Top five dangers of spotting

Apr 4, 2005
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I'm looking to put together a short (3-5 minute) educational clip for spotter training purposes explaining common dangers encountered when spotting/chasing storms. I have my own ideas about what dangers are likely and how to avoid them, but would like to get some input from others in the chasing community as well before getting to work.

So, if you had to limit yourself to 5 choices, what would you say are the top five dangers encountered when spotting/chasing, and how are they best avoided?
 
I'm an eSpotter for KFSD - based in NW Iowa.

I would say, lightning, lightning, lightning, lightning, and then lightning again.

Seriously; I would say
1) Lightning is the first danger when I go anywhere. A 'bolt out of the blue' is possible - but if you're anywhere near a storm - watch out! (direct strike is the worst, but an indirect strike can also severely injure that can also lead to death if unattended)
2) Hail that takes out your windshield or makes it so damaged that one cannot see where they are going anymore.
3) Rain so severe that wipers cannot move it away fast enough so that vision is severely impaired. And even if you can see OK; what about other drivers that don't/can't.
4) Rain so bad that it causes a flash flood and makes it difficult to navigate, steer, or judge the depth. This is how people can drown or get electrocuted if the same flooded water has a live power wire in it. There's no way to tell if that is ever the case. So that's always in the back of your mind - for the safety conscious.
5) Rain-wrapped tornado day or night. You won't know until the last second even if your radar is on. Much worse at night when visuals are already compromised. But always BAD!
>In addition any and all of these combination of things can be happening simultaneously - which means your are in the WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME.

That's been my experience - to date!
 
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Jan 22, 2006
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Stillwater, OK
Speaking for myself, my personal list of chasing dangers is as follows:

1.) Car Accident - Other drivers/chasers, head-on with a semi on a two-lane highway, animals in the roadway (like big ones...cows, horses, pigs, sheep, deer...close calls with most of these...hey, I live in Oklahoma), hydroplaning, falling asleep driving home after a chase, etc.

2.) Lightning - Can't see it coming and no warning. Just "ZAP!!!!" and the lights go out. Too many close calls.

3.) Flash Flooding - Especially at night. Sometimes while driving down a blacktop, you can't really see it until it's too late. Also gets back to the hydroplaning accident thing.

4.) Gorilla Hail - I have been fortunate to not get caught in softballs or larger thus far. The sound that baseballs make when dropping from the sky is truly something to behold, I can only imagine what a softball shower would sound like. Makes my head and my car hurt thinking about it.

5.) Public/Chaser Convergence Disaster - Either on a highway anywhere near an overpass when people start plugging up the roadway to park underneath it, or being grouped together in a chaser traffic jam with few road options and getting into a bad situation and getting munched by Mother Nature.

You'll notice tornadoes aren't on the list. I, like many other chasers on here, am not concerned with the safety factor presented by tornadoes. I do not possess the need to get really up-close and personal with a large and violent tornado. I am perfectly content sitting back a little further and getting the tornado and some good structure to boot. Keep your head on a swivel and always keep checking your back to see if anything may be sneaking up on you and keep your distance and you'll be fine. My opinion.
 
Apr 29, 2004
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Norman, OK
Paramount on this list would be over-reliance on technology (e.g., radar). There should be a healthy balance of technology with what one can see with their own eyes to maintain safety. This also means storm morphology knowledge is key.

Night spotting is a whole other issue as well - maintain a larger margin of safety and don't always trust your eyes at night - can be fooled by distance, lack of light, etc.
 

Billy Griffin

1. Traffic/Roadway-associated hazards.
2. Debris associated with storm damage - downed power lines, trip hazards, etc.
3. Spotter not concentrating on driving - distracted by scanners, cell phones, radios, cameras, etc.
4. Lightning - can't predict when and where!
5. Large hail - can create hazardous driving conditions and cause vehicle damage!
 

Shane Adams

1. Inexperience with real-time storm behavior/structure
2. Inexperience with real-time storm behavior/structure
3. Inexperience with real-time storm behavior/structure
4. Inexperience with real-time storm behavior/structure
5. Inexperience with real-time storm behavior/structure
 
Sep 25, 2006
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Fremont, Indiana
the number one danger that I for-see is like others said, Lightning

number two for would have to be knowing your road network, would suck if you were in a bad situation and had no way out.

Number three, do not rely on radar for anything more than estimation, always remember the radar only works in 5 minute intervials.

Number four, watch for animals, I know of a spotter who hit a turky when spotting several years ago, litteraly came through the windshield.

and number five would be pay attention to what the storm is doing, you never know when something might start heading your way.
 

Dan Robinson

I think the top 5 dangers would depend on whether you are chasing or whether you are spotting. For chasing, car accidents are by far the number one risk. For spotting, I'd say that threat would come in lower on the list.
 
I would echo what everybody else has said so far with regard to spotting. However, one particular danger I've witnessed firsthand and heard from others is a spotter net controller using aged (updating 15-30 minutes or not at all) or unreliable radar data to position the troops in the field.

This can also include misinterpreting radar data. Velocity data or false TVS markers are an example. Another one is estimated storm motions and track projections. They aren't always accurate, especially with fledgling supercells.

Other than that, I would also add various critters. Rattlesnakes out here in the western parts of Texas are a nice surprise when stepping out of a vehicle. Dogs are another potential threat. People are a threat as well ranging from unsavory individuals to conspiratorial-crazed farmers with shotguns thinking you are kidnapping a cow or working for the guv'ment spying on them (I've had the latter happen to me).

If you are in Crane County, Texas, they just might take you to jail for your own safety. LOL!!
 
Nov 18, 2006
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Chicago, IL
conspiratorial-crazed farmers with shotguns thinking you are kidnapping a cow or working for the guv'ment spying on them (I've had the latter happen to me).
Me too in Kansas this past year, he was convinced his tax money went to fund me storm chasing [i wish!!!]

But my list would be...

1- traffic accidents...simple statistics, storm chasing = allot of driving...allot of driving = increase risk of an accident.

2- lightning...like other said...cant see it coming, little warning...just POW. he gone.

3- trees and straight line winds - dont be on the side they will fall...or its game over. ive seen incidents were moving cars were crushed. of course this really isnt an issue in the open plains but for those who will venture into the bad terrain it is. so you need to know what kind of enviroment your in. wind directions...storm movements etc etc.

4- mcdonalds breakfast. do not attempt before a 2+ hr drive.

5- the tornado itself. i agree that a tornado is of very little concern to me and most chasers, if you know what your doing you can easily view it safely...but sometimes things dont go according to plan and it is a risk. especially for those who like to play with HPs
 

Steve Bottkol

1. Lightning.....one and done, your under a storm
2. Chaser Convergence...clogged roads
3. Night chasing...Most dangerous, this is something you better have your act together
4a. Knowing your roads and vehicle limitations... watch out for roads that turn into mud bogs becuase of heavy rain
4b. Just because you do have 4 wheel drive, don't think your impervious
5. Heavy rain and large hail
 
May 17, 2006
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Rigby,ID
www.severeidaho.com
I think the top 5 dangers would depend on whether you are chasing or whether you are spotting. For chasing, car accidents are by far the number one risk. For spotting, I'd say that threat would come in lower on the list.
Exactly what I was thinking. Spotting is more of a "at one place" type event and then theres chasing.

For Spotting from Home, Work, etc

1. Lightning
2. Flooding
3. Hail
4. Tornado if it hits you
5. Winds that could send debree into the window your looking out of or knock a branch down near the tree that your sitting

For Chasing

1. Flooding
2. Large Hail
3. Rain Wrapped Tornado
4. Microburst/Macroburst "dangerous winds"
5. Lightning (put here since most of the chasing is driving unless your target area was perfect and then this goes to #1)
 
Nov 23, 2005
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San Antonio, TX
chaseday.com
All add just one....

Thinking what you're doing is more important than your own life. In the end that spotter may be the only one killed waiting through the rain for the hook.....to verify something that's likely assumed to be there by TV, radio and the NWS.
 

Shane Adams

All add just one....

Thinking what you're doing is more important than your own life. In the end that spotter may be the only one killed waiting through the rain for the hook.....to verify something that's likely assumed to be there by TV, radio and the NWS.
EXCELLENT point...which leads to my own point (that is going to be wildy-unpopular)...spotters who get killed while spotting are not heroes, they're victims. I was thinking the other night, if you took any group of local spotters, put them in a room, and asked for a show of hands as to how many of them would willingly, knowingly give their life while spotting, I'd wager you'd get exactly ZERO hands raised.

It's natural human behavior to want to paint someone who dies in the line of duty a hero, but, without trying to trivialize or take away from the nobility of a spotter's duty, the fact remains they were simply caught up in a situation they didn't recognize or understand until it was too late. When the only person who dies is the spotter, it's a meaningless death - I don't care who wants to argue this. I refuse to believe any spotter has ever entered into a storm situation - KNOWING they were going to die BEFORE getting into the no-turning-back situation - to try and save lives.

I refer to my previous post listing my top-five most dangerous aspects of spotting.
 
I don't want to be a dead victim/hero(ha!) if I can help it. I would rather learn enough from all of you so that I can survive the situation to do it all over again for another day/storm. Getting someone who is a risk-taker that knows their way around a storm is why they asked me to do it for the county - in my case with the eSpotter program by way of recommendation of the County Emergency Manager. I just said - "sure - why not'. I don't take any more risks than any of you would do. I'm nobody's fool - regardless of what somebody else may think. I ask questions to get answers; isn't that one of the real/true purposes of STORMTRACK? Pardon me if I do ask dumb questions at some time - I would rather appear to be dumb rather than to let pride make me a statistic.

BTW - eSpotters in particular aren't stationary per se. I work with the Emergency Manager for the entire county - so I am supposed to chase within the whole county. But if nothing is happening -or is going to happen here - then I am free to chase to Kansas, Nebraska, or wherever within a reasonable distance that any of you would. But that is my take on it - others may vary within the same job.

There is another thought that I saw written here by a few of you that I would also echo - if the list were six choices rather than five. The debris element is definitely a major consideration too - IMHO. For whatever the reason, be it from a tornado or high winds - having power wires on the roadway, or glass, of overturned semis, or (you fill in the blank). Remeber those five semis that were overturned on I-70 between WaKeeney and Hays KS on the night of May 23 this year?

PS - my avatar is from Quinter KS 1 1/2 mi E on I-70 on the 23rd of May...
 
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May 31, 2004
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Peotone, IL
illinoisstormchasers.com
I just want to echo the importance of knowing your surroundings. Whether chasing/spotting/everyday life. Everyday traffic is more of a danger than chasing/spotting ever should be. When you encounter rain slicked highways, YOU may know what to do; will the guy going 70 on your bumper though? Other than traffic, if you are smart, the rest of the dangers are minimal. That goes without saying that strange unexpected things can and will happen, but in my opinion if you keep calm and think logically and assess the risks beforehand, you should be okay.

#1 - traffic (80%)
#2 - lightning (15%)
#3 - large destructive hail (2%)
#4 - damaging winds (more so the stuff blowing in them) (2%)
#5 - Tornado (under 1%)

These are just my opinion on the level of danger I experience while chasing, so they may not apply to you or the next person. I am more likely to be killed by lightning more than I will be anything else, and I am very cautious around lightning!!! As long as you know your limits you should be okay. Of course alot of those risks go up A LOT (double or even triple) once that big ball of gas in the sky sets.

Final thought is if you just use your eyes and head then you will have a fun successful career/hobby for as many years as you choose.
 
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Jay Cazel

EF4
Jul 5, 2004
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Wichita, Ks
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All very good points....One thing I would add is to make sure your car/truck is ready to spot and or chase. Make sure you have enough gas, spare tire is good, things like that so you are not stuck in the path of a storm or stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
 
"...Of course all of those risks go up A LOT (double or even triple) once that big ball of gas in the sky sets..." -Danny Neal

Good point.
Since lightning gets more vicious as the sun sets, so does the whole risk-factor process of storm spotting for all of the other elements - as well.

I've often wondered that if I were to buy/try a set of night vision glasses to my tool array - would it substantially improve watching severe thunderstorms at night? I cannot imagine anything worse in weather - next to CAT 5 hurricane in the gulf - than an EF5 tornado on the plains when it is stone dark outside. That is - dark by means of being midnight - not storm-induced darkness.

How well does/doesn't night vision equipment work on storms at night?
Anyone know?
Comment?
 
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May 17, 2006
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Rigby,ID
www.severeidaho.com
EXCELLENT point...which leads to my own point (that is going to be wildy-unpopular)...spotters who get killed while spotting are not heroes, they're victims. I was thinking the other night, if you took any group of local spotters, put them in a room, and asked for a show of hands as to how many of them would willingly, knowingly give their life while spotting, I'd wager you'd get exactly ZERO hands raised.
They may not be seen as heroes for some, but if you consider the fact that the spotter him/herself and the personal love of weather and dedication to save lives with Reporting severe weather I would not have a problem with calling them a hero. Being a spotter is a choice rather then a Job. There are some that Report more than others and there are also spotters that just report the severe stuff and also the spotter that doesnt report when he/she should.

So would you say the same for people that volunteer for the army and during active duty they died? Yes there are differences that you could argue but in the end these people volunteered and lost there life. All for one purpose which is for our Country and safety of all. Correct?

Being a spotter is a choice one makes and each report could save a life or even thousands of lives. Its the reports that you wont always see that got the NWS to order that one important warning which prevented injury or death and prevented a tragic situation.

I know there will be debate, But I insist that you know I mention all this with the best intent and hopes for people to acknowledge that yes what we do is dangerous but in the end we are doing it because of our love for weather and to save lives.

-gerrit
 

Shane Adams

Volunteering has nothing to do with the fact that spotters get into situations that they do not recognize as likely-fatal until it's too late.

Men and women who sign up for armed forces know exactly what can happen if they're called up.

I never questioned the dedication or nobility of spotting, just saying that heroism is like courage: knowing you could be killed but going in anyway. I still say no spotter would willingly put themselves in a situation where they knew beforehand they would likely die. And why should they?
 
Volunteering has nothing to do with the fact that spotters get into situations that they do not recognize as likely-fatal until it's too late.

Men and women who sign up for armed forces know exactly what can happen if they're called up.

I never questioned the dedication or nobility of spotting, just saying that heroism is like courage: knowing you could be killed but going in anyway. I still say no spotter would willingly put themselves in a situation where they knew beforehand they would likely die. And why should they?
Published statistics of dead spotters?
Where?
I'll take my chances with what I know about storms than to be hangin' with neighborhood gang-bangers anytime - any day. One can die at any time for any reason. I'm not sure what brings this concept out in the open, but the way people have been speaking of this subject - it sounds like dead spotters should recieve a posthumous Purple Cloud'- or a Congressional Medal of Thunder!
:D
 
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May 17, 2006
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Rigby,ID
www.severeidaho.com
Volunteering has nothing to do with the fact that spotters get into situations that they do not recognize as likely-fatal until it's too late.

Men and women who sign up for armed forces know exactly what can happen if they're called up.

I never questioned the dedication or nobility of spotting, just saying that heroism is like courage: knowing you could be killed but going in anyway. I still say no spotter would willingly put themselves in a situation where they knew beforehand they would likely die. And why should they?
Well they shouldnt and I agree with that. But for msyelf any Spotter or stormchaser should no doubt know that when its time to watch severe weather, you know and I hope all do, that once you step outside your already risking your life. Driving towards the storm would be even more so. This is the risk or thrill we take for our passion of weather. On the other hand I agree in the simplets of terms that any person would not take the risk if there life indeed was threatened. But I only see this chance if a tornado is very near the spotter/chaser and also if lightning was observed only feet to hundreds of yards away. For myself, if you do the training every year or as many times as you can during every year and you have enough knowledge under your belt about weather and severe weather structure and development you should immediately know whether or not you should step outside, get into the car and intercept or take cover in your basement or bathtub.

If a spotter or chaser dies while actively reporting every aspect of the "reporting criteria" to either NWS or 911 I would gladly honor them as a hero. I would hope that others or all would agree.

-gerrit