New member with a few questions

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J Wesley

Enthusiast
Jun 11, 2019
2
0
1
Kentucky
Hey folks, my account just became approved today, so I thought I'd post here with some questions that have been burning. I'm relatively new to "actual" storm chasing - which I personally consider analyzing forecasts, conditions, radar imagery, and actually travelling TO a weather event. I'm somewhat (I'd consider myself a 4/10) "actual" storm spotter - which I consider as one who only reports weather conditions in a given area. So while I understand they can be similar, I feel the two are different. Nevertheless..

I do have some working knowledge of severe weather due to being a NWS trained spotter, weather enthusiast, and amateur radio operator. While I wouldn't consider my knowledge vast, I do feel I have enough to observe severe weather in a safe manner for myself and others. Safety is MUCH more than personal safety and includes being courteous and responsible IMO. I've never actually been storm chasing, though it's something I'd like to do on a "vacational" basis. I have several bits of equipment, including amateur radio gear, RadarScope on my iPhone, GRLevel3 on my PC, and a GPS receiver that will plot my location on the GRLevel3 program. My primary objective isn't to gather any scientific information as much as it is to observe weather events in a safe and responsible manner.

That's why I'm here. To gather information, tips, tricks, advice, and use it all to learn and hopefully have a fun and rewarding experience. On to my questions..

In regard to amateur radio, I understand it's a very helpful tool for both obtaining and relaying information to other chasers/spotters and the NWS. I'm also under the impression that 146.550 simplex is very widely used, in addition to a multitude of repeaters. The Kansas K-Link system comes to mind. Does anyone here have experience using K-Link? I imagine I'm fairly accurate in the assumption that it's simply a wide area network of repeaters that all link to the NWS during severe weather events, correct? If true, this will likely be a very utilized resource for me when actually "out there".

In regard to PC software and programs - who uses what, and what are the benefits of what you're using? Any kind of software or program, doesn't have to be just radar imagery. If there's a great forecast tool, or website, or whatever that you use to help you chase, I want to know about it and why it's valuable to you.

What about smartphone apps? As mentioned, I have RadarScope and a plethora of other WX apps, and I really tend to use RadarScope quite a bit for a better local view of things. Although I also use StormRadar (The Weather Channel or something..) when looking at regional radar for a bigger picture.

Tell me about "how" you chase? How does a typical chase go for you? Do you wake up in the morning, jump in the car, and just drive? Or do you comb over data and information from websites/PC software to make an educated guess about where storms will fire up? Do you stop at just any decent hotel/motel with free wifi and just go from there?

When you're looking at data, forecasts, etc., what things do you look for? Why?

Tips! Tricks! Advice! What do you have to offer someone who's green and wants to dabble in amateur chasing a little bit? Tips for travelling, tips for getting to the storm, tips for taking great photos, and advice for always maintaining a high level of safety.

Finally, I understand that chasing can be as simple as just grabbing a camera, hopping in your car, and driving around looking for weather. I also understand how complicated it can be, combing over data, analyzing radar and satellite imagery, and hiring private meteorologists to direct you to storms. PERSONALLY, I want to stay on the simpler side of things. I'd like to use what tools I have to help me, but not rely on them. So, my last question for now is..

Is there anything really wrong with just looking at the SPC outlook, heading for that area, and keeping an eye on the radar and the sky for some activity, and going from there? Or is that pretty much what everyone does anyway?

Thanks!
 

Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
587
599
21
54
Menominee, MI
If you just rely on the SPC, which is several hours old by the time you are waking up in the morning, you could be missing significant changes that weren’t apparent when the forecast went out. Things like outflow boundaries and dryline bulges can’t be accurately forecast that far out and may be your best option on the day. There’s a ton of people smarter than me that work at the SPC, but they can’t issue a forecast based on info that isn’t available to them yet.
 
Jun 1, 2008
525
463
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
Welcome to Storm Track. Being a spotter and radio operator definitely helps. Sounds like you have most of the necessary software. Most everything else just comes from the Web.

SPC convective outlooks are excellent learning sources, even if not real-time. Reading them every day, even junk days, helps one learn how to differentiate between poor days and good days. SPC often explains why they are forecasting some hazards and not others.

That said, SPC is not necessarily chaser gospel. For one thing they forecast public hazards, not chase targets. High risk day may not be good for chasing. However a Slight might offer a mesoscale gem.

My day stars with surface, satellite and radar. Upper charts come next. Assuming upper levels are still favorable, I go back to the surface to find boundaries. Typically the target is a boundary intersection. After that maybe check a model or two. See if the computer model(s) line up with my conceptual model.

Very basic, the triple point and/or just east of the surface low is favored. However if it looks stable, rained out, or otherwise hosed, I look for the next outflow boundary south intersecting with the dry line. Keep in mind morning rain is not a deal killer; in fact, it can create a favorable outflow boundary. Midday rain into early afternoon rain is typically more of an issue, keeping things stable. Honestly the discernment there is as much art as science. Even the CAMs can struggle with late morning/midday rain questions.

Eat a good breakfast and keep hydrated. We also try to get a sit-down lunch. Check 12Z data at lunch too. Keep checking surface, satellite and radar all day. If all goes as planned, we'll be actively chasing at the dinner/supper hour.

Finally, at least one in the group, tweet your reports to the NWS. Even recreational chasers (not research) should help with confirmation and verification. Include a picture if you have a good data connection. Just go text tweet if a poor data connection; it'll get out faster.

Happy chasing Y'all!
 
Jun 4, 2018
69
61
11
30
San Angelo, TX
I was going to mention Skip's videos. Another app that folks use is the map.me app. You can download the maps for offline use so that if you lose cell service you at least still have a map. The maps are also really detailed and, from my experiences, pretty accurate. weather.cod.edu is a great site that offers data from several different models, satellite and radar imagery, and surface analysis. And the SPC mesoanalysis page is pretty useful day of as well. And finally here is a thread from a couple of years ago that has some links to a couple of forecasting lecture series that I found very helpful and informative as learning tools: SPC forecasting lecture series
 
May 18, 2013
465
404
11
Welcome to the group. I'm a avid ham, but to be honest it isn't as useful on a chase as you would think. Things get crazy on a chase, and it can be hard to find the right frequency for the local net (not to mention some nets don't really welcome outsiders). Hamchaser.com is a good resource for local frequencies, but Scott and I haven't made updates in a while (I really need too - as I have a ton of corrections and new areas). Most of the data on KBrews is too old to be useful. Using SpotterNetwork or Twitter to make reports is usually much easier. On some storms you will find 2 or more folks using 146.55, but on most storms it will be dead. Simplex can be helpful if you are chasing with some in a different vehicle.

Radarscope on the phone and GR on the laptop is the way to go. Download some map shapefiles into GR (W Scott Lincoln: GrLevelX Shapefiles and Style Files). It is also helpful to have surface obs in GR (GRLevelX Tools or Allison House). A satellite viewer is also helpful. COD is my fave on the web, but I really don't have an app I like that much yet.

If you're going to be very successful at chasing you need to learn all you can and make your own forecast. I will always look at models and observations to pick my target area (sometimes it is a long look and sometimes it is a quick look). Doing hand analysis with paper and colored pencils can be very helpful, but that is a skill that takes a while.
 
Jan 6, 2019
86
36
6
Tyler
Welcome to the group. I'm a avid ham, but to be honest it isn't as useful on a chase as you would think. Things get crazy on a chase, and it can be hard to find the right frequency for the local net (not to mention some nets don't really welcome outsiders). Hamchaser.com is a good resource for local frequencies, but Scott and I haven't made updates in a while (I really need too - as I have a ton of corrections and new areas). Most of the data on KBrews is too old to be useful. Using SpotterNetwork or Twitter to make reports is usually much easier. On some storms you will find 2 or more folks using 146.55, but on most storms it will be dead. Simplex can be helpful if you are chasing with some in a different vehicle.

Radarscope on the phone and GR on the laptop is the way to go. Download some map shapefiles into GR (W Scott Lincoln: GrLevelX Shapefiles and Style Files). It is also helpful to have surface obs in GR (GRLevelX Tools or Allison House). A satellite viewer is also helpful. COD is my fave on the web, but I really don't have an app I like that much yet.

If you're going to be very successful at chasing you need to learn all you can and make your own forecast. I will always look at models and observations to pick my target area (sometimes it is a long look and sometimes it is a quick look). Doing hand analysis with paper and colored pencils can be very helpful, but that is a skill that takes a while.
Hamchaser.com was the one i wanted to post up there.
thought i had it bookmarked, but didn't.

Another thought :
One thing about radarscope, if the chaser is a HAM and has included in his profile his call sign and freq monitored, you might be able to contact them. So far i have not been able to do that. clicking on his info in radarscope will bring up that info.

I have found a lot of miss info, not undated, dead links even on NWS sites about Skywarn and other info.
 
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J Wesley

Enthusiast
Jun 11, 2019
2
0
1
Kentucky
Thanks for the information guys, keep it coming! So I'll push using the radio to the back burner then, and focus on GRLevel3 and RS. I'd really only be using the radio to relay reports anyway, and that's something I can do if I have cell service.

What are your thoughts on those phone signal boosters? I know they work to a degree, but is cell service really THAT spotty out in the plains, that I'd need one? I guess it would always pay to be better safe than sorry, especially if I'm depending on it for data for the radar programs.
 
Mar 8, 2016
182
278
11
Bloomington, IL
Cell signal boosters definitely make a difference from my experience. Had an issue in Southeast Colorado near Campo(notable Verizon deadzone) this year where my cell booster managed to get itself unplugged while on the beat up dirt roads in that area and I noticed my service immediately drop out. I pulled over to plug it back in and service would come right back, and this unplugging happened several times with the exact same results every time.

There are areas where the booster simply isn't going to be enough(Western IL along I-72 being the best example I can think of) but they do make a large difference.
 
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Shane Adams

All the tech questions/advice are great, but that's kind of putting the horse before the cart. Where are your questions about sky visuals? Surface conditions? What the sky looks like when you wake up on a given chase day? And all of that tech......do you actually UNDERSTAND how to use it/what you're looking at? Anyone can buy Radarscope. Not everyone knows what they're looking at.

My advice is focus on surface conditions the day of the event (actual, observed conditions, which can be found in real-time on many sources; others can throw up the expansive links list of those) and the actual sky (not the computer screen). The sky can tell you more in a single scan/glance (and faster) than clicking/typing through multiple sites trying to find cheats that point you to the tornado. But this is a purist's opinion; if you're just looking for maximum ROI (the standard mantra of chasing in 2019) then just follow the data advice.

Good luck.
 
Jul 5, 2009
1,089
906
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
You guys are all more kind and patient than me, I’m surprised you even took the time to answer such general questions, which basically amount to “Can you tell me how to chase storms?” For example,

“When you're looking at data, forecasts, etc., what things do you look for? Why?”

“Tips! Tricks! Advice! What do you have to offer someone who's green and wants to dabble in amateur chasing a little bit? Tips for travelling, tips for getting to the storm, tips for taking great photos, and advice for always maintaining a high level of safety.”

These are far too general questions and would need pages and pages, if not one or more whole books, to respond to. Not to mention that almost all of those topics are already on ST and/or other online sources.

I would suggest doing some research, showing some commitment, and then coming back with more specific, targeted questions.
 
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I have found that paper maps help me. Rand McNally makes a series of State maps called “Easy to Read”. These maps will look nearly the same as the other Rand McNally maps when they’re on the store shelves, and will often be mixed in with the other State maps. If it doesn’t say “East to Read” on the front, then don’t get it.

When unfolded, these maps are quite a bit larger than the regular State maps. They show all the paved roads (and some dirt roads, so be sure to look at the Map Key to be able to tell the difference).

Don’t try to fold the map the way it’s “supposed“ to be folded. If you do, you’ll have to unfold it to the size of your front seat every time you look at it. It’s paper. You can fold it against the creases to make any section of it end up on top. I fold it so that it’s a 12 inch by 12 inch square with my target area on top. You only need to refold to another area usually just once per chase.

It’s a very helpful safety tool. It makes planning escape routes nearly instantaneous. I always look for the name of the first town that’s on my escape route even if it’s 20 miles away, because if you’re having to hurriedly take your escape route, you will know when it’s the next road ahead when you see a green sign with the town’s name and an arrow pointing you in the right direction.

GPS apps aren’t designed for people that are constantly needing to evaluate and change potential escape routes. In this particular context, the “Easy to Read” maps are superior.

Some WalMarts sell the “Easy to Read” and you can find them at some places online.
 
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Joey Prom

EF1
Feb 11, 2020
65
22
6
Lafayette, Indiana
I would like to discuss the forecast setup for the current day 2 slight risk, but I don't know the right forum/thread to do it in. I am still new to this site and to frocasting, so I am unsure if I should do it in the official Target Area forum. But I really want to learn the inns and outs of forecasting, in order to continue to improve. Please help point me in the right direction, thanks.
 
May 25, 2014
357
152
11
Honestly, it's all just learning. Learn to start forecasting, learn your apps, learn your gear. Learning to chase in and of itself will come with time and experience.

As far as radio frequencies, 146.550 is a good place to start for chaser-to-chaser comms. Some places are starting to recommend a 114.8Hz TPL on transmit, and are using that PL on the receive side to cut out interference, but as mentioned, this has only been recommended by some local/state/regional EMA's, so run your receive in open CSQ.

I've been trying to get the ball rolling on additional frequencies, such as 147.550 NXDN Very Narrow digital with a RAN of 7.

Other common chaser frequencies that have seen use, albeit to a lesser extent than 146.550, are 146.460, 446.100, 446.075, and 1294.550.

I've been trying to get people using GMRS Channel 7/Code 7, or 462.7125 with an 85.4Hz TPL. This is to open universal simplex chaser comms to any chaser who wants it, without a license needed.
 
Jun 12, 2019
46
55
6
Michigan
I would like to discuss the forecast setup for the current day 2 slight risk, but I don't know the right forum/thread to do it in. I am still new to this site and to frocasting, so I am unsure if I should do it in the official Target Area forum. But I really want to learn the inns and outs of forecasting, in order to continue to improve. Please help point me in the right direction, thanks.
Dan already started an EVENT thread for 12 March, which you may want to read if you haven't already. If you're new to this and feeling hesitant, the Introductory Weather and Chasing area may be a better spot to start your discussion. There are some good stickied posts there you might want to check out regarding learning resources. Make sure to read the rules in the Target Area forums for additional guidance before posting there.

If you're not sure about posting in TA, and decide to post in the Introductory area, I'll discuss the setup with you.
 
Best advice.... know what you are doing near big cities on higher risk days. Getting stuck in traffic or being delayed can kill you. I would suggest completely avoiding major metro areas like DFW or especially OKC on big days until you have a lot more experience. Don't rely 100 percent on radar and / GPS. You say you have "never been storm chasing." I strongly advise you find someone in the ST section were chasers are seeking to join up and share expenses and try to find someone with at least a moderate level of experience. Don't forget to have fun.
 
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Moe E

EF0
Apr 3, 2020
13
11
1
Colorado
Hey all, sorry for sort of lurking on a post that I haven't been involved in, I'm still new and am not sure of the rules, so pardon me if this is unfavorable.
I, too, have a few questions. I have all the gear needed (radar, maps, cameras, snacks and tunes) but I don't have the knowledge. I've watched Skip's Storm Spotting Secrets so many times I could quote it almost better than I can quote Twister, but there's some things that I'm having a hard time getting through my head. Last season, I tried keeping in mind the horseshoe at the bottom of the updraft base, however, I'm starting to think that I was getting confused with the RFD clear slot and standard issue hail cores. I haven't been able to catch up to any tornadoes yet so I haven't seen this in the field. With tornadic cells, is there usually a hail core off towards the inflow jet and the RFD clear slot and tell-tale horseshoe down towards the south?
 
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Jun 12, 2019
46
55
6
Michigan
Hey Moe!

Any chance you've done the NWS Skywarn program? If you haven't, I'd give it a go. It'll give you a good basic primer on storm structure and anatomy, in addition to safe spotting locations. It'll help you figure out where to find some of the things and areas you're asking about, and gives some photos of what they look like from the ground to help you identify them.

Since Covid-19 has shut down all the in-person trainings, it's a good time to plug the online series (2 free courses) that'll help get you up to speed, and the YouTube playlist that the NWS office in Norman, OK put together.

Going back to your horseshoe question, the RFD coming down through the updraft base is what creates the clear slot. The clear slot is the open area in the middle of the horseshoe. Not every supercell has a clear slot/horseshoe though (at least not right away), and not every horseshoe/clear slot means you're going to see a tornado. Here's a photo I took last year:

IMG_1599ES.jpg

Mesocyclone... Check.
Rain free updraft base... Check.
Clear slot... Check.
Horseshoe... Check.
Tornado... Nope.

So don't get your hopes up, but don't get discouraged, either. It'll come with time. I hope this helps. Stay safe out there!
 
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Moe E

EF0
Apr 3, 2020
13
11
1
Colorado
Cheers for that! I am attending a spotter training on Monday (via webinar) so hopefully I can get some more answers then. Stupid question series of questions that are probably horribly trivial but here goes: the clear slot is not the same as a hail core correct? Do clear slots usually have that horseshoe shape rather than a doughnut shape? How do I tell the difference between a hail core and a RFD clear slot? Sorry, I'm a neuroanalyst by trade so I know brains but other sciences cause me to short circuit.
 
Jun 12, 2019
46
55
6
Michigan
Cheers! Good deal on spotter training. After the webinar, it still might be a good idea to look at some of those other resources, especially the YouTube playlist. Diversify the portfolio, or... something.

As for your questions: A clear slot is not the same as a hail core, though the RFD (which forms the clear slot) can sometimes steal some hailstones and slingshot them through the area of the horseshoe and clear slot. If you find yourself near a clear slot/horseshoe, be vigilant. But the bigtime hail barrages don't fall there naturally. You'll learn about the precipitation core, FFD, and all the action that happens on the forward flank side of the storm in your spotter webinar.

As for visually identifying a clear slot vs a hail shaft, the clear slot looks like the photo in my previous response (photo was taken from the South/Southeast). The updraft base won't form a clear slot until the RFD comes barging in, though. Like Skip said in his video, the clear air may not always be visible, but the horseshoe usually is. I can only speak from my experiences, so I won't say that it will never look differently. But if you're a visual cues person (and you should be if you're near a supercell), the horseshoe is a good sign that a RFD cut is in progress. Hail will usually occur with the heaviest precipitation, and look like lighter/whiter streaks if you are able to see it sufficiently lit from your vantage point. Here's another photo I took last year:

IMG_2040FS.jpg

This was taken from the West/Southwest (the 'back' of the storm). I got a late start and had to literally chase after this one as it moved away from me and to the left. See the hail shaft near the left edge of the picture? That thing dropped icy baseballs near Sterling, CO. I was never in a position to see the updraft base, so I can't tell you if it had a RFD cut/clear slot or not. It did not produce any tornadoes.

Does that help? Your spotter class will help you more. There are plenty of other threads here too, if you do some searchin'.
 

Moe E

EF0
Apr 3, 2020
13
11
1
Colorado
Thank you so much! I know my questions are probably horribly trivial, thank you for your patience. I love the photos, I find myself out by Sterling quite often. In fact there was a storm out there last spring that had a rain wrapped beast in it and I only had MyRadar at the time and nearly drove straight into it, that's when I learned that velocity maps might be a good idea. I'll definitely take a look at more educational material, I tend to be very cautious so I think the more I know the more efficient I'll be as a chaser.
If you're not too bored from answering questions from newbies (if you are just tell me to go away lol), as a new chaser, what habits would you recommend I work on to make sure I'm not doing dumb newbie things that annoy veteran chasers? I know the basics, pull off the road fully, don't take unnecessary risks, don't go slow in the left lane, obey general traffic rules, etc. But what's the etiquette for say pulling into the same pull-off as another chaser and setting up shop (out of their shot obviously)? Or following a caravan of chasers? Or striking up conversation when encountering another chaser (given that they aren't in a hurry)? Things like that. Thanks again for your patience and taking the time to answer my questions :)
 
Jun 12, 2019
46
55
6
Michigan
as a new chaser, what habits would you recommend I work on to make sure I'm not doing dumb newbie things
there was a storm out there last spring that had a rain wrapped beast in it and I only had MyRadar at the time and nearly drove straight into it
👆 I'd recommend not doing that, for starters.

Sorry, that probably wasn't a nice way of putting it. But seriously, if a tornado is legit rain-wrapped, you're not going to see much. And especially if you're new at this, I can't think of any reason to encourage you to get up close to a rain-wrapped tornado, even if you had a DOW truck and knew exactly where it was. If you've watched Skip's catalogue, you'll know about the concept of the Bear's Cage and its attendant hazards. I'd recommend staying well outside of it for now. Just ask this guy (language warning) if you need more convincing. And recall what happened on the Lawrence, KS tornado last year. HP storm modes can be disorienting, and consequently cause a loss of situational awareness.

As for other things you can do to be accepted? I don't have all the answers. Hopefully others will chime in. Read up higher on this thread for some good suggestions. I've kept a very low profile for the 12 years I've been chasing. I'm only now starting to get into the social side of it, at the urging of others. But all that aside, my MO has always been "don't be a jerk to people." If you act considerate and are nice, most will respond in kind. Definitely don't follow other chasers without their permission. Here's a list of controversial topics that may elicit some strong views on this forum (and in real life) if you bring them up. And, um, yeah... the rest of the stickied threads at the top of the Introductory Weather and Chasing section are all worth reading. That oughtta get you through until Monday!