• A friendly and periodic reminder of the rules we use for fostering high SNR and quality conversation and interaction at Stormtrack: Forum rules

    P.S. - Nothing specific happened to prompt this message! No one is in trouble, there are no flame wars in effect, nor any inappropriate conversation ongoing. This is being posted sitewide as a casual refresher.

2006 Chase Tour roundup

I've had two experiences with tour groups on the road:
2002) a bunch of white vans with IL plates (I'm assuming this was group given the number of cameras) in Harper Co. KS decided to stop in the middle of the road as chaser's were backing off a storm that decided to take a sudden surge at our viewing position. When they finally caught a clue to get off the main road and decided to completely block a south escape road :roll:

2005) As everyone headed to a storm that was dying but tornado warned, a bunch of vans (and other chasers) went flying past us..the driver of one of the vans pointed to the dying cloud. The funny part happened when they came back and we got to laugh at them...they could only point their thumbs down.

I could see anyone who has no idea about the weather or how to navigate take a storm chasing tour. It's a lot better than people jumping in their cars and following chasers (this happened to me in 2005)...they guy who followed me nearly had a head on-collision passing cars just to stay bumper-to-bumper with me. Needless to say, I pulled over and chewed him out. (Sorry if off-topic, but a lot of this discussion reminded me of all this)
I can agree to a certain extent of that... But there is nothing like getting first-hand expierence by getting out yourself. What if their was tour groups in the 1970s and 1980s? There were quite a few veteran chasers out there at that time... They didn't take a tour. I would reccomend tours to people who have an interest in seeing a tornado, and nothing else (no real interest in meteorology or storm chasing). However, to people that "PLAN" on seriously chasing... I soley suggest learning how to forecast convective weather and hit the road... Because there is nothing like first-hand expierence. Even if you have a chase partner, you are STILL out there, first hand and making DECISIONS that will help them BECOME expierenced in the long run.

Why should somebody waste time if they plan on becoming a serious chaser? Read up and get out on the road. I know sooooo many chasers that just left the living room and just went out (that includes myself, Kurt Hulst, Shane Adams, Mike Hollingshead and hundreds upon hundreds of other chasers). It is not very wise to go out if you don't plan on learning about severe storms, but if you want to learn and become expierenced, you have to go out and expierence it.

So, for people who have an interest in meteorology and storm chasing, I recommend just learning something and get started on your own.
I'm closely aligned with Amos's view - that for the true beginner, who is simply curious about storm chasing, but doesn't know much more, they are far better off taking a tour and finding out what it's like. No need to trash the new car in hail, find out you have bad tires and a car that likes to hydroplane, realize after-the-fact that the NOAA weather radio is a good 15-30 minutes old with even the most recent updates, finding out just how slick a dirt road in western KS can be, etc..... Take a tour with a class act company and see the best that it can be. If it has you wanting more - decide if you want the worry-free route or if the idea of the 'hunt' is equally compelling. While you might be able to simply caravan with a group of more knowledgeable chasers even if you have no clue what you are doing, you won't make any friends doing that and could also end up following others just as clueless as yourself.

As for Bill's inquiry, it is my understanding that Tim Vasquez's chaser hotline offers a service like what you describe. I'd pm him and ask about it.

I know sooooo many chasers that just left the living room and just went out (that includes myself, Kurt Hulst, Shane Adams, Mike Hollingshead and hundreds upon hundreds of other chasers).

Ok, since I'm included I should post what happened that day, lol. I always enjoyed storms but never made any plans to become a chaser. All I did on this day was take a map with me and decide I was going to actually keep chasing these storms as far as I needed to. Well, not far into it I see my very first tornado. I lose it in the rain while trying to catch up from the west. Later on video I can make it out probably only 1/2 mile to my east while I tried to figure out a way into the bluffs of western IA. At the time I did not even know it was right there. I go north and then east on some road(not on the map) and try to find it again and do. It was larger now and mostly rain-wrapped. I had taken a bunch of curves and no longer knew which direction I was even facing. I thought I was going south with it but was actually going east.

I see flashing lights ahead and realize it is a cop stopping people and making them turn on some other road. So that ended that tornado intercept. Problem was I was completely lost. I thought I would come out west of Missouri Valley IA. I found highway 30 and turned left thinking I'd go east into Missouri Valley. Well I quickly realized I was not west of Missouri Valley and wasn't sure where I was on 30(being lost sucks bad enough as it is, let alone chasing tornadoes). Then channel 3 in Omaha breaks into a live broadcast and are saying a large tornado is heading for Logan Iowa(parents telling me this over the cell phone). RIGHT as they do this I see a green sign that says Logan. I will forever remember that moment. This area is all hills. I couldn't see out of there and saw no signs of a tornado. They kept repeating it and it sounded pretty urgent, and I had just seen my first tornado and now knew it was quite likely there was a tornado heading for Logan. I was too chicken to head out of town and be in the hills so I stopped at a gas station and figured I'd just take shelter there and wait it out. Well, I'm sorry but that is the worst feeling there is, knowing it is quite likely a tornado IS heading for the town you just stopped in and not being able to see out of it through the hills....and be extremely inexperienced.

So I'm in this thing and for the next 30 minutes it his hailing up to baseballs(very slow moving HP....or wet classic....slow moving for sure). The manager of the gas station's mom happens to be a police dispatch and is telling everyone in the station the tornado is now reported to be 1 and half miles wide and heading right for Logan. That whole deal pretty much sucked. You all the sudden become quite scared with all this believeable info and no idea what to do about it...while you are stuck above ground surrounded by tin. This tornado tracks just south of town and kills two women. It was large and it was violent.

I know I said it is hard to get hurt chasing...it is. Sometimes though when you take that early risk without knowing much, it seems that someone out there wants to send you a little warning such as this. I was like how on Earth did all this happen to get me here in this perdicament I now wish I really wasn't a part of.

A new meso had formed sw of the old one and that is what produced this new larger killer tornado. All it would have taken for me to end up dead this day was that tornado to track a couple miles more north. It would have taken most of the town out and those of us inside that piece of crap tin gas station. Just compare the size of it on the map with the size of the town. That is the nws survey. It was only F3 because of the poor construction of the farm houses it hit. For my first at bat I really did try to end up dead....without even trying.



That is what it thought of a Pontiac Grand Am.

Soooooo, maybe a tour isn't a terrible idea afterall. But, if I couldn't afford one I wouldn't let that stop me. I'd still rather have tried and almost gotten killed than not. It just amazes me how things can work out sometimes and feels like someone is trying to tell you something, lol. And, again, if you have a mind like me that thinks the worse, being stuck in a worst case scenario on a chase is not fun when you don't yet know what you are doing.

BTW the two that died did so because they stopped to take shelter in a ditch instead of continuing to drive away from the slow tornado.
I'll throw in my two cents as well since I too was "mentioned" LOL.

The basic principle behind my deciding to go it alone was I already knew I didn't know crap. From there, common sense said "Shane, you have to be conservative and very careful." So basically, I knew I couldn't go head long into any features I didn't recognize or couldn't see. I never core punched back then unless I had a live source of data telling me where the tornado was (as on May 25, 1997). If I had no clue where the actual tornado was, I waited it out, often times at the expense of missing the tornado entirely (as on June 11, 1997). But even though I missed seeing a large wedge tornado that day, I remained safe because instinct told me something wasn't right. I couldn't have told you in scientific or even chaser terms what it was, I just knew. So we pulled over and stopped. Here's what we found less than two miles ahead of us once we decided it was safe to continue on:




The white thing left of center is a car (emergency crews were already there)


Perhaps I'm just different, but I was always keen to when things weren't right. I knew when to back off and when I could push it. I didn't know much beyond some very basic storm structure, but between that and realizing danger through the seat of my pants method, I was able to chase safely and develop experience. It's just not satisfying IMO to be lead to tornadoes. The hunt is half the thrill, and observing tornadoes based on your own actions (not others) provides the other half.

Again, that's just me.
The result of my first chase in CO wasn't all that great. I followed under a very low dark (coal colored), billowy updraft base that extended very far to the N/S. It was so low if felt like I could reach up and touch it. Regardless it was spooky looking and it amazed me how the light grey clouds had crossed over the foothills and had darkened and intensified so much, so quickly. I did end up seeing a cool looking spiral shaped funnel up in the cloud. At least that's what I thought it was at the time. I kept saying as I videotaped looking at churning features "This might be a tornado forming".

My real luck was the second time out, and that was like the next day. It was active severe season in CO (as I recall June or July). Once again I followed after a warning on the Tv. This time I made a better approximation of the intercept location given the coordinates. I busted through that damned slow moving city traffic east and eventually grabbed a quick country road north for about 5 to 10 miles (as the developing tornado was headed ne of town). When I got in the general vicinity it was real weird. The air felt heavy and very moist. The sky and fields were very odd green tinted. That set off alarm bells in my head. Directly ahead of me to the north past an intersection with a E/W road sat a very odd circular fog bank perhaps only 1/4 to 1/2 mile away. It looked like something from a Stephen King novel and was rotating very slowly. The top dissappeared into the clouds above. Little finger tendrils were coming off the rotating fog. I pulled over and watched for a moment. Suddenly I was hit with a huge amount of wind / rain from the west. All hell broke loose. The rotating fog column began rotating much faster and just started shooting up across the fields to the east. I tried getting my video camera up, but by the time I got it into position the thing had scooted over a hill. "Wow", I thought, "I think that may have just been a tornado". I was shaken, but also excited. I put my Trooper in gear and raced after it up the east road and into the now blinding rain. I never saw the tornado again. Instead the rain continued to intensify and hail began pelting me. I was afraid the torn would cross the road I was on without me being able to see it. I eventually stopped as the entire onslaught passed me by. On the sides of the road were pea to dime size hail piled up like snow banks.

To this day that was one of the coolest tornadoes I've seen. I would love to see that again, or to have a video of it as it was mesmerizing. I think it was similar to dust whirl stage but over a wet field it was condensation / fog whirl phase.

Oh, back on topic. Glen mentions the 'thrill of the hunt'. I'd have to say I don't think I would like a tour. Maybe now that I am experienced and might know some of the people on the tour it might be fun as a change of pace. Surely it might be cool to take it easy for a change and let Roger Hill or someone similar do all the work where I just enjoy the fruits. However since the beginning for me tornado chasing has always been about the mystery, the adventure, the risk, the unknown. Every chase is different, and every storm is different. There have been harrowing times throughout the years learning and chasing on my own, but after survival that has always been part of the lure, and the fascination.

There weren't any tours back when I started, but if there were I doubt they would have added that much to me. Those first tornadoes wouldn't have seemed nearly as sweet without all the hard work and hard knocks that went into learning how to catch them.
Also remember though that it's not always about forecasting, but rather being able to identify the features within the sky of approaching deadly and life threatening weather if you should choose to go on your own as a soloist. Then comes the forecasting knowledge. Then comes the knowledge of being able to use proper technology in communications in case of an emergency or similar situation. Once you can educate yourself fairly well in those 3 branches then I feel in my personal opinion it is then safe the solo on your own as your risk of getting injured or killed is much lower then that of not knowing any of these 3 key knowledgeable fields.
Ron Gravelle, a chaser from Canada, also offers personalized tours and guided storm chases (where you follow the group).
I've chased with Ron and he is a good forecaster. Ron is also safe and has been chasing for many years.

I agree, Bill... Ron is a good friend of mine, and given that I am unable to drive because of my eye condition (I chase as a partner with friends and help by doing other tasks the driver can't do), Ron's private tour was a good option for me. He didn't treat me like a tourist but instead taught me how to sky read in the plains and taught me a lot about his forecasting technique which I might add works quite well. I also helped do some navigating and looking at radar updates using the Baron. But anyways, I really recommend his tour not just because he is a friend, but because in my opinion he is a great guide and chaser that puts your safety first in line. I went with him last year and am proud to be going again this year, this time with several other clients. I also need to give credit to Scott Keddie who helped with the long hours of driving on the road.