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The Reality of Storm Chasing

We're still hard at work preparing for our chase in Tornado Alley this year. There is a lot to prepare and a lot of equipment to squire before we're reading to head out in May. As the peak of tornado season in the United States and Canada inches closer, there's a increase in interest in severe weather and also in storm chasing. Before I started chasing, I had a ton of questions about what it's like. A lot of storm chasers, including myself, get asked the question a lot: What is storm chasing like?

Based on movies like Twister and watching webisodes and documentaries on storm chasing, I thought storm chasing was a high adrenaline, fast paced, exciting, nerve wracking adventure; and it is - sometimes ...

An image from the movie "Twister" from 1996.

I have seen this presented many times by various storm chasers and I thought I'd give it a shot as well. Here is what a typical day of storm chasing is like when there are storms in the forecast:

  • 7:00am
    • wake up
    • get ready
    • have a peak at the weather (observations, satellite, etc.)
  • 8:00am
    • grab breakfast (in the hotel or at a quick restaurant)
    • continue to peak at the weather (observations, satellite, etc.)
    • decide a target for the day

Brad, Mark, and Dave forecasting the day's target in the hotel room.

  • 9:00am
    • pack the vehicle and head out towards that target

Preparing to pack the van with all of our luggage and gear ... It's quite the daunting task!

  • 11:00am
    • new model data begins to come out
    • reassess weather, models, observations, satellite and refine target
    • go to new target
  • 12:00pm - 4:00pm
    • grab some quick food and refuel
    • keep refreshing satellite, radar and observations

Brad and Dave refining the target and discussing routes to target.

  • 4:00 - 8:00pm
    • magic begins (hopefully), storms begin to form, chase begins

The gang checking out storms as they begin to go up.

  • 8:00 - 9:00pm
    • begin to lose light and chase winds down
    • pick a hotel that is roughly in range of your next day's target
  • 9:00 - 11:00pm
    • drive to new hotel and grab dinner
  • 11:00pm
    • check into room, settle in the for night
    • check some more weather and decide a target for next day
    • SLEEP

Of course that is a typical day. If you're lucky enough to be already in your target area, you can get a later start to the day. Also, storm initiation isn't at the same time every day. In a perfect world maybe, but the reality is that is varies day to day. If initiation is earlier, you may need an earlier start to the day. And of course, all this depends on IF there are storms that day. If there isn't, use the day to catch up on sleep, internet posts, formatting photography, editing video, or even sight seeing.

On a down day we had the opportunity of visiting the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The reality of storm chasing is that there is a lot of driving and not a lot of sleep. The first year we went we put 11,000 km on the rental vehicle. You will be living out of your vehicle. I'm not here to touch upon all the other aspects of storm chasing such as equipment, forecasting, costs but just to give you an idea of what a day of storm chasing is like. Prepare to drive a lot and eat not-so-great food on the go. There is a lot to storm chasing I didn't realize until I went with our crew the first year. If you're considering storm chasing, I highly recommend for your first time to go with a tour group (and there are many of them) or with someone who has done it before. This will guarantee you the safest and most exciting experience.

If you have questions about storm chasing or would like links to anything storm chasing related, feel free to contact me. All the information is found at the bottom or top right of the page via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook.

Reader Comments (2)

I nodded my head for every step of your chase day outline, yup, yup, isn't that the truth. Did never get into the prediction center though. Would like to some day. I love the roaming of the plains though, the picturesque views, smells and experiences. Getting to know your chase partners more than you want to sometimes lol and out having fun, doing what you dream of doing all winter long.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNotanee Bourassa

It's such a unique experience. And yes hahaha so much driving. Definitely finding out things about your chase partner you never really wanted to know!

April 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterDayna Vettese
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