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We're Almost There

It's getting close ... the "not-so-specific" departure date of our storm chasing trip. The earliest we could leave this was the morning of May 9th (this morning) as that was when I got off work before vacation time. Initially we were hoping to leave but the overall weather pattern isn't exactly cooperating for storm chasers (cooperating if you don't like storms!).

The pattern over this week and beginning next week does not look favourable for any sort of severe weather outbreak in favourable chase territory. However, after looking through the ensembles and long range models, there are hints that the later half of May could still hold some eventful days. Nothing jumps out and screams "tornado outbreak" which, for a chaser, is what you hope for but that doesn't mean there won't be any storms to chase.

This extended period of boring weather has actually worked slightly in our favour: it's given us a little extra time to get our finishing touches done on the hail guards as well as iron out some internet and electronic issues. We're aiming to leave most likely the beginning of next week (week of May 13th) so we'll see how the patterns progress.

We will be heading back to Niagara to finish up the preps on the vehicle. Here is a preliminary picture of the hail guards:

The driver side hail guards (not including the trunk hail guard).

Once we get them done I'll take some proper pictures of the chase vehicle including the hail guards are interior set up. So here is hoping the pattern cooperates and we can get out to Tornado Alley and chase some supercells and hopefully find some tornadoes.

Hail Guards Nearing Completion

We've been hard at work the last couple of weeks planning, gathering and purchasing the items we need to complete our hail guards in time for the trip. We have a bit of work left to do but we're happy with the amount of work we have done. The hail guards for the front and middle driver and passenger windows are complete. The framing and complete for the rear windows. Left to do is add the Lexan onto the rear windows and build the hail guard for the trunk window. Here are a few images of the front window hail guards that are retractable (flip up and down depending on if we need them or not):

 The steel bar that the retractable Lexan guard will be fastened to.The hail guard (with protective sheet still on) in "deployed" position.The hail guard in the down position when not in use.

The hail guards for the middle windows will not be retractable. Due to the curvature of the vehicle, it would be far too difficult at the moment so they will remain in the deployed position at all time.

It was a miserable few days to be working on the vehicles. Temperatures were around 5°C with rain, snow and wind. We huddled in the garage, had some space heaters going and got to work. We'll be working on the guards again in a few days and putting the final touches on everything. We also are on the hunt for a certain connection we need to hook up the electronics to the vehicle's battery.

About 12 days until we leave! Getting excited and nervous ... Mostly nervous about getting everything done in time. Very excited to head down.

April Preparations Continue

The biggest part of preparing for any chase trip is prepping the vehicle. You're more or less living out of your car the entire time. Yes, you spend the night in a hotel but you spend the majority of your time in or standing around your vehicle.

To prepare the vehicle, we needed several pieces of electronic equipment in the car: 

  • HAM radio
  • power inverter
  • wireless internet
  • laptop with ...
    • GPS software
    • GRLevel radar software (or another kind of radar software)
    • Mapping software 

So all these devices run on power so we purchased a power inverter that will convert the vehicle's battery power into useable electricity for our electronics. We also had to hook up the HAM radio directly to the vehicle's battery as well. It took us a while to find the spot in the vehicle where the wires from the electronics in the vehicle feed into the power under the hood; known as the "firewall". With help from Mark, we managed to find it tucked away. So we were able to run the power for the radio and the inverter to the vehicle's battery. Due to the amount of power a vehicle can produce and electronics can drain, it was important to make sure the inverter could handle the power, the vehicle could handle the inverter and that the correct gauge of wire was selected to handle the flow of electricity. 

Mark checking underneath the vehicle.

The other important thing to make sure of is that the wires are all neatly organized in the vehicle. This way when you're hopping in and out, you don't risk tripping over the wires or, even worse, tearing the wires out and damaging something. All the wires are tucked away or taped down so they won't be a hazard to anyone. It is also important to make sure there are no loose live wires that could be an electrocution danger. If it is your first time hooking up electronics in your vehicle, make sure you don't do it on your own. Get someone who has done it before or a professional this way everything is done properly.

Visit my Photography section where I've uploaded a few pictures of us preparing the vehicle:

Storm Chase 2012 - April Preparations

So now we have a working HAM radio in the vehicle for communication and a power source for our laptops, wireless internet and any other devices we may need to hook up such as re-charging a camera or cell phone. Another project we've decided to undertake is manufacturing hail guards for the vehicle. We have absolutely no intention of "core-punching" or driving the vehicle directly into large hail. That is not the purpose of these hail guards. There are always risks not only in storm chasing but visit a part of the U.S. prone to storms and hail. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you're stuck and there's going to be large, unavoidable hail. We, of course, would rather this never happen but sometimes you can't always help it. Here's an example of a situation where Scott McPartland, Dave Lewison, and Chris Kridler were trapped by power lines damaged by an incredible tornado but then had to endure softball-sized hail:

The hail guards are more of a precaution. We could be sleeping in a hotel and a storm rolls through during the night and drops hail. So hail is a real danger than can sometimes be unavoidable. Other big dangers, besides the storms themselves, include deer on the highway, transport trucks, other drivers, etc. But back to the hail guards ...

We found our inspiration in Scott's vehicle; hail guards manufactured and designed by Scott and Dave. Here's a link to the chase vehicle page: Scott and Dave's Chase Vehicle. We of course had to modify the design because our vehicle is different than Scott's XTerra. We have to order some of the materials as well so we're waiting for those to arrive and then we can begin manufacturing the hail guards. They will not be permanent structures but rather held on with very strong magnets and clips. It's important to not only attach the guards with magnets but to make sure they're secured by other means. The weight of the guards can drag the magnets slowly down with time so clipping the guard into the frame of the vehicle is important as well. In the next couple of weeks we will be manufacturing the guards and I'll post pictures and videos with updates.


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.

2012 Preparations Begin!

Preparations for the 2012 storm chase adventure have begun. This year I will be storm chasing with meteorologist Brad Rousseau and our classmate/co-worker meteorologist and engineering Simon Eng. This will be the third year that Brad and I will be storm chasing in Tornado Alley but this will be Simon's first year so we hope it will be an eventful one for him. We will be meeting up with friends and fellow storm chasers Dave Lewison and Scott McPartland. Also, Mark Robinson will be shooting more episodes of Storm Hunters this spring in Tornado Alley.

If you ever think of taking your vehicle storm chasing and worry about damage to the vehicle, Dave and Scott installed hail guards on Scott's vehicle. They put together a great video as part of their web series Rolling Thunder: True Storm Chasing Stories. Click on the picture below to see the video on how their hail guards evolved:

It's fantastic that we have Simon coming with us this year. Not only because he's a good friend and knows a lot about tornadoes, but he's an engineer and it's always handy to have an engineer to help (right Dave?). 

So check back as I'll be updating the website with preparations, videos and photos leading up to our May departure.

Meanwhile you can also follow us on Twitter or visit the Facebook page:

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