First Chase in May

MichaelF

Enthusiast
Feb 18, 2019
6
1
1
Hayesville, NC
I'm planning to take a 5-7 day trip out to the plains in May. I have taken a couple weeks off (May 11-26) where I can in that window leave and go on the trip. This would be my first chase and have been busy trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible in order to pull off the trip both successfully and safely. I'm primarily looking to do some photography. I'm not out to try to get as close as possible to a tornado or do anything foolish, just after some good shots of various weather phenomena and enjoy the weather and the trip.

Right now as it stands I do not have a 2nd person coming with me. Although I am content and prepared to go alone I am not dismissing the fact of having a 2nd person would be very beneficial. I would certainly prefer someone I know personally rather than a stranger since there's no telling how someone might act should I encounter a tornado or whether I would get along with someone. So not sure about just searching around for someone just because. Like I said I'm content with going alone.

One of my concerns is the road network in some areas. I know apps like Google Maps doesn't differentiate dirt roads from paved roads are there any road atlas that do a better job of this?

Of course any advice for someone on their first chase would be greatly appreciated.
 
Oct 31, 2013
451
376
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
I chase by myself 99.9% of the time and have for many many years now. Here are some tips I can give:

* Get a Garmin standalone GPS unit. I have the dezl 770 which works great and shows paved/non paved roads. Paper maps are a no go when chasing alone.
* Keep your head on a swivel while actively pursuing storms. I don't get close and do only still photography, but I still ALWAYS pay attention.
* Don't get distracted by looking at your phone, GPS, etc. I know it's hard, but keep your eyes on the road as much as possible.
* Don't depend on radar as the gospel. Radar is great, but trust what you are actually SEEING.
* Pay attention to your gas tank. Fill it up whenever possible, especially when you get to 1/2 a tank.
* Get your ham radio license if you don't have one. It's a great way to communicate to fellow chasers, and it can be another life line if you get into trouble.
* Charge your phone and keep it charged when possible.
* Keep an eye on your vehicle because that is your most important chase tool. Keep an eye on oil levels, spare tire, hoses, belts, etc.
* Buy a few cans of fix-a-flat and have a few basic tools in your car.
* Carry gorilla tape and clear plastic sheeting in case you happen to get yourself in large hail and sustain a broken window.
* ALWAYS try to position yourself with at least 2 good escape routes. Generally east and south if you can. This is probably one of the top tips I can give you. Always keep in mind what road you would take if you had to escape quickly from a tornado/large hail. Pay special attention to right turning supercells. They can get you quickly if you're not paying attention.

I'm sure I missed something, but these are basically the top tips for chasing alone. As always, the key word is SAFETY!
 
Last edited:

Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
680
714
21
55
Menominee, MI
Good list by Jason. I would add that if you are chasing alone, pass on fast moving storms. If they are moving 30-35 knots or more, it’s really not safe trying to keep track of the road network, the radar/velocity and watching what the storm is doing while driving at highway speeds. You’ll need to be driving the whole time to keep up. There won’t be hardly any time to stop and enjoy.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff House
Oct 31, 2013
451
376
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
A couple of more tips here:

* Never get keyed in on one storm. Zoom the radar out once in a while to get a look at other storms that may be heading your way. Example: You're chasing a supercell that right moves and you have to bail south. You look at radar and see a tornado warned cell 15 miles to your SW moving NE. Hopefully you have an option to go east in this situation.

* Never under any circumstance chase at night if you're chasing alone. It's hard enough with another set of eyes.

* Do not speed at night unless it's an absolute emergency. Many things can ruin your day if you're speeding on rural roads in the plains such as...deer/wildlife, flooding/wet roads, debris, not familiar with roads, etc.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff House
Jan 7, 2006
573
725
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
* Get a Garmin standalone GPS unit. I have the dezl 770 which works great and shows paved/non paved roads. Paper maps are a no go when chasing alone.
I couldn't agree more with this one. Garmin-style standalone units went out of vogue with the masses years ago, causing prices to drop. At current prices (especially used), these are a no-brainer for any chaser; especially solo chasers.

After my old one failed a couple years ago, I got a more recent model used from a high school kid for $25. He said his grandma gifted it to him and he had no use for it, illustrating what a niche product these have become! The value it's provided me on chases (and even just traveling in general) is so far beyond that, it's almost laughable. Having a map that's always visible within your normal field of view, not reliant on internet, not draining your phone battery, and not competing for your attention with other apps is a lifesaver on the Plains.

Seriously: if you can find a decent standalone GPS unit on Craigslist for under $30-40 (pretty likely if you're near a major city), it's one of the best cost-value propositions you'll find in this hobby.
 
I chase by myself 99.9% of the time and have for many many years now. Here are some tips I can give:

* Get a Garmin standalone GPS unit. I have the dezl 770 which works great and shows paved/non paved roads. Paper maps are a no go when chasing alone.
* Keep your head on a swivel while actively pursuing storms. I don't get close and do only still photography, but I still ALWAYS pay attention.
* Don't get distracted by looking at your phone, GPS, etc. I know it's hard, but keep your eyes on the road as much as possible.
* Don't depend on radar as the gospel. Radar is great, but trust what you are actually SEEING.
* Pay attention to your gas tank. Fill it up whenever possible, especially when you get to 1/2 a tank.
* Get your ham radio license if you don't have one. It's a great way to communicate to fellow chasers, and it can be another life line if you get into trouble.
* Charge your phone and keep it charged when possible.
* Keep an eye on your vehicle because that is your most important chase tool. Keep an eye on oil levels, spare tire, hoses, belts, etc.
* Buy a few cans of fix-a-flat and have a few basic tools in your car.
* Carry gorilla tape and clear plastic sheeting in case you happen to get yourself in large hail and sustain a broken window.
* ALWAYS try to position yourself with at least 2 good escape routes. Generally east and south if you can. This is probably one of the top tips I can give you. Always keep in mind what road you would take if you had to escape quickly from a tornado/large hail. Pay special attention to right turning supercells. They can get you quickly if you're not paying attention.

I'm sure I missed something, but these are basically the top tips for chasing alone. As always, the key word is SAFETY!
I 100% agree with everything that was said by Jason. ^^^

Sent from my Pixel 2 using Stormtrack mobile app
 

MichaelF

Enthusiast
Feb 18, 2019
6
1
1
Hayesville, NC
I chase by myself 99.9% of the time and have for many many years now. Here are some tips I can give:

* Get a Garmin standalone GPS unit. I have the dezl 770 which works great and shows paved/non paved roads. Paper maps are a no go when chasing alone.
* Keep your head on a swivel while actively pursuing storms. I don't get close and do only still photography, but I still ALWAYS pay attention.
* Don't get distracted by looking at your phone, GPS, etc. I know it's hard, but keep your eyes on the road as much as possible.
* Don't depend on radar as the gospel. Radar is great, but trust what you are actually SEEING.
* Pay attention to your gas tank. Fill it up whenever possible, especially when you get to 1/2 a tank.
* Get your ham radio license if you don't have one. It's a great way to communicate to fellow chasers, and it can be another life line if you get into trouble.
* Charge your phone and keep it charged when possible.
* Keep an eye on your vehicle because that is your most important chase tool. Keep an eye on oil levels, spare tire, hoses, belts, etc.
* Buy a few cans of fix-a-flat and have a few basic tools in your car.
* Carry gorilla tape and clear plastic sheeting in case you happen to get yourself in large hail and sustain a broken window.
* ALWAYS try to position yourself with at least 2 good escape routes. Generally east and south if you can. This is probably one of the top tips I can give you. Always keep in mind what road you would take if you had to escape quickly from a tornado/large hail. Pay special attention to right turning supercells. They can get you quickly if you're not paying attention.

I'm sure I missed something, but these are basically the top tips for chasing alone. As always, the key word is SAFETY!
Thanks for all the tips, I can't agree more with what everyone has had to say. Seems that Garmin unit @Jason Boggs mentioned must be quite sought after, definitely more expensive. I never owned a Garmin GPS but I did have a Tom Tom years ago and seemed the big problem with it, specifically, was outdated maps and I don't recall that it was able to differentiate between paved and non-paved roads. Not sure if all Garmin units differentiate paved and non-paved, but I will try to do my homework there. It would be worth having even if isn't always accurate, not going to have time to try to look at satellite imagery to find out. I'm also looking for any apps that might do the same but I don't have high hopes on that.

So speaking of vehicles. I'm driving a Toyota Prius Prime, which is the plug-in variant of the normal Prius. So the good thing, aside from getting good gas mileage and no belts of any kind, is that it being a plug in, I can stop the car, leave it on in EV mode and run the AC and all the accessories without using any gas at all. The bad side of the Prius is yeah not super fast and they do sit low, the new ones are lower than the previous generation so that makes dirt roads more likely to be a no go. One's that are both dry and good condition should be fine, whether they stay that way or getting caught on a dirt road with heavy rain may pose a bit a problem. There are other issues I have to consider about the car such as it lacks a spare tire but Toyota was kind enough to provide fix-a-flat and a tire repair kit and of course I do carry an air pump but something more significant than a nail might leave me stranded or waiting on a tow truck which might be a long ways away. So there are certainly better chase vehicles, not going to try to sell that but barring a blow out or baseball sized hail busting out the rear window which will cost over $1200 to replace, it should be fine. So needless to say I will be carrying duct tape but hopefully I won't have to use it. There is a good chance that replacement glass will not be available, so more reason to not get close.

I do have a ham radio license and part of the preparation of the trip I installed a dual band radio (nothing fancy just a QYT 8900), I did get a good antenna however. I think it might even be the same one that Daniel Shaw uses on his chase vehicle. https://www.diamondantenna.net/nr770hrks.html Seems to work well and that adhesive they use, I sure hope I don't have to try and take it off anytime soon, I really doubt high winds will pose a problem. The radio is a bit under powered at 25 watts but the antenna seems to make up (quite a bit) for it in my testing.

I did also invest in a weBoost drive sleek, which also seems to work pretty well. I do happen to live in a rural area in western NC and cell service is one of those things that is hit or miss. So probably not a bad thing to have around here anyway. My idea was to use my phone as a hotspot and be able to use the phone for navigation and the iPad for radar updates, or vice versa. Both do have data plans but in areas where data might only work through the booster I would be able to use both. Of course, the hotspot idea has it's flaws. But I do have plenty of time to test all the gear and find out ways to make it work better, I guess I'm lucky to live in an area with sketchy cell service since that makes testing out things much easier and help give realistic expectations on how things are likely to perform.

No kidding about Doppler not being gospel. It's good to keep track at what's going on but once you're in position, you should definitely use your eyes. Plus in area where cell signal is weak, you might be looking at radar images that are 10-15 minutes old and a lot can happen in that amount of time.

Good list by Jason. I would add that if you are chasing alone, pass on fast moving storms. If they are moving 30-35 knots or more, it’s really not safe trying to keep track of the road network, the radar/velocity and watching what the storm is doing while driving at highway speeds. You’ll need to be driving the whole time to keep up. There won’t be hardly any time to stop and enjoy.
@Todd Lemery now that's something I might not have given a lot of thought about until I encountered something like that. I have to agree, especially with questionable road networks and storms making turns and so forth.

A couple of more tips here:

* Never get keyed in on one storm. Zoom the radar out once in a while to get a look at other storms that may be heading your way. Example: You're chasing a supercell that right moves and you have to bail south. You look at radar and see a tornado warned cell 15 miles to your SW moving NE. Hopefully you have an option to go east in this situation.

* Never under any circumstance chase at night if you're chasing alone. It's hard enough with another set of eyes.

* Do not speed at night unless it's an absolute emergency. Many things can ruin your day if you're speeding on rural roads in the plains such as...deer/wildlife, flooding/wet roads, debris, not familiar with roads, etc.
I definitely have no plans to chase at night. The only thing I may do is some time-lapse should I find myself in a spot where you can see a storm firing off a lot of lightning that is 50+ miles away. Otherwise, that would be a no go.

I would also think that local law enforcement might be pretty happy to write someone a ticket for 5 over the limit....

That does bring me to a few other questions. Seems that there are mixed feelings about storm chasers. I know that with, anything, there are a few people that ruin it for everyone else. I've come across a few good examples, in my opinion, someone shouldn't do, like lay the horn on a sherriff's deputy because they're blocking the road. While I have no intention on doing anything that would be deemed unethical, not sure if there is a code of ethics or perhaps some things that someone might unknowingly do that might upset locals, law enforcement or other chasers. I would think much of it would be common sense sort of things.

That all being said I appreciate everyone's tips and advice.:)
 
Oct 31, 2013
451
376
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
Glad I could help you out!

There is a code of ethics. It's a long list of items, but I'll break it down into 2 simple rules:

Obey all traffic laws at all times, and treat everyone you encounter with the same respect you'd like to be treated with. If you do those 2 things, you'll be just fine out there.
 

MichaelF

Enthusiast
Feb 18, 2019
6
1
1
Hayesville, NC
@Jason Boggs All that make sense, probably overthinking that aspect of it too.

The only thing I'm having a hard time finding information on is what Garmin models have maps that do differentiate paved/dirt roads, seems the model you have appears to be pretty sought after seems a lot of used ones are going for $400+ which is a bit out of my budget. Not sure if there are certain models that do it or if it just depends on the maps that are loaded on to the device.

Am looking at some android apps, while so far some have nice features like offline maps but none so far offer any visual indication whether a road is paved or not. So far no dice.
 

Jeff House

Supporter
Jun 1, 2008
609
660
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
I doubt you'll have any problems with police if obeying laws, and just storm chasing. Some of the decked out chase vehicles attract attention. A Prius will not.

If you see police/fire on the side of the road, make sure it's OK to proceed. Sometimes I slow down and just wave or otherwise make eye contact. Never been asked to stop. If in doubt just stop and ask. Road blocks, of course stop and ask.

Sometimes people ask questions, mainly about their personal safety. I've not been grilled for storm chasing. Usually we're able to say it will miss to the north. If not, I'm out of position, lol! Seriously, if they are a driver I might find out their direction of travel. If necessary advise to wait or otherwise avoid danger.

Finally I want to triple down on two escape routes. Typically it is east and south. I also like to back into a ranch pull-out vs just side of the road. Either case I want it to be a right turn to depart. Left turns are less safe, esp in traffic with a bunch of others escaping.
 
May 28, 2018
13
2
1
Castro Valley, CA.
I couldn't agree more with this one. Garmin-style standalone units went out of vogue with the masses years ago, causing prices to drop. At current prices (especially used), these are a no-brainer for any chaser; especially solo chasers.

After my old one failed a couple years ago, I got a more recent model used from a high school kid for $25. He said his grandma gifted it to him and he had no use for it, illustrating what a niche product these have become! The value it's provided me on chases (and even just traveling in general) is so far beyond that, it's almost laughable. Having a map that's always visible within your normal field of view, not reliant on internet, not draining your phone battery, and not competing for your attention with other apps is a lifesaver on the Plains.

Seriously: if you can find a decent standalone GPS unit on Craigslist for under $30-40 (pretty likely if you're near a major city), it's one of the best cost-value propositions you'll find in this hobby.
Curious, what about loading Google Maps OFFLINE mode. I use it a lot for usual navigation in areas where there is no cell coverage and works fine with my Iphone on a magnetic mount on my dash since that has a GPS built in. Would that work and has anyone tried that offline mode? What software do you use with those cheap GPS used units? Some sort of software loaded on a laptop? Thanks,
 
Jan 7, 2006
573
725
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
Curious, what about loading Google Maps OFFLINE mode. I use it a lot for usual navigation in areas where there is no cell coverage and works fine with my Iphone on a magnetic mount on my dash since that has a GPS built in. Would that work and has anyone tried that offline mode? What software do you use with those cheap GPS used units? Some sort of software loaded on a laptop? Thanks,
I definitely recommend storing offline maps on your phone as an additional lifeline (whether Google, MAPS.ME, or otherwise), and agree they can be very handy.

But for me, having the trusty Garmin mounted right below the rearview mirror has been a godsend. For so little money, reserving my phone strictly for data connectivity is well worth it: no excessive battery drain, risk of overheating, screen burn-in, etc. from 24/7 navigation use. And, most importantly, the Garmin is always there and always displaying a zoomed map of where I am, no matter what else is going on. That can be valuable as you approach an unfamiliar intersection or you're trying to make your way through a town.

For the record, I'm talking about dedicated display units like this: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/garmin...ime-map-updates-black/5715643.p?skuId=5715643

They've kept entry level prices of new units above $100 by adding better screens and more bells and whistles over the years, but I don't care about Bluetooth or routing or traffic -- all I want is the map to see where I am and what my road options are. If that's what you're after, models from 5 years ago going for dirt cheap used will do the trick as well as anything.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff House
May 28, 2018
13
2
1
Castro Valley, CA.
I definitely recommend storing offline maps on your phone as an additional lifeline (whether Google, MAPS.ME, or otherwise), and agree they can be very handy.

But for me, having the trusty Garmin mounted right below the rearview mirror has been a godsend. For so little money, reserving my phone strictly for data connectivity is well worth it: no excessive battery drain, risk of overheating, screen burn-in, etc. from 24/7 navigation use. And, most importantly, the Garmin is always there and always displaying a zoomed map of where I am, no matter what else is going on. That can be valuable as you approach an unfamiliar intersection or you're trying to make your way through a town.

For the record, I'm talking about dedicated display units like this: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/garmin...ime-map-updates-black/5715643.p?skuId=5715643

They've kept entry level prices of new units above $100 by adding better screens and more bells and whistles over the years, but I don't care about Bluetooth or routing or traffic -- all I want is the map to see where I am and what my road options are. If that's what you're after, models from 5 years ago going for dirt cheap used will do the trick as well as anything.
Great advice, thanks!
 

MichaelF

Enthusiast
Feb 18, 2019
6
1
1
Hayesville, NC
@Brett Roberts Does your Garmin visually show the difference between paved/un-paved roads? @Jason Boggs said that his dezl 770 does, but seems the dezl units are more pricey as they're targeted for truck drivers. That feature would be the selling point for me. I haven't owned a dedicated GPS unit in over a decade and from what I can tell these units have come a very long way from the old TomTom I had way back in the day. Back then it would have you going the wrong way on one way roads and all sorts of surprises.

@Jay Goldberg Yes, the offline maps work just fine. They do expire and something to keep in mind if you tether devices together, Wi-Fi hotspot, you want to make sure it doesn't decide to download tons of map updates while you're connected to a hotspot as it will eat your data. Same goes with using the Satellite layer, made that mistake once. The only other oddity I've noticed with the offline maps is that it will not read out the names of the roads, even though it will display them just fine, it will simply say right turn in 1/4 mile, etc. As long as you have a data connection it will use the most up to date data and read road names, traffic, etc. Most of that might be rinse and repeat but just in case someone doesn't know about the slight difference in behavior Google Maps has between online/offline maps.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jay Goldberg
Oct 31, 2013
451
376
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
Michael, most if not all Garmin GPS devices will show the diff between paved and dirt. You just have to zoom in and they will show up. On mine the paved roads are orange colored, and the dirt are gray colored.
 
Mar 8, 2016
182
280
11
Bloomington, IL
Curious, what about loading Google Maps OFFLINE mode. I use it a lot for usual navigation in areas where there is no cell coverage and works fine with my Iphone on a magnetic mount on my dash since that has a GPS built in. Would that work and has anyone tried that offline mode? What software do you use with those cheap GPS used units? Some sort of software loaded on a laptop? Thanks,
I had my first experience chasing without reliable data on 12/1/18(no Verizon coverage west of Jacksonville, IL) and having downloaded offline maps to google maps on my tablet was a life saver. It worked out incredibly well and I highly recommend anyone utilizing their Android phones for navigation do the same prior to each chase.
 
May 28, 2018
13
2
1
Castro Valley, CA.
I had my first experience chasing without reliable data on 12/1/18(no Verizon coverage west of Jacksonville, IL) and having downloaded offline maps to google maps on my tablet was a life saver. It worked out incredibly well and I highly recommend anyone utilizing their Android phones for navigation do the same prior to each chase.
Great to hear. I have never chased yet but hope to find someone online that would want a good right hand seat navigator/radar, data person with a lot of pro camera gear. I am also a licensed ham radio operator but not sure that adds any value. One day!
 
Jan 7, 2006
573
725
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
@Brett Roberts Does your Garmin visually show the difference between paved/un-paved roads? @Jason Boggs said that his dezl 770 does, but seems the dezl units are more pricey as they're targeted for truck drivers. That feature would be the selling point for me. I haven't owned a dedicated GPS unit in over a decade and from what I can tell these units have come a very long way from the old TomTom I had way back in the day. Back then it would have you going the wrong way on one way roads and all sorts of surprises.
Mine doesn't explicitly show the difference, but typically the thinner gray lines are unpaved. I'm not sure I've ever used a data source that reliably discriminates pavement, though. Google, Bing, MAPS.ME, Garmin, you name it: they all have mistakes in remote sections of the Plains grid. I consider Google the gold standard, but even it routed me through a miles-long unpaved stretch in SE CO to get home a couple years ago!
 

MichaelF

Enthusiast
Feb 18, 2019
6
1
1
Hayesville, NC
@Brett Roberts Thanks for the info. I was looking at a few different map sources and it does seem that most do not, I think the best contender so far for a smart phone app is US Topo maps but it's a mixed bag at best. I'd say the worst thing would be roads that simply do not exist.

That being said I think the big thing I need to focus on is forecasting. I've been looking at tons of material, from Tim Vasquez's book, to Rich Thompson's workshops from OU. If there's one thing I've learned it is there is more to learn and then some more.