A newbie takes a couple drives to tornado alley

Tom DiMatteo

This is my first post here since joining a few months back and I justed wanted to weigh in with a couple stories and a few pics... and a couple questions. Tons of great info on this site and some very knowledgable stormchasers!

June 4th: about 1:30 pm I decide I am tired of waiting around for a storm here in Austin, and surf around here and a couple of weather sites and decide I can stomach the drive to Wichita Falls (700 miles r/t), so off I go with a compass and hand drawn map... As I approach Wichita Falls around 5:00-6:00 I see some towers and an anvil and I think, hey this might be pretty easy... well that part was, and then all hell broke loose as I continued to Iowa park and Electra...

All the way listening to emergency weather reports from freaking Norman, OK! It was crazy with two or three storms going at once... I suddenly realized... crap I'm near some serious sh*t, and at that point I had to admit that I was lost so I started heading south as the rain and visibility were getting worse... I did manage a few pics which I posted here:

I think I may have seen a tornado from afar, but I'm not sure and did not have a chance to try to photograph.

June 12: Same routine.. took off a bit earlier, minimal planning, but decide to try Abilene (475 miles r/t). Again without a laptop, and this time... no conversation on radio about any storms, basically no info, and no visible signs of much in the sky (at least to me). I later came to realize that if I had continued further N/W about 75 miles or so I would have been in the area of all the storms in Jayton and surrounding area's... I had no idea... I guess THAT was a horrible bust...

I guess my point is that if you are going to commit to making those drives, would you at least make sure you had internet or some kind of special radio available before making a trip? I know my answer is yes...

I know its possible to make a long drive and see absolutely nothing, but I was not that far away from some action in retrospect... but I had no idea. Anyway I feel good about taking my shots... any feedback welcome!

Also hoping I get another shot or two down this way... I am sure others feel like there have been plenty of shots in N texas relatively speaking :)

Hey Tom, welcome to the site.

Something you may want to try is hook up with some folks on the site, so that they can "nowcast" for you while you are chasing. Basically, someone sitting at home monitoring the current weather data, radar, etc. keeps in touch with you by cell phone to direct you towards a storm intercept. I've met helpful folks on here who have done the nowcast for me when I'm on a chase, and I also enjoy nowcasting for others out chasing. Even w/ wifi spots on the road, sooner or later your "final approach" usually takes you out in the countryside where you really need someone to inform you of the storm vectors. I guess it's kind of romantic to chase with your eyes only, but the problem is there may be something just over the horizon that you would otherwise miss out on without a nowcaster. When I nowcast for others, I always have my 50-state road atlas nearby, to help the chaser w/ road options, warn of unanticipated obstacles such as lakes, etc. and also use the Level3 radar which overlays warnings, shows mesocyclone signatures, etc.
Thanks for the reply Mike, having a nowcaster would be ideal. I suppose I didn't feel like I was ready for that yet, but now that I have cracked off a couple of these drives, I can see where that would be invaluable, particular if the chaser also has the same maps! Hell, last weekend somebody could have at least told me... hey bud there is stuff happening further up the road :) I guess 75 miles is still a ways out though.

good to see Missouri representing here, I grew up in Florissant, Mo.

I realized Sunday that nowcasting is extremely helpful in chasing.

Even though I didn't get to see tornadic activity in central OK this past Sunday, I was in position to go towards the best looking storm and it turned out to be a shelf cloud with interesting clouds (I spotted that from a distance). If I didn't have a fearful experience with a 70-mph crosswind during a tornadic supercell day and had just seen a more impressive shelf cloud two days prior, I would have been more brave (and more fascinated) with the storm.

I have good instincts when I know where storms are and nowcasting really helps you in getting to the storm (once I see the storm, at least in the last two years, I've found the most interesting part of the storm with little effort).

In KS, I know many radio stations in the area to find the storms of interest (one of them had a chaser on that alerted me on the first Mulvane tornado last year while I was at a family member's house). For long distances I'm unfamiliar with, a nowcaster can be your best resource.
June 12th taught me a few things....

-There are LARGE NOAA wx radio gaps

-Nowcasters can't help if you don't have cell phone signal

-Barons WXWORX sure would of been helpful!

thanks for the feedback fellas, I am definitely interested in getting a weather radio and maybe a GPS system, already got a laptop. That XM satellite stuff looks pretty cool, but way overkill for me at this point.
Agree, having a good nowcaster, a good cell phone connection, and both parties in sync with maps and locations is ideal, just gotta be very careful about trying to do much... while driving!

I am hoping there is another weekend or two to try this again with a 1-2 day trip up as far as maybe Wichita Falls for example. I am really looking for good photo opp's of some nice storm structure within a good composition and light etc... not so much driving into a tornado or getting blasted with hail :)