Here’s a small list of questions that nobody is asking about why I’m doing this.
Why are you doing this?
I’ve wanted to since I was a kid. Some people love horses. I love severe weather. The page about me goes into it a lot more.
Why wouldn’t you just go with a chase tour?
Money isn’t something I have in large quantities and tour groups can get pretty expensive. Right now what money I do have I’d rather spend on equipment.
I’m also a very hands-on type of person and I don’t mind working hard to figure things out. I enjoy it, and there’s probably an element of pride somewhere in all of this too.
I won’t rule out chasing tours though for the future. I certainly wouldn’t steer anyone away from them either. If you’re interested in this storm chasing it’s a good idea to go with people who have been doing it for a long time. You’ll probably learn a lot, depending on the tour, and if nothing else you’re much more likely to have successful chase days! It’d also be a good way to make some friends with similar interests.
Why don’t you chase with a more experienced partner? (Updated 8-19-2016)
Are you interested? Shoot me an email and we can talk! I have no problem sharing costs and I have a high amount of long-distance driving endurance. I’m also always up to meet more chasers.
Right now I’ve been mostly chasing alone or with my girlfriend when our schedules line up.
What camera(s) and equipment are you using? (Updated 8-19-2016)
It’s still pretty minimal, but I’m starting to think that even if I had unlimited funds I might keep it that way. It’s nice to travel light.
I bought a Sony Alpha a6300 mirrorless camera a few months ago and have really been enjoying it. I haven’t shot any tornadoes with it yet, but everything I’ve done so far has turned out great or the issue is with the operator. It’s serving double duty as my still camera and camcorder, but learning heavily on the still side.
I’m also using an iPhone 6S with the FiLMIC Pro app for video, as well as an iPad 4 mini. Both handle radar and navigation. Maps.me is a handy offline map program by the way. It’s a good idea to have an map app that support offline map storage. You may be out in a lot of places with no cellular signal.
I also have an old Samsung Galaxy S5 with a 64 GB memory card that I’m using as a “dashcam”. The camera in this phone has a few hardware/software limitations, mainly that it’s unable to be set to manual focus, or lock focus at infinity. To compensate for this I’m using the free Open Camera app. I settled on this app because it allows me to lock the camera focus. There’s a catch though. Every time I start a new video (or it runs into the max video size or duration), it wants to refocus. I’ve compensated for this by running by using a recurring countdown timer app that reminds me to make sure to check the focus. This makes using this thing almost more hassle than it’s worth. It’s next on my list to replace.
I’m reading your logs and you do seem to make some really glaring mistakes! (Updated 8-19-2016)
Right?! Looking back, some of them do seem pretty obvious. I know that I’m not done screwing up either. I was really tempted to edit away some of my dumb ideas, embarrassing situations, or rambling thoughts while I was converting this from personal Google document files to a blog. I decided to leave it all in.
Why? I’m not writing this to impress anyone. This blog sort of documents my journey from point A (complete newbie trainwreck) to point B (a halfway competent chaser and photographer). Other new chasers might also find it and let my life serve as a warning to their own.
Here’s the thing. I’ve learned so much simply by getting out there and trying. Just re-reading my chase logs from March to June, I’m amazed with what I learned from experience alone, and it’s helped me see how far I still need to go.
If you’re sitting on the fence waiting for someone more experienced than you to show you the ropes….don’t! Chase locally! Chase low risk days! Look at a setup, make your own forecast, decide on a target area, then and see how accurate you were the next day!
Just be safe and error on the side of caution. Please.
You don’t put a lot of weather/forecast information into your blog posts! (Updated 8-19-2016)
There’s a couple reasons for this.
Reason 1: I’ll be honest. I’m pretty new to forecasting and a little self conscious about people seeing how terrible I am at it. I’m sure that what I do write in my blog posts is evidence enough that I have a LOT to learn.
Most of my current decision making process involves checking the Storm Prediction Center’s (SPC) “Convective Outlook” page and picking a “soft” chase target the night before, then confirming it the next morning on the new update. Originally, that was pretty much it!
As I chased more and more, I’m building on that by looking at various forecast models (Mainly the NAM) and Skew-T’s and trying to use them to narrow down my target to a reasonable area. The results can vary wildly.
Many experienced chasers will scoff at this. That’s fine, it’s what I have at the moment. Modern meteorology has progressed to the point that this “forecasting” method isn’t a total crapshoot. Let me be clear though. I want to get better at this. There’s more to learn and I’m happy to do the legwork. Right now my goals are to:
- Improve my ability to read forecast models and use them to create my own forecast.
- Better understand local weather conditions in the field (this is a real weak point right now)
- Use radar, visual cues, and surface observations to identify what storms are good to chase, as well as when to bail
Everyone was new to this hobby at one point. I’m using the tools and information available and understandable to me to facilitate my hobby and get better. Don’t most other hobbies work like this?
Reason 2: Chasers aren’t my only audience. Hell, I don’t know if I have any chasers in my audience. Do I have even have an audience?
I also come from an IT background. My job and what I do is confusing to people with no experience with it, and I try to help people understand what I’m talking about. Other people might eventually read this, and maybe they aren’t giant weather nerds like me or they want to learn. I’ll probably still take it easy on heavy meteorology jargon, or try to explain whatever it is I’m talking about as needed.
Couldn’t you just like, follow other chasers around? (New – 8-19-2016)
REALLY BAD IDEA. Here’s a few reasons why. (oh god another reasons list)
Reason 1: Your lack of knowledge could put you in a dangerous situation. Chasing someone blindly and counting on them to keep you safe pretty much guarantees that you have very little situational awareness. After all, you’re chasing just the person! This ties into the next reason.
Reason 2: Chasers in general don’t like being chased, and you will make most (if not all) of them very unhappy if you do it and they catch on to you. Additionally, by following them you are indirectly making them responsible for your personal safety and possibly endangering their own safety.
Well, let’s say I’m chasing a supercell, and you’re chasing me. Maybe there’s even a tornado on the ground. At some point I might interpret that something has changed (remember, I have the experience and probably also some gadgets in my car to help me out) and I need to take my escape route (you have one of those, right?). Or maybe I’m going to do something a bit risky and brave some high wind and possible hail dents to get into a better position (were you aware that car damage can be par for the course as a chaser? I didn’t until I started).
The last thing I want to be thinking about is whether or not Random Guy behind me will be safe if he follows me, or that his vehicle won’t get damaged. If I have to change the way I chase to make sure you don’t get hurt, I’m going to be a little upset.
Or, maybe you see me suddenly stop and start to turn around because I’ve seen something concerning on radar or by just looking. Now my original plan is no good. So I turn around and you start to do the same and get stuck, blocking the escape route. Or you hit me. Or worst of all, you don’t turn around and drive on because you’re mesmerized by the scene in front of you. Now we both might get to see the show of a possibly shorter lifetime.
Finally, I may not have even clued in that you were actually following me. I’m probably focused mainly on the storm! If I saw you, I probably assumed that you’re a chaser and therefore can take care of yourself. Imagine your surprise when I do something quick and accidentally lose you. Do you know which way is safe to drive? Is it safe to just stop and wait where you are? Hint: Driving towards clear skies isn’t always a guaranteed solution. The May 2013 El Reno tornado fooled some very experienced chasers that counted on this as their default exit strategy.
Reason 3: Unless you grew up in tornado prone areas (I did not), these storms can be dangerous on a level that you may not be accustomed to. I thought I’d experienced powerful storms living in Arizona during monsoon season. Those storms were nothing compared to what I’ve been in chasing in the plains in just one year. But any thunderstorm can be dangerous. Lightning and flash flooding are much bigger killers then tornadoes are.
I’ve beaten this horse to death now I think. I understand that you want to chase, but please educate yourself before you jump in.
Fine! I get it. I’ll learn! What resources do you recommend?
Here’s a list of links to other sites and videos that you might find helpful.
More Q&A to come later…