Honest Question about Hurricane Chasing

Jan 31, 2017
90
73
11
Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
Clearly, there is an appeal here that I am missing. Is it a running-with-the-bulls type of adrenaline rush? Is it different from a tornado chase in the rush that it brings? I would like to understand, because I do not like not understanding things. And I do not understand traveling from halfway across the country to spend two days in a room without power, eating only protein bars. These are the types of situations I try to avoid.
 
There are different types of hurricane chases. When I was in the eye wall of Hurricane Andrew (Cat-5) it was a complete spanking with insane noises and the expereince of a lifetime as a professional chaser. I was only 100 yards from the ocean, but I had massive infrastructure around me and the 180+ winds. I was safe for the most part (until I ventured out in the AM). Being on the mainland, loaded with gear, I knew I would not require rescue, taking away valuable assets from those who needed it, like babies and the badly injured. The hurricanes I've chased in the Cat 2-3 range are much easier to chase. I have private clients who still pay good money for journalist-quality footage of the storm in progress. I also learn from these events as a first responder and can pass on such knowledge, or I can also render aid if needed. I seriously thought about diverting to the Bahamas after my Florida flight was cancelled. It was an option, but I did not want to become a part of the problem and possibly require rescue, taking away aid from those in need. In addition, the footage from such events is actually low value, unless you can be on / near the shore when it hits, otherwise, it's a white-out, flooding or damage, which everyone shoots and will be old news in 24 hours.
 

David Cox

Enthusiast
Oct 4, 2017
8
2
1
Jacksonville, FL
There seems to be some issues on the proper way and situations to chase. One comes off as daring, where their actions may have endangered others or put chasing in an unfavorable light. This usually invites scrunity of outside parties who see one as typical of all.

Is there a listing that consolidates the "best practices" for storm chasing various weather types? Other fields I am involved with have developed them. There can be a bit of disagreement among the knowledgeable of what best is, but as long as they give their reasoning it would be useful to newcomers.
 
The problem is that weather information outlets including TWC do not have the desire or professionalism to differentiate between amateur acts (stunts) and genuine journalism. You would think that after dealing with so many tragedies involving poor chasing decisions they would have learned. One of the reasons I stopped working and contributing with them is they have made no effort to embrace the "professional" elements of storm chasing, but always align with the "extreme" side because they simply do not care.
 

James K

EF2
Mar 26, 2019
174
71
6
Colorado
Warren Faidley said:
The big problem right now is violent crime. Multiple reports coming in. I'd hide those SD cards on my person if they have good footage. It's one thing to lose your equipment, but the footage would be painful.
Yep you'd deff want to hide/protect those SD cards.
Actually, and I almost hate to say this, but if you're going hurricane chasing, bringing a gun along for your own protection (criminals and wildlife) probably isn't a bad idea.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,529
2,198
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
We had a similar thread on this subject here:

 
Jul 5, 2009
873
589
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
Clearly, there is an appeal here that I am missing. Is it a running-with-the-bulls type of adrenaline rush? Is it different from a tornado chase in the rush that it brings? I would like to understand, because I do not like not understanding things. And I do not understand traveling from halfway across the country to spend two days in a room without power, eating only protein bars. These are the types of situations I try to avoid.
First let me say that I have never actually chased a hurricane, other than going down to the beach in Long Island or New Jersey for hurricanes that came close; some of these did make landfall but I was just heading to beaches close to where I lived at the time, not specifically targeting the eye.

But it’s on my bucket list and I absolutely see the appeal. In fact, when a hurricane is threatening land, and when I see hurricane footage, I get the same gnawing desire to be there as I get seeing a supercell on radar or watching tornado chase videos. Hurricanes were actually my first weather interest growing up on Long Island, well before I ever even thought about chasing a tornado.

The pure exhilaration of feeling the power of the wind has got to be an incredibly intense experience. The sensation of all hell breaking loose. We’ve all gotten a taste of that in storm chasing. The idea is not to be “in” the supercell, but most if not all of us have of course been close enough to feel its effects. The exhilaration of standing in strong inflow, transecting an RFD, being inside the bear’s cage, or even just allowing a squall line or derecho to run over you (while having appropriate shelter of course). Just experiencing severe thunderstorms at home and watching the rain blow sideways is a rush. Same thing even with blizzards and nor’easters here in the northeast where I live. I imagine in a hurricane this would be at least double the intensity. And storm surge particularly fascinates me. I look at before and after pictures of a coastline, where you can tell how far the water came up because of the damage or sand deposited in the streets, and it simply boggles my mind to imagine how the ocean could have come up that far. It is impossible for me to imagine or visualize that the water’s edge in the calm before and after photos somehow moved as far inland as the damage proves it did. I would just love to see that somehow, but it may be next to impossible to do so safely.

Remember, most people think we’re all nuts for chasing supercells and tornados too! They will never understand why we do what we do. Although we can explain *what* we like about storm chasing, it’s impossible to explain *why* we are wired this way. The same can be said about the myriad of niche passions out there. So don’t worry about not understanding it, you probably shouldn’t even try! But I am surprised how many chasers do NOT seem to have an interest in hurricane chasing, or actually seem to disparage it. There are obviously related and overlapping experiences in both storm chasing and hurricane chasing. I always assumed most of us love storms of ALL types.

Now, whether it is worth the time and trouble or not is a different question... There are reasons I haven’t actually chased a hurricane yet. I am not in a situation with work and family where I can drop everything with a couple days’ notice and run off somewhere for who-knows-how-long; at least with storm chasing I can take a two-week trip in late May and be reasonably certain of seeing something interesting. I am also perplexed by the logistics - being allowed to stay in a hotel or parking garage in an evacuation zone. Last thing I want is to travel somewhere, scout out locations and come up with nothing. Even if I could somehow make plans ahead of time, what happens when the eye wobbles just before landfall and you have to find a new location, again in an evacuation zone, maybe with a curfew in place. And as you said, who wants to stay in a room without power eating snacks for a day or more afterwards? Attempting any of this on an island is even more insurmountable to me, and then you add the inability to get home, the risk of crime and looting, etc. It’s one thing to go to a lot of trouble before the event, but once you have already experienced it I would imagine the positives of the experience quickly fade from memory while enduring the aggravation afterwards.
 
Chasing hurricanes comes down to a simple formula of three things: Where, when and how strong.

Where: I generally don't chase tropical cyclones outside the US for several reasons, including cost and lack of infrastructure. There are also issues with crime, getting out of disaster zones and potentially requiring assistance -- taking away valuable assets from residents. It's simply not worth the risk and footage outside the US does not market well. I might chase in Mexico on the Pacific side if the right storm hits a major city. I don't chase anything east of Daytona, Florida except for a few select locations that offer the right perspective and protection.

When: I avoid any night-falling hurricane if possible, as the footage is worthless. The timing is sometimes impossible to predict so you have to take the chance, especially with anything above Cat 4. I lucked out with Hurricane Andrew, as it was still howling for an hour or so at daybreak, but I missed about 90 percent of the action as it was dark.

Strength: I avoid anything under a strong Cat 2. I've found that it requires winds (or gusts) of over 110 mph to make good footage. I prefer storm surges over 8ft., preferably 10ft or higher. Images and footage with wind and surge sell the best, so I like being in the surge (actually in it or in a survivable structure) as it offers the best perspective. I should note that I spend hours surveying a surge area and I know where it's safe to go and where I can escape as the water rises. I know where manholes and other dangers exist. I also have a lot of safety equipment with me. It's basically a water park on steroids.

Ike-15.jpg
 
Jul 5, 2009
873
589
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
.... Strength: I avoid anything under a strong Cat 2. I've found that it requires winds (or gusts) of over 110 mph to make good footage. I prefer storm surges over 8ft., preferably 10ft or higher. Images and footage with wind and surge sell the best, so I like being in the surge (actually in it or in a survivable structure) as it offers the best perspective. I should note that I spend hours surveying a surge area and I know where it's safe to go and where I can escape as the water rises. I know where manholes and other dangers exist. I also have a lot of safety equipment with me. It's basically a water park on steroids....

View attachment 19427
Is it always possible to escape the surge? Aren’t there situations where the ocean comes in very fast, literally a wall of water, almost like a tsunami?
 
Ocean storm surge builds and does not strike like a tidal wave. With a big storm, like Katrina, the water can start rising a day in advance. This was also noted recently in the Bahamas and before the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. Once the high winds and core hits, the surge can rise much quicker, including wind-driven waves on top of the surge. This is extremely destructive. If water control devices like dams, dikes or levees break, non-surge flash flooding can occur. This could send retained surge water back towards the coast -- something chasers need to be aware of. There is a "sweet-spot" time right before the angry surge / big waves hit, and after the surge retreats where it's possible to work outside. Most people die when they become trapped in the angry surge / waves with battering debris. Manholes, sharp debris, chemicals, snakes, alligators, electrical hazards, drainage inlets, nails and other things are surge hazards. I was stung by jelly fish during Hurricane Ike.
 
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Reactions: Todd Lemery
Feb 27, 2009
463
75
11
Texarkana, AR
I'm pretty new to hurricanes. Been down for 5 and have not made it to the coast. Really don't plan to go all the way to the coast in the near future as I'm not a fan of water at all. But, I love new experiences. My life is all of the basic things it requires of me and also about finding new experiences. I want to see it and feel it and experience it. Almost everytime I take a walk in the woods around my house i see or experience something new. Storms are always a new experience. They can be mild or very wild and you can choose your experiences by choosing what storm to engage. You can also choose your experiences by how you engage. There will always be surprises though and new experiences you never expected. I chase storms because I want to. That is the only reason. It's amazing to me that people feel obligated to fulfill a need or purpose other than that. I always assist people when I can and have several times, and have never required assistance. I have plenty of gear and a chainsaw and although my goal is to never be in danger of water, I even carry a lifejacket. I pack all my food. Have a 4 wheel drive truck in which I installed a oversized tank. It can hold 56 gallons of diesel total, plus I take 10 more with me. I sleep in it where ever I go. Some people would not enjoy eating snacks and pooping in the woods during a hurricane but I consider it a great experience.

I wanted to say something about Josh since he was in the news and mentioned here. I would think basically noone cares about the concerns presented here. I don't care. There was a huge cane coming and he chased it because he is a hurricane chaser. I don't know anything about him really other than I read about his Dorian experience the other day when someone shared it on FB. I thought it was really interesting and well written. Had never heard of "icyclone" until Dorian. I had heard his name before though, seems like he might have even posted on here. Looks like he is doing what he loves, what a hurricane chaser would do.
 
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