You — Yes, You — Can Go Storm Chasing Next Tornado Season
August 10, 2018
Written byReuben Westmaas
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Did you ever see the movie "Twister"? To be perfectly frank, we don't really remember it very well. We seem to recall that Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton were divorced because ... he only wanted to chase cumulus clouds? Couldn't say for sure. You know what we do remember? The tornadoes. There are real people who do the same thing Paxton did in that movie — and those people could include you.
Storm-Chasing for Beginners
Let's get one thing straight: This is not a hobby for the faint of heart. Writing for Matador Network, seasoned storm chaser Jen Henderson had this vital tip for anybody looking to try it out: "The most important advice I can give a newbie chaser is to go out a few times with someone experienced, someone with the right knowledge and tools to show you the ropes." This isn't something you dive into headfirst; it's something you start by dipping your toes in. Still, everybody is a beginner at some point, so here are ten rules to know for starting out.
1. Find a Professional
Henderson isn't joking around about finding an experienced guide, but fortunately, there are plenty of experts who will be willing to take on a newbie who's willing to commit. In fact, just check out StormChasingUSA.com. When the season rolls around again, there will be plenty of tours for tracking down twisters.
2. Do Your Research
Tornado season for this year is winding down, but that doesn't mean a storm chaser's work is done. 2018's tornado season was pretty quiet, but in 2017, the United States saw far more tornadoes than usual. So take this winter to study up on tornado season patterns and find out what the SPC is saying about 2019's storms.
3. Get the Right Gear
In her article for Matador, Henderson runs down a thorough list of must-have gear (you can probably coordinate with your tour guide to make sure everything is covered). She also notes that one of the most important things to bring along is a friend or two since you'll be spending a lot of time on the open road. But we think there might be another thing that's just as important as the software, weather radio, and communications tech — Duracell batteries to run it all.
4. Don't Just Hunt Tornadoes
Tornadoes hit their annual peak in May and June, but even if you go out that time of year, there's a pretty good chance you won't find the twister you're looking for. But there are a lot of different storms out there. Some of the cloud structures you'll end up chasing will make for just-as-gorgeous cover photos.
5. Drive Safely
What's the number-one threat to storm-chasers? According to meteorologist and veteran chaser Charles Doswell III, it's reckless driving. Wet, slick roads, high winds, glass-cracking hail — these can all add up to very dangerous driving conditions. Make sure your tires can handle it, that you know how to avoid hydroplaning, and that your car is in working condition before you set out.
6. Enjoy Your Downtime
Look, you've got to face facts. Storm chasing means spending many, many hours in the car and a whole lot less time in the presence of a real storm. Take the time to enjoy the scenery, snap lots of photos, chat with locals, and just enjoy the adventurous change of pace.
7. Pack Smart
There are some things that you don't think about until you need them. Cash, for the small towns that don't have a lot of card readers yet. Sunscreen, for the hot days when the sun streams through your windshield (yes, you can get a sunburn through a car window). Traveler's laundry pods, so you can do a load at the hotel. And all the aspirin, Dramamine, and acid reflux medication you think you might need.
8. Know Storm Safety
After traffic accidents, Doswell concedes that the lightning, hail, and destructive winds are pretty dangerous as well. This is where you should rely on your guide, but there are a few rules even a newbie can take to heart. When you're standing outside your car watching a tornado, for example, keep looking in every direction to make sure another tornado isn't sneaking up on you.
9. Follow Storm-Chaser Etiquette
There are some things that probably should go without saying, but it is considered extremely bad form to chase a storm past the boundaries set up by law enforcement and safety officials. Not to mention incredibly dumb. Also, don't go onto private property, and don't tear through a tiny town at 95 mph as you chase your quarry down.
10. File a Report
Amateur storm chasers can be a tremendous resource for meteorologists, as long as they report what they've seen. Contact the National Weather Service after any tornado encounter, and let them know the location, time, and duration of the event. You'll help make future hunts more accurate.