Suggested New Chaser Reading Material

© Copyright 1997 Tim Vasquez

Many chasers aspiring to make 1997 their first chase season have complained about an "unbridgable" gap between basic meteorology materials and technical forecasting information. This has been true for years, and is even more true today. Walk into any Barnes & Noble and you will find many shelves of books on flower arrangement, yet the entire weather section consists of about three titles buried under a whole stack of books on Jupiter. Frustrated, you've probably went to the National Weather Service or a university to look at their literature, and have walked away dazed and confused by the technical content. No wonder newcomers wonder how that bridge can be crossed.

To put it simply, a bible to "bridge" the gap doesn't exist. The gap is normally crossed in the course of pursuing a meteorology degree by lots of classroom work with finishing touches provided by a variety of college texts. This doesn't bode well for a newcomer who is trying to learn the finer points of meteorology. However, the right ingredients are out there. By getting your hands on the right books, you'll have a good chance of building your knowledge and creating your own bridge to the other side.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the ingredients a beginning chaser will need to make it through a "self-study" program.

Beginning Must-Reads

Everybody has to start somewhere! Assuming you've already browsed what's available in the local library and can understand the maps on the Weather Channel, you'll want to begin working on some of the resources provided here.

A subscription to Weatherwise, published by Heldref Publications, is a great start. It will get you "in-tune" with what is happening in meteorology. The articles are very readable and cover a broad variety of subjects. The emphasis on severe weather, though, is limited and nontechnical. You can get a subscription for $33/yr by calling (800) 365-9753.

A well-written and unbiased introduction to storm chasing can be found in In the Shadow of the Tornado, written by Richard Bedard, a freelance writer residing in Norman, Oklahoma. His book can be ordered for $14.95 from Gilco Publishing, P.O. Box 2175, Norman, OK 73070. With it, you'll get a feel for the names of many of the chasers who populate the plains and travel with them to find what they're learning and how they do it.

As for a video, anyone getting started in chasing should get Prairie Pictures Chasers of Tornado Alley. This is a quality documentary that has won acclaim by most veteran chasers. It can be ordered for $27.90 by writing Prairie Pictures, P.O. Box 122020, Arlington, TX 76012. Capturing the spirit of the Great Plains, it is an enjoyable, lighthearted look at what chasing is all about.

For studying meteorology, there are many good elementary books that will prime you for the intermediate stuff. Concentrate carefully on chapters detailing fronts, weather, and jet streams. Many good "starter books" are indeed in your local library or bookstore. However, I have one favorite recommendation -- enlist your local library to help you get it if they don't have it.

  • The Science and Wonders of the Atmosphere, by Stanley David Gedzelman (1980), John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-471-02972-6. This is a fantastic textbook, a fun roller-coaster ride that will take you from cloud identification to upper-air charts. It is the perfect transition into intermediate meteorology.

Intermediate Materials

So, you're comfortable with the ins and outs of meteorology and the background of storm chasing. You can easily tell what the weather patterns are doing on the Weather Channel with the TV muted. What do you read now? It's a good time to start learning the nuts and bolts of severe weather elements and how they fit together. You'll also be looking for tips on strategy. Unfortunately, intermediate material is the big "hole" of literature, and it's important to pay close attention to everything that you study. It's not a time for skimming material.

The single best source of intermediate material, is of course, StormTrack magazine, since it caters to a chasing audience which wants to see anything technical boiled down to concise, accurate bits of information. StormTrack also has plenty of essays, safety tips, and discussions on tactics and strategy. Get it.

Now for a list of favorite intermediate meteorology books:

  • Atmosphere, Weather & Climate, by Roger G. Barry and Richard J. Chorley (1987), ISBN 0-416-07162-X and 07142-2. It has an European slant with dry wording, but is an excellent companion for getting you towards some of the more advanced concepts.
  • Weather Analysis, by Dusan Djuric (1995), Prentice-Hall, ISBN 0-13-501149-3. This book is probably still available. Although you'll find bits of math and differential equations, they won't stop you from picking up this book again and again to learn what's on the cutting edge of meteorology. This is a must-have.
  • The Operational Meteorology of Convective Weather, Volume II: Storm Scale Analysis, by Charles Doswell III (1985), NOAA Tech Memo ERL ESG-15 (order through NTIS at (703) 487-4650). Although it's 10 years old, this is an outstanding introduction to storm structure.
  • The Operational Meteorology of Convective Weather, Volume I: Operational Mesoanalysis, by Charles Doswell III (1982), NOAA Tech Memo NSSFC-5 (order through NTIS at (703) 487-4650). This is the companion to the other Convective Weather volume and deals more with mesoscale analysis. Some of the material borders on "advanced", but overall it is a must-read.

Advanced Stuff

You now feel that upper air charts can be one of your best friends, understand how to precisely locate a front, and you find yourself second-guessing the official forecasts. It's time to move on to advanced materials. This is where you deal with the true complexities of weather analysis and begin running up against math that you don't understand. Don't let it stop you; quite often the math is there to illustrate a concept rather than teach something. Simply concentrate on what does make sense, get as much information as you can from it, then move on to something else.

The most readable advanced stuff comes from the National Weather Association, which is an organization that furthers growth of knowledge among the operational weather community (as opposed to the research and educational sectors). Naturally, this makes their material more to-the-point and readable. The fee to join is $25 ($12.50 for students) and gets you the National Weather Digest, containing many insightful articles written especially for NWS forecasters.

If you're willing to tackle more difficult material yet get the "key" documents on severe weather research, join the American Meteorological Society. They act as a clearinghouse of sorts for meteorological research. While you can get the publications by simply placing an order, you'll get a significant discount if you apply for membership. So if you aren't an AMS member already, call (617) 227-2425 and request an application. While you're at it, be sure to request their price list for publications.

When the application arrives, there are two publications that you'll want to sign up for. Try to choose both the Monthly Weather Review (MWR) and Weather and Forecasting (W&F). The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society comes free with your membership and is another source of articles. The total bill will be about $120 per year, but it's a sound investment if you plan to make the most of chasing.

Also, be sure to get the preprint volumes on Severe Local Storms, and if funds permit, Weather Analysis and Forecasting. These volumes number almost 1000 pages and are literally packed with key studies and papers. The volumes are about $30-60 each, are issued every few years, and sell out after about 5-10 years. Get them even if you can't afford the MWR/W&F subscription.

In Closing...

Those titles should get you started. But that's by no means a complete list (and I'm sure I'll get E-mail letting me know what I left out). Don't stop there. Make an effort to search for new and overlooked titles that could teach you more about meteorology and storms. See the titles listed on the Storm Chaser Homepage and below here on the StormTrack homepage. Ask weather friends if they've heard of any good books or papers. Head down to your local university library if that's what it takes. And combine that with experience, even if it's as simple as studying today's weather charts on Purdue or WeatherGraphix and trying to identify patterns and features you've read about.

One note: do not write and ask the National Weather Service for material. The NWS only publishes a limited amount of material, usually in small numbers and consisting of internal studies and papers. A lot of their material originates in the resources I outlined above.

If you're a new chaser and you've found this information helpful, you certainly have the right attitude. Chasing is no different from flying. Given a little instruction, anyone can jump in a plane and get it off the ground. However, if you head out without learning what you're dealing with, you may never reach your goal or you may actually endanger yourself. Chasing involves many decisions and consequences that demand someone who is fully prepared to tackle them. An intimate, long-term study of the atmosphere and forecasting will give you that background knowledge that, combined with experience, will make you a skilled chaser. With time, you'll gain new perspectives that will certainly interest other chasers.

It all boils down to six simple words said by an unknown chaser: Learn to chase; chase to learn. The fun will come naturally.

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