If you ever watched the movie Twister, you most likely got sucked into the adrenaline rush and the excitement of watching the storm chasers, whose primary focus was tornadoes. For some, they see it as a money maker and fun. Others might turn it into a job opportunity.
I’ve been a storm chaser for ten years now, listed as amateur for using simple equipment and having no degree in meteorology studies. Growing up in Florida, I became used to extreme storms, such as hurricanes. Upon moving to Alabama, I became interested in chasing tornadoes. As much as it is an adrenaline rush for me, I also wanted to not only understand nature better, but to try to help people.
On April 28, 2014, I was covering different sectors of North Alabama, trying to follow the tornadoes. I recall one gentleman asking me questions on how to become a storm chaser. He saw it clearly only as a money maker and thought there wouldn’t be any serious repercussions for getting up close. This led me to think about what I’ve learned over the years on chasing storms and what tips might be important to someone else wanting to do the same thing.
Know the Area
Knowing the area is essential to tracking any dangerous storm. Consider this: what if a tornado crosses your path, and you don’t have any other way away from it? Studying maps and driving throughout the areas I cover has helped me become familiar with the best routes out of sticky situations. Also, it makes your travel time quicker if you are following a twister. Finally, when you’re reporting a tornado, you need to get as close on the location you can get. Learn what roads are around you and which ones intersect with one another.
Radar and Camera
Having a simple phone app can make things so much easier when tracking the storm. Set up your phone with hands free equipment, or, if you’re stationary, use a laptop. One of the best sites that I use is Weather Underground. Make sure that whatever camera you use is quick and easy to use. If you are trying to get pictures or videos of the storms you have to be quick. Every minute is crucial.
Shelter and Safety
You can’t predict when a storm will change on you. This can refer to it’s strength and the direction it might head. Make sure you have several different areas you can go to for safety very quickly. One thing to consider is having a great running car. You don’t need your car stalling out in the middle of trying to get away from a tornado! Finally, check all batteries before leaving your home: cell phone, camera, laptop, and car. If you can, have a way to recharge them if necessary.
Phone Numbers and Network
When reporting funnels and turning in footage, you have to be extremely quick. Quickness is imperative for those that you are trying to warn. A radar can track tornadoes and show circulation, but can’t always show when they are touching down and are on the ground. I keep different news channel numbers ready to go. I also have family and friends numbers ready also. One other thing to remember is to have a large network of other people watching the storms. They can either be family or friends or other trackers. Getting the warnings out quicker can save lives.
Nature is very unpredictable. I constantly try to learn something new about them, whether it be from the news, another storm chaser, or even something I read from a science book. One important rule is to learn from your past experiences. Finally, don’t treat storm chasing as being fun. Yes, there is the adrenaline rush that gets us out there, but what we do is extremely dangerous. You never know one day from the next what can happen.