency services near by to help.

Special thanks to Dr. Jason Persoff, MD and Storm Chaser for contributing some of the material in this section!

OK!! So you realize that storm chasing is not like TWISTER. You realize it will take a lot of time, money and dedication, and that it may be quite some time before you actually see a tornado. So what do I do now? Well, let get some more information.........

DISCLAIMER: Storm spotting/chasing has the potential to be a life threatening activity. The material presented here is for educational purposes only. You are strongly suggested to contact someone in your area about getting official SKYWARN training and riding along with someone with spotting/chasing experience before ever attempting to do so on your own. By viewing the material contained within, you agree that you alone are accept responsibility for what you do with this information.
Site design is Copyright 2003-2019 Dryline Media LLC All rights reserved. Image copyrights are retained by their respective owners. Please see the CREDITS page for contributors and information about using the material contained within this website.