New member with a few questions

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

Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
459
437
21
53
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
461
344
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
44
39
11
29
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
349
267
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
16
7
1
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.
 
  • Like
Reactions: J Wesley

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
162
222
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.
 
  • Like
Reactions: J Wesley
Sep 29, 2011
596
467
21
47
Fort Worth, TX
www.passiontwist.com
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.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JamesCaruso
Jul 5, 2009
798
448
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.