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First Chase Approved!

Charlie Kruschek

I’ve been into severe weather since I was merely 9 years old. I grew up fascinated with the movie Twister, which hooked me on Tornadoes. When I was 12 years old, I purchased my first camera, in the hopes of documenting as much wild weather as I could. When I turned 15, I upgraded to a DSLR, and when I was 16 and got my drivers license, I was out on the road chasing whatever storm, severe or not, that developed here in the state of... Wisconsin.

Being a passionate about tornadoes is tough up here. You have very few opportunities to really go after a true tornado-risk storm. For the past 2 years now, I’ve mostly exercised my skills in capturing beautiful clouds and illuminating strikes of lightning. Not to sound greedy, but I want to experience more. I’ve always wanted to experience more.

I’m a senior in high school now, and my 18th birthday is only 2 months away. My parents are both fully aware of my dreams of attending KU and pursuing meteorology, so I felt it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to ask them about my options when I graduate high school. I put together a detailed spreadsheet analyzing finances and how I plan to travel, in the hopes they’d give me some feedback.

Well, I showed them my plan, and they are allowing me to spend 8 days chasing in the heart of Tornado Alley!

The reason I’m here is I need your help. As much experience I have with chasing up in Wisconsin and dealing with non-tornadic storms, I’m fully aware that when I make it down to my first chase in the plains, it’s going to be night and day different. I’m looking for any tips or tricks anyone could send my way as I prepare financially for this trip, as well as prepare my camera gear.

I’m beyond excited for June to arrive. Whatever advice anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I’ll see one of you out in the field at some point too!
Welcome, Charlie! My first bit of advice for you would be to search through the various forums in this site. You'll find a thread for most likely anything you want to know about getting started with chasing and using various types of cameras and other equipment.

Second, as someone who doesn't live in the Plains, I understand the appeal of chasing there to increase your chances of seeing a tornado. However, as any veteran can tell you, chasing in the Plains is no guarantee that you'll witness a good storm, let alone a tornado. Learn to appreciate the beauty of the storms you hopefully will encounter, and if you do see a tornado, that's a bonus.

Finally, financing a chasing expedition can be tricky. The most varying expense will be fuel, as that depends on how fuel-efficient your vehicle is, the price of gas when and where you chase, and how much driving you'll end up doing. Speaking of vehicles, make sure you change your oil and have good tread on your tires before leaving. Hotel expenses depend on how much you care about the quality of the place you stay and where you're staying. If you're in a relatively larger town or metropolitan area, you should be able to find a decent room at a decent price. Some chasers sometimes opt just to sleep in their vehicles. Food and drink will probably be the things you have the most financial control over. I personally purchase value-packs of drinks and snacks ahead of time, as well as make small, easy to eat meals that I pack in a large cooler. That helps to save money, and is convenient when you're hungry and chasing out in the middle of nowhere. I'll pick a restaurant to eat at if I get tired of eating whatever I've packed or to celebrate a successful chase day.
We should have a permanent section for tips for beginners so there could be an easy to access compilation.
Here’s a few off the top of my head.
1) If at all possible, don’t go alone. Going with someone experienced is ideal, but having someone to help out with the driving and expenses is better than nothing.
2) If you can, plan your trip for when the storms are most likely. Spending a week chasing nothing only to have things blow up when you get back home will make you sick.
3) Until you learn your way around storm structure, keep a safe distance away from the storm. If you aren’t sure you are a safe distance away, back up.
4) Eat as healthy as you can and get enough sleep. It will help stave off the inevitable fatigue that will become worse the more consecutive days you chase.
5) Make sure you have a credit card for unexpected expenses like car repairs.
6) Don’t drive like a jackass. It’s frowned upon by more than law enforcement. Nobody but you cares that your storm is a dud and a new monster cell just got warned 60 miles away.
7) Always pull off the road as far as you can and stay out of the roadway when picture taking.
8) Don’t be afraid to ask questions of other chasers out in the field. Most would love to share helpful info with you like what the storm is doing and why they chose it.
9) Stick to paved roads as much as possible
10) Stick to paved roads as much as possible. I know it’s a repeat, but it’s worth repeating. Everybody ends up with at least one bad experience on a clay slip and slide.
11) Have fun! You’ll have days where everything goes wrong, but hell, you’re still out there chasing. Enjoy it,
There used to be an Educational section with a ton of Q & A type posts that were gold, but it appears to have either been blended with another forum or deleted. If you can find it, it's loaded with great information about storm structure and behavior. Circa 2008.
Remember that no storm is worth loss of life or injury. Not just to you but to others as well. Chasing is full of dangers. Storms can take unexpected turns so always maintain situational awareness and always ni your escape route at any given point in time. If you lose SA, bail. Pay attention to other cars. Avoid chaser convergence because it can impede or block your safe route.
One thing often overlooked is securing all loose items inside your vehicle. Loose items become deadly flying objects if you get into an accident.
Bring safety googles. Nothing sucks worse than having to call of tour chase because your eyes are full of dirt.
Although it's already been said, be careful of dirt roads. I learned the hard way that it's easier to drive on a sheet of ice than wet clay. Many tow companies won't even bother with wet clay and if you're alone and can't find a farmer with a tractor willing to help you'll be stuck until the road dries.
Mapping software isn't always accurate. Sometimes it will show roads that don't exist. It's good practice to verify smaller county roads with satellite imagery.
Last but not least, have fun. Your first chase will be one you'll never forget regardless of the outcome. Best of luck to you!

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G891A using Tapatalk
Well, I'm a newer chaser but last year I wrote out a list of tips and lessons learned (usually the hard way) on my blog. You might find it helpful though; if nothing else it'll give you an idea of some of the things you might encounter or want to plan out.


You can also read the rest of the blog if you want to get a first person perspective of "I've never done this before!" to "I think I'm getting the hang of this!". I hope you like bullet points.

EDIT: Also...have fun out there, and good luck!
Not much to add here, but you can also check out " Storm Chasing Handbook" by Tim Vasquez. A bit pricy on Amazon but has a wealth of information!
All of this is so helpful! I felt I had prepared pretty well prior to posting but all of these loose ends everyone mentioned is going to make me feel safer and more confident.

Thank you all so much!
Rock Chalk Jayhawk! So you will move directly from Wisconsin to Lawrence? Once at KU you will have the luxury of local Kansas chases, even if it means a long drive and back to central or south-central Kansas. However the original question seems to be about this season.

Definitely get a chase partner. I've seen students make their dad drive, and there is no shame there. Then one can focus on forecasting, nowcasting, weather safety, and observing. In addition to the safety benefits of another person, chasing just ain't much fun alone.

You will be surprised how far you can see in the Plains. No need to get too close. Don't go by radar to judge safety/distance unless your partner is very experienced doing so. Otherwise, it's still a great show from a few to several miles back.

On chase-cation do not compromise on targets. After investing all that time and money, go a couple more hours to the right target.
John Olexa said:
Not much to add here, but you can also check out " Storm Chasing Handbook" by Tim Vasquez. A bit pricy on Amazon but has a wealth of information!
I was considering getting that one & looked on eBay for it.. but the prices are just too high .lol. I doubt the local used-book store would have something like that, though I may go look just for the heck of it.

Anyone know, just how much was this book new? Just so I have something to go off?
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I was considering getting that one & looked on eBay for it.. but the prices are just too high .lol. I doubt the local used-book store would have something like that, though I may go look just for the heck of it.

Anyone know, just how much was this book new? Just so I have something to go off?

Just went to my shelf to look and could not find a price printed on it.
All great advice here. Here's what I learned when I was first starting out:
  • Gas will cost more than you think. It's not uncommon to put 800+ miles on your car in a single day. Gas will be more expensive than what you are paying now because of higher taxes in some states, and limited fueling options mean less supply, which means higher prices. Add 50 cents to whatever you are paying now, and re-calculate on your spreadsheet.
  • Hotels will cost more than you think. $39 hotels aren't always available. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow just in case you need to sleep in your car.
  • Don't expect to find a tornado. It's harder than you might imagine. Just go for some great structure on your first chase, and if you do happen to see a tornado, that's a plus.
  • Get a chase partner. You can either ask in the chase partner thread, or just ask people you meet during the down days while you're waiting for the storms to arrive if you can shadow them. My chase partners and I often drive different cars because we each have our own plans on how many days we can chase, and we live in different cities or even different states. You might have to team up with 2 or 3 chase partners during the week depending upon where you are chasing and how long your chase partners can chase with you.
  • Get some training. Either take and pass the spotternetwork test, or take a Skywarn training. This will help you understand what you are looking at, and can help keep you safe.
  • Ask lots of questions on how to stay safe.
    • This includes understanding the safest spot to be in a supercell, bow echo, and squall line (all of which can produce tornadoes).
    • Learn how to avoid hail, which can end your chase.
    • Avoid dirt roads at all costs during your first chase.
    • Practice situational awareness. Don't be so focused on what's happening in front of you that you miss what's happening behind you.
    • Know and plan your escape routes. Always have 2 escape routes at a minimum. Often those escape routes will be East and South. West and North will often be blocked off by tornadoes, rain, and hail.
    • Drive slower in the rain and hail. If there is standing water on the roads, drive 40mph or less. People behind you will hate you, but remember that cars start to hydroplane at 40mph. It's better to be safe and have a few people behind you mad at you, than end up in a ditch with a wrecked car.
    • Beware of driver fatigue. If you start to feel tired or you notice you are missing things on the road such as signs and possible obstacles, stop and take a break. It's much better to sleep in your car for an hour or two, than end up dead because you fell asleep at the wheel or missed a stop sign.
    • If you can team up with someone in your car (dad, friend who's always wanted to storm chase and is willing to drive for you, etc), do it. That will allow you to focus on the radar and sky observations while someone else focuses on the road. If you can't find someone to drive for you, then I would highly recommend you pull off to the side of the road to check radar. Trying to look at radar while you're driving is distracted driving, and it's deadly.
  • Bring a credit card. If your car breaks down and requires $2,000 of repairs in the middle of nowhere, how will you pay for repairs or a flight home?
  • Bring a tow rope and shackles and know where your tow hook is located (usually in your trunk under your spare tire). So long as you have these, anybody passing by can tow you out of a ditch, wet grass, muddy road, etc.
  • Have a plan for what you will do when you lose internet. Only experienced chasers should chase without radar. There are a couple of options:
    • Spend $50 on a handheld radio at Walmart that has weather channels. Listen to the weather channels for any warnings in your area.
    • Spend $150 - $400 on a cell booster so that you don't lose internet (I personally prefer Surecall, but Weboost is good too).
    • Get your HAM radio license and program all of the Skywarn channels into your radio before you leave home. You can monitor the nearest Skywarn chatter and listen for any dangers in your area.
    • Get a scanner and program as many Fire and Police frequencies as you can before you leave home. You can monitor these frequencies for any chatter of damage or tornadoes. If you are limited on frequencies, just focus on the Fire frequencies.
I know that's a lot. That's because there's a lot to learn.

I wish you the best of luck during your first chase, and if you happen to be out in Colorado or western Kansas at that time, I hope to see you out there!
Yep, there's deff some goog advice posted here.
It'd be interesting to see an update from the original poster to see if/how some of his chases went.

In my case:
I would be going alone (which I know they say not to do), but...
I wouldn't be planning to go far from home, though I'm not sure just how far away(east of) the mountains (which I live pretty close to) I need to get?
I also would be staying back a good distance (it might be cool to get a 'up close' pic/video, but not a risk I'd personally want to take). I don't know that "I fear the tornado" would really be the right term, moreso its "I respect the power that storm may have in it" (and hail I do fear)
And I'd personally avoid dirt roads simply because of the fact I don't have a truck or SUV.
I'd honestly rather find something like a Walmart or Home Depot parkinglot in an outlying area of the city as places to begin, even though that may not be 'the best of' locations. Being farther away would give a nice overview of the storm too, seeing the whole cloud/structure is pretty impressive. I guess that could be called 'storm lurking' rather than 'storm chasing"? .LOL.
Oh and I would be in Colorado since that's my home state. :)

Besides looking around various parts of the forum here, I also found & read the Spotters Field Guide's (beginning & advanced). Looking forward to that book I just ordered arriving too now.
In my case:
I would be going alone (which I know they say not to do), but...
Oh and I would be in Colorado since that's my home state. :)

James, if you want to chase this weekend, hit me up. I'll be leaving from Colorado Springs early Friday morning, and returning Sunday.