Chase Safety Tips & Guidelines Near Tornado Environments

Apr 16, 2004
Austin, Tx
I recently (back in June) hit my 20th anniversary in chasing. This season will be my 21st. Don't have my full tornado count yet, but I'm sure it's over 100. Over the years I've learned a few things - often the hard way. Given our loss last season, the strength of this weekend's system, and the fact that we have tons of new chasers - many of which aren't that experienced I thought I'd throw out this list. I created most of this pretty quick off the top of my head and also some points Skip Talbot made in his El Reno tornado video regarding the chase, various elements and possible mistakes. I'm sure there are a ton more to add. Hopefully these will be useful to a few. Please feel free to share this list.

1 Be aware of information overload & multitasking do not let it overwhelm you

2 Do not have a false sense of security just because other chasers are around

3 At night do not go to the light or to towns just for sense of security. Although towns do offer potential structures for abandoning the vehicle and riding out the tornado. However they may also be in a worse part of the path

4 Particularly in large and / or fast moving and / or size propagating tornadoes you're escape route should not cross the tornadoes future path

5 Be aware and plan for possible vehicle breakdown at all times

6 Reevaluate your safety situation at all times be prepared to alter your escape plans and execute your escape route

7 Be aware the rain near an inflow region of a severe storm maybe a rain wrapped tornado and the strength maybe is impossible to determine

8 Be aware the tornado cyclone the Meso and the Bears cage can all become a tornado

9 Do not blindly follow other chasers Always know why you areat a location and what why you decide to come or go. Always have a reason for the route you take.

10 Avoid traffic and congestion whenever possible

11 Storm chasing is inherently risky and dangerous there are no guarantees of safety and the safety level drops depending on how large your margins are

12 Be aware the radar data is delayed and does not completely reflect the current state of the atmosphere around you. Sometimes these delays can be quite large such as with Mobile threat net. Real case: A storm on radar showing left side of road south is already far right side if road north.

13 Be aware of the potential strength and intensity of a particular storm which you are chasing. A more dangerous storm environment may require additional safety measures and margins

14 Do not drive under wall clouds or funnels, particularly those which are currently active and rotating

15 Be aware that tornadoes and wall clouds are a micro level of the much larger super cell structure and system above. The large dynamic forces at work can make your very small tornado suddenly propagate into something extremely large. This quick growth in size and speed may cause the tornado to overtake you

16 Be aware of task distractions and overload while you are chasing. This overload can overwhelm you and cause you to make bad decisions

17 If you wait until panic to take your escape route you have waited too long

18 Do not blindly execute your planned escape route just because you planned on it. You must reevaluate and determine if it is currently still a safe path to take

19 Almost any option is better than driving in front of and crossing the tornadoes future path in order to get to safety.

20 Inflow notch surfing hook slicing and core punching are extremely risky maneuvers which lower your margin of safety. Be aware you may exit into the tornado

21 Be aware of the big picture, when chasing consider proximity to urban areas, traffic, road congestion, whether chasing at day or night, storm speed and direction, road network, and options whether paved road or dirt, the overall strength of the system, and other future inbound atmospheric events which will soon be impacting the strength of the storm environment around you (future growth). Will this be a high-end event?

22 Be aware of the potential for bridges being out or flooded road ways preventing your escape always have at least two escape routes

23 Do not blindly execute escape routes to the south into what appears to be clear air which take you across the rear flank downdraft and the path of the tornado

24 Be aware that tornado and storm direction can change at anytime due to boundary interactions or super cell strengthening right turning or other phenomenon

25 Be aware that storm mergers above you may create a tornado on top of you

26 Always be aware of damaging inflow jets, ghost trains, rear flank down drafts, and other tornado development or satellite tornadoes around you

27 Be aware around large urban areas as residents may panic and flee to evacuate blocking all of your escape routes putting you in jeopardy

28 What you chase during the day may hunt you at night

29 To chase safely it is recommended you understand weather forecasting, storm structure, and chase strategy, along with safety procedures and techniques. It is also recommended that you have enough of the essential equipment in your vehicle along with an suitable vehicle for chasing and preferably at least one other chase partner to assist who is also knowledgeable.

30 Always be prepared for vehicle or equipment breakdown and preferably have redundant systems

31 Be aware that newer vehicles with electronic traction control systems can hamper your escape by activating your brakes and retarding your engine throttle in high turbulence, inflow jets, on dirt roads

32 Large hail can break your windows and make it difficult to drive, navigate, and visually see the road. Large amounts of hail on the roadway will also slow you down or make your path impassable

33 Be aware the large super cells up stream from you can flood low water crossings / streams and prevent your escape downstream even if it isn't raining currently at your location

34 Just because you get distracted by fiddling with equipment or talking on the phone does not mean that the storm will not eat you or ignore you.

35 Escape routes should almost always be away from the path of the tornado and never cross it.

36 If you are very close sometimes in a tight situation it is better to race ahead in front of the direction of the tornado to widen the distance between you and the tornado before exiting along your right angle to the tornado path escape route

37 Be aware that the tornado speed and direction may be erratic and be substantially faster than the parent super cell due to the fact that it includes the speed of the supercell as well as possibly being flung out along the edge of the rotating mesocyclone as well

38 Be aware that tornadoes often hook to the left or go into looping motions during their dissipation stage and may be wrapped up in rain , making them nearly impossible to see. If you are in the core at this time they could run over you as they hook

39 In close and tight and dangerous situations do not panic.Even though you become frantic you must remain calm and cool and calculating and base your escape route only on information and knowledge and not on emotion. Do not make hasty and panicky split decisions based on emotion. The wrong move may be your last. However do not wait too long to make your escape choices either.

40 If your route is blocked, reverse course and make optional corrections as quickly as possible any delay may put the tornado on top of you

41 If you become trapped and cannot escape the tornado consider all possibilities based on your situation. Look for nearby farm houses or structures to get into. Consider lying in a ditch and digging into the ground or clamping yourself onto the ground in someway. Try to get below ground surface level possibly even consider sheltering in the upper part of an overpass if it is the proper type which is scalable and has a niche up in the very top corner and you can wedge yourself. It is likely not a good idea to remain in the vehicle if the large tornado is actually striking you. However lie in a ditch or low spot, and try and get distance between you and the vehicle so it does not roll over you. Be aware however that outside the vehicle you are more subject to flying debris rocks, hail, and other dangerous materials.

42 A safe distance margin in an area for one chaser is not necessarily safe for another chaser based on their experience level equipment and vehicle type

43 Keep in mind that every chaser has their level of acceptable risk and level of acceptable safety margins and different equipment and capabilities. Do not base your positions and escape routes on those of another chaser unless you have no other options and otherwise everything is lost

44 Help another chaser in need if you can particularly those who are stranded in a dangerous situation or position

45 Taking even nice secondary or back roads as a shortcut which are paved far into the country you may find yourself stuck with nothing but dirt roads. if the supercell begins raining on you in a highly tornadic environment then those roads will be mud and you may become stuck in a very bad situation

46 Driving into the core to escape a tornado is not always guaranteed safety as the tornado may loop back on you or particularly in HP supercells there may be a rain wrapped tornado already inside the structure. Likewise punching the core of said storm will likely cause you to drive into it's tornado in progress unawares. That said as a last ditch effort to avoid a tornado, driving into a deep core will usually work.

47 It is recommended you have safety goggles to protect your eyes from hail and glass.

48 For protection from tornadoes it is also recommended in addition to safety goggles that you have a strong helmet such as a motorcycle helmet and thick padded clothing such as leather jackets or flak jackets & boots with long pants.

49 Consider that it may be true that not all chase setups can be chased safely

50 Evaluate your mental strength and energy level before a chase. Make sure you are prepared and capable of dealing with the upcoming situation based on how high-end the event may be, road networks, urban areas, and other factors

51 If you don't like a chase situation or set up or believe it is beyond you or your equipments capabilities then do not chase it. It is better to turn around today and live to chase another day

52 Don't base your decisions of whether to chase a setup or situation or not on the chase community, peer pressure, status, or those of another chaser. Do not allow yourself to be biased. To protect yourself you must be responsible for yourself and that decision is solely yours

53 Do not allow yourself to be lured into a position just because you see other chasers take a position. The fact that they are in that position such as next to, nearby, or under the tornado, does not make it safe.

54 Driving into a tornado can ruin your whole day

55 Driving into the core when things get rough is typically abetter solution than challenging the tornado or racing through destructive violent rear flank downdraft, but never a guarantee of safety

56 Be very careful crossing flooded roadways or low water crossings. Only 6 inches of fast moving water can move your car. It is also possible that the roadway has washed out underneath the water and you just can't see it. Remember turn around don't drown

57 Pick your battle. If you feel it is unsafe to intercept a tornado in a particular location based on the apparent set up then perhaps you can navigate to another location which is safer and more suitable

58 Be very careful of driving over or through downed power lines. You must make sure they are truly dead but you also must remember the relay can reactivate them to test the connection at anytime. If they come in contact with your vehicle when live you very well may be electrocuted

59 Be wary of chasing through road networks in areas where tornadoes have caused damage on recent previous days. the road you plan on using may be blocked and impassable

60 Be aware of and prepare for unplanned road construction.These can delay you getting to your chase target as well as put you in danger when you attempt to flee a storm or tornado

61 Emergency flashing lights can be useful to prevent other people from running into you and perhaps alerting the public to hazard; however they can also be a detriment to other chasers at night when it is raining or in low visibility because they distort the other drivers view out the window through the water droplets –possibly making it very difficult for them to see hazards such as tornadoes.

62 Getting stuck in large chase convergence and slow moving caravans of chasers, spotters, media, and public can seriously be a risk to your life as you may be unable to escape a tornado

63 Urban traffic and traffic jams can seriously be a risk to your life as you may be unable to escape

64 Be very careful chasing at night particularly near the inflow region and tornadic areas. Features such as tornadoes may be closer than they appear providing smaller margins

65 Everything is a bit more difficult and riskier at night due to visibility. Preferably only chase night setups where the inflow region base is fairly high with good relief from ground terrain and structures. It is also recommended to chase only when there is sufficient lightning and perhaps a full moon to assist viewing

66 At night be aware particularly in close to a tornadic feature or radar couplet of sudden very strong to extreme wind blowing horizontally for sustained periods. This is likely a sign that a tornado is near your area. Remember the direction the wind is going shows the direction of the potential tornado because wind sucks into a tornado. Get out of that inflow jet. However it may be a bit tough to know exactly the right way to go based on your road because although you generally know the direction of the tornado, you may not know for sure which way it is going. Example: you are on a north/south road headed north. Suddenly a very strong wind from ne.You reason you are safe because you are north of the feature and it should pass to your south. Unbeknown st to you the tornado is moving ne and as you go further north you are in the path. Confused and panicked as it approaches you do not know what to do. You are in jeopardy and extreme danger

67 Be aware of electronic stability control type issues with your vehicle in the near tornadic environment on dirt roads as it can suppress your engine power and apply brakes intermittently making it difficult to achieve a high enough speed to escape the tornado

68 Be aware in the near tornadic environment an underpowered 4cylinder vehicle may not be able to escape inflow wind & turbulence

69 Be aware of being wedged between a tornadic environment and a large metropolitan city or town your options may be limited for escape

70 Be aware of being wedged up against a tornado environment and a Tollway or road network which is restrictive or being on an interstate highway with few exit ramps. Your options may be limited for escape

71 Pay attention to timestamps on your radar products

72 Be aware that some vehicles have electronic throttle governors that prevent you from accelerating past a certain speed. You should know this in advance. It is possible you may have to accelerate beyond 100 mph to escape.
I would like to bump this thread. If you all agree I think it should be stickied. The chase community can add to this list or modify it as necessary.