From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


“The closest I’ve been to a tornado is another hard one to judge. I’d
say 1/8 mile once for sure and less than 1 mile several times. The
Hanover KS tornado from April 6, 2006 was pretty much overhead with the
vortex at the surface probably 1/8 mile south. The May 10, 2003
Hannibal MO tornado and May 16, 2004 Chambers ones were both pretty
close as well. The largest tornado I’ve seen was probably the June 9,
2003 O’Neill NE tornado. It had a damage path 1/3 mile wide. Batlett NE
July 12, 2004 was also a big tornado, but probably around 1/4 mile
wide. I’m not a fan of F-Scale ratings in regards to what one has seen,
but since I’ve been asked, no I’ve not seen an F5. I don’t think
anything I’ve seen was rated F4. A few were rated F3. Those are damage
scales so they are only useful for strength if a tornado hits
something. In other words an “F5” strength tornado can go through a
cornfield and only be rated F0. The strongest looking tornado I’ve seen
was probably Hill City, June 9, 2005 early on in its life. It had near
violent motions in it for a bit. Hannibal looked pretty strong before
it got to that city.

Training/Safety: This is always an interesting topic to me. A large
majority of the chase community will pound away at this, as I guess
they should. If you want to chase you should learn to understand storm
structure and what is going on. A great way to do that is to read chase
accounts(if you can find many that have a lot of pictures, as well as a
lot of words). I guess I should say that is a decent way, not a great
way. I’d say I learned the most from a combination of good chase videos
and from just going out and chasing. Sure you might want to learn
BEFORE you go chase, but you can only get so much from reading and
watching. Sooner or later you have to go and learn first hand. If you
can find someone to go with, go for it. I wouldn’t expect that any
veteran chaser owes you that however. The way gas prices are now I’m
guessing it wouldn’t be that hard to track down someone willing to show
you the ropes if you split gas with them. Storm is a pretty
good resource to find and contact chasers.

One would think chasing tornadoes and severe storms would be sooo
dangerous. It really couldn’t be any less true. All the driving and the
other people on the road is by far the biggest danger to it. Even if
you wanted to drive right into a tornado, you are going to have a hard
time pulling it off(perhaps after years of chasing you’d get better at
having that option available). Tornadoes are rare and aren’t sticking
to the highways one drives on. If you aren’t trying to kill yourself
you will have a hard time doing so chasing. I’ll take them one by one.

Hail. If you stay in your car you’ll be rather safe from hail. In the
worst case scenario you’ll find some 6 inch diameter hail. Cover your
head and stay in the car and I’m guessing you’ll come out of it alive.
I’ve chased since 1999 and have only encountered up to baseballs and I
was trying to find them on those occasions. The larger they are the
less of them there are going to be as well. They get more and more
sporadic as they get bigger–though a very rare amount of storms can
really spit out some very large stones in large numbers. The biggest
hazard will be flying glass. Cover your eyes. Once you have any idea of
what you are doing you can pretty much avoid all hail if you want to.
Then your chances of getting cored by “killer” hail will be excessively
remote. Something very bad very well could happen, but using any common
sense while staying in the car I’m sure will get you out of it
alive….VERY alive, lol. I wonder if anyone, anywhere, has ever been
killed by hail inside a car. I doubt it. So you’ll have a hard time
getting seriously injured by hail if you just stay in your car…and
that is if you even found that truly nasty stuff…which ain’t easy,
even if you are trying to.

Wind. Wind is only as dangerous as you want it to be. If it gets high
stop moving and pretty much any serious danger it poses goes away. It
is very rare to find severe storms with winds over 100 mph. 100 mph
won’t even begin to roll your car over, even if it hits you on the
side. Winds under 100 mph can certainly knock over a big tree and kill
you in a hurry though. Don’t stop near big trees. It’s all very obvious
stuff, which is why if you use any common sense, storm chasing is going
to be a VERY safe thing.

Lightning. Do yourself a big favor and just stay in the car. Sure a
bolt can go through your car and still get you, but it will have a
harder time doing that(rather than going around the frame) than it
would if there was no car frame around you in the first place. This as
a hazard can be brought to near zero by simply being smart about it and
staying in your car. So, so far, lightning, wind, and hail are really
minimal threats if you stay in the car and don’t park by 100 foot

Flooding. Hmmm, I can’t think of ever being in danger from flooding
during all my chases. It’s another thing you can be smart about and
take the threat of it to near zero if you want. If you are chasing and
one area is getting a crapload of rain then maybe you don’t want to
take that exact route back home. I’ll go east for a while then north
when things like this happen.

Tornadoes. Just by their pure rarity you’ll have a hard time finding
one to hurt you. Now add to this rarity the fact they are only covering
one small spot of land and the odds of you being in that are just slim.
Now, if you know what you are doing, this can be an excessively minimal
threat as well. Anything can happen, I will say that, but it’s just a
highly unlikely thing. I’m more affraid of being hit by lightning than
I am a tornado.

So, I guess if you just start out chasing it is entirely possible to
get yourself hurt…though even then it’s going to be pretty hard. If
you chase for a while the hobby becomes an extremely safe one…if you
want it to be. I don’t think of this hobby as dangerous at all, as
goofy as that might seem. A deer coming through my windshield while
driving home at night scares me much more than anything from the

Equipment FAQ
Camera Equipment: All I have are 2 digital rebels(300D and the 350D/xt)
for the camera. For the lenses I only have 2, a canon 50 mm F/1.8 and a
canon 17-40L. 2002-2003 everything was shot with a Sony DSC F707.
2004-2005 everything was shot with the first digital rebel, the
300D(2004 I only had the kit lens….in 2005 I replaced it with the
17-40L). 2006 on I’m using the new canon digital rebel xt.

Video Equipment: 96-1999 I used a c-vhs…..I think it was a canon but
maybe not. 2000-2001 I used a sony Hi-8. 2002-2003 I used a sony
digital 8(trv-340). 2004-2005 I used a sony mini-dv(trv-19). 2006 on
I’m using a Sony HC1 HDV cam.

Equipment used for data/chasing: 99-2001 NOAA weather radio was it.
2002-2004 I started using a cell phone connected to a laptop for data
in digital areas where I could get it. I also got delorme street atlas
with GPS in 2003(I think it was 2003). GPS is such a useful tool when
chasing. I used libraries a good deal in 2004 along with the cell
phone(but half the chases it wouldn’t work). In 2005 I bought xm
wx-worx. It is a wonderful tool for radar and surface data as you can
get the data anywhere and everywhere since it is via satellite. It
wasn’t that cheap however at about $900 for the hardware and software
alone. Also in 2005 I started using WI-FI. I’m almost thinking had I
used WI-FI before buying the wx-worx reciever I might not have bothered
with it. WI-FI takes the place of libraries and can be found about
anywhere now. With WI-FI and my xm wx-worx I never use my cell phone
anymore. That is all the stuff I have for chasing. I don’t use my
scanner for NOAA at all now since it is pretty useless–that and I lost
an antenna the chase after I had replaced the one I had just lost. So
for equipment my car is very bare. Other than hail dents one wouldn’t
know I was a chaser if they saw me stopped on a road somewhere since
there really isn’t a single antenna now(other than the one for xm which
is a tiny magnet you don’t really see).

Mounts: I have a suction cup mount for the dash that I rarely used. Now
that I have this new cam it won’t work on my dash. What I do have that
I use all the time are 2 window clamp mounts. I NEVER use a tripod when
chasing now. These window clamps are extremely useful for chasing. You
just stop with your window facing the way you want and slap the cams on
there. I’m a chicken of lightning anyway so this really helps out. It’s
also much quicker than getting out and setting up a tripod so you’ll do
it more often. They are only like $25 a piece so there’s really no
reason not to get one or two. Since I chase alone and am doing video
AND stills I have to cut corners and do what I can to speed things up.

Editing software: For photos I use Adobe Photoshop CS. I shoot strictly
in RAW format now, though I don’t do a whole lot to the photos during
RAW conversion. For video I use Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5. For the dvd
creation I use TMPGEnc products for encoding and authoring(pretty hard
to beat the quality at the price).

Severe Weather FAQ/Talk:

Cool skies: I’ve been asked a good question about the look of the
storms on this site and why people don’t see them look like this where
they live. There are a few factors to this. First and most important is
likely just the region of the US one lives in. Big severe storms need
good moisture/juice and in this area that comes from the gulf of
Mexico. If you are west of the Rocky Mountains this good moisture
really doesn’t get over there. The Pacific Ocean waters are pretty cool
up and down the west coast compared to the gulf of Mexico waters. For
severe weather you’ll want warm moisture near the surface. You can get
“too much” moisture if you get too far east of the Rockies. When there
is “too much” moisture you won’t be able to see the features of the
storms. For severe weather you want the mid and upper-levels of the
atmosphere to be very dry. It seems to me this is the best just east of
the Rockies right when storm systems move out onto the plains. They’ll
come out and often cause storms(our cool ones) which will tend to fill
the mid and upper-levels with moisture which will spread to the east.
Combine that with having a big abundance of low level moisture in the
east or southeast and the storms will just be a bit more “soupy” or
“grungy”. There are obvious exceptions to this, but a good rule for
seeing structure of storms is the further west towards the Rocky
Mountains you get the better the viewing will be. If you get too close
to them there often isn’t even that much low-level moisture out there.
The dryline, or seperation of moist and dry air, will often run up and
down the middle of the plains states of ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX. Some
systems or setups will pull the moisture west to the Rockies but often
even out there it is too dry. So one reason for the crazy look to
storms is where they are located. I think the best area to see storm
structure is located in the middle of ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX. Different
systems and setups will obviously dictate how that happens. This area
would be a most typical spot though. Shear on a storm will also have
effects on this. If there is no shear then rain falls very near or even
back down where the upraft was. Supercells happen in good shear
environments(which are also most often found in the middle of the
plains) and will many times have their precip well seperated from the
updraft tower, allowing you to see more of its structure.

Another very big part of this would be the fact I chase the storms. If
I were to sit here in Blair NE, in this good region, I wouldn’t see
very cool storms that often at all. I find the storms early in their
lives(or at least try to) where they form, often very very far from
home(several states away sometimes). Storms will grow into big
complexes the majority of the time. The best structure is often before
that happens. I’m also with the storms for a duration of their life. If
I watched one at home I’d see one point of its life. Chasing them you
see them at many points while they change shapes and severity. I hope
all that makes some sense. I could live in the best area for storm
structure there is and not have much to show for it if I didn’t
actually go and chase, and chase often.

Chase Partners: I’m often asked about ride alongs or if I need a chase
partner. I’ve always chased solo and I’m pretty sure I always will. I
give everyone the same answer and it is nothing against anyone. This
way has always made the most sense to me. Out of all my chases I’ve
only once went with someone. I’ve never had anyone with me(outside
taking my old boss with while out of state at some classes…which I
will admit was enjoyable). It’s nice to only have yourself to worry
about. I’m going to be my only reason to have to stop, and I don’t stop
much. Keeping yourself on the move on a chase day can be very
important. With others around I tend to chat too much. I also don’t
record as much stuff while I’m with others. I make some effort to avoid
others till after the chase is over. I’ve seen myself hang around one
spot too long and be a bit late several times when having others
around. The other part is safety concerns of others. If I’m my only
risk I can do what I want. Chasing alone lets me do as I wish in
regards to how close I might want to get if the opportunity comes up.
There’s also the desire to even be out there that can be in question
when you have others along that may or may not want to chase as much or
as long. I can avoid a lot of possible negatives and potential added
hassles by just sticking to the solo thing. I also go out of my way to
avoid meeting up and caravaning. I’ll only do that with the few chasers
I know fairly well already. But, even then I still kind of try to avoid
it since I know how I am with anyone around(talking too much and don’t
keep on the move enough). So no I don’t have a partner and am not
looking to get one. I hope folks don’t take that personally somehow and
can realize it’s just how I’ve always liked to chase. I’m not 100%
against caravaning with someone I get to know a bit, so I’d have to say
that possibility remains somewhat open. All this aside, if you see a
black Mustang with NE tags parked somewhere don’t be affraid to stop
and say hi if you want. I’m not too big of a jerk, lol.

Chasing Stats: This is just a spot to cover a few things I’ve been
asked or might be asked. I’ve never kept real good stats. I’ve started
to keep better track of chases and mileage the last couple years since
this is my only income right now. My first chase was May 16, 1999. I
saw an F3 tornado in western IA that day. I video taped storms around
town from 91-98 but I wouldn’t call any of that actual chasing since I
never drove very far out of town for any of them.

HERE is a map of the tornadoes I’ve seen and the dates next to them.
I’m pretty “anal” about what I’ll call a tornado anymore. Early on I
wanted everything to be a torando. Now that I’ve seen enough I don’t
see much need in lying to myself. All the dots on there are for sure,
no doubt, tornadoes. That’s really not that many for having been
chasing since 1999, but I’m certainly not going to complain. What isn’t
on that map are all the crazy supercells that I’ve been lucky enough to

I’ve chased in Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota,
Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas,
and Nebraska. In 99 I only had about 5 chases. 2000 I had around 12.
2001 about 20. 2002 and 2003 were probably around 25 chases each. 2004
I think was over 30 chases. 2005 I had 38 chases, the most I’ve had in
a year so far. 2006 should end up about the same as 2005. In 2005 I
drove around 18,000 miles just chasing storms. I’m guessing 2006 will
be very similar to that amount.

The largest hail I’ve seen was up to baseball on a couple occasions. I
was on the Aurora NE storm in 2003 not long after it produced the world
record for hail size. I would have loved to have been in it at the
time. I believe that record stone was over 17 inches around. Highest
wind I’ve been in would be very hard to say. Once it is over 70 mph it
can be hard to judge. I’ve been in winds likely over 70 mph a whole lot
of times. It actually seems easier to find tornadoes than it is to find
hail larger than baseballs or winds to 90 mph or more.”