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Getting started equipment recomendations

Readers Digest version at the bottom.

Hello everyone. Before I get started with my post, I'd like to say thanks for having a great community set up. I hope that as time goes on I can become a contributing member here and hopefully get to chase some awesome storms. If you would like to read my "Meet and greet bio" you can do so here.

As mentioned in my bio, chasing is something that is new to me that I would like to turn into a hobby. As it is something new to me, I'm looking to the pros (you all) for some input, mostly about equipment to use in the field. I have a flexible work schedule over the summers, so my hope is to just wait in Ohio until a fairly probable thunderstorm outlook comes up, then heading out west for several days before heading back, just so I can get a taste of chasing this season to determine if this is indeed a hobby I would like to pursue, and if it is, then heading out next year for a more extended trip.

Anyways, I have learned a great deal about equipment that is usable in the field so far, but still have several questions. My first question has to deal with the mobile internet. It seems that most people on ST are using express card modems, or blackberrys that they tether to their computer. My question is, what about tethering a regular cell phone to my computer? I have a enV from Verizon Wireless and figured that when heading out I would just activate mobile broadband on my number and use bluetooth to tether it to my laptop. Does anyone have experience with doing this, and if so, how did it work?

Secondly, my laptop is a MacBook Pro which works well for what I do in school. However, it seems pretty much all the software used in storm chasing is Windows based. While installing Windows on my MacBook is no problem, I was wondering if anyone had tried this and ran into any issues that might make a Mac a less than desirable choice.

Thirdly, I am pretty much completely in the dark about using a GPS with a computer. While I am sure I could figure it out on my own, I was hoping someone would be able to enlighten me on what good computer based GPSs are out there. I have also thought about getting a handheld so I could try some geocaching as well, so if you use a handheld with your laptop, input would be appreciated.

Fourthly, software. It seems that software could make or break a trip, especially for a novice like myself. I have been playing around with GrLevel3 for the past several days and am quickly learning how to effectively use it. However, what other software packages are out there that would be useful in the field? I have heard people talk about a routing program like Microsoft Streets, which is something I should look into, but what else? Also, is it beneficial and worth the money to get Level II NEXRAD data? It seems that the Pros can benefit from it, but will someone at my level of learning really have much use for it? Should I just set that on the back seat for the time being and maybe reevaluate the need for it next spring? Finally, are there any Mac programs out there that would be useful? I would probably run Windows in Parallels, so I would have the option of running both.

Fifthly, vehicles. I drive an older 325i that is in great condition and I really don't want to blow out my windshield and dent the car to hell, so I am hoping to borrow an older family vehicle ('92 P.O.S. Oldsmobile or 2000 Honda Oddessy) that can get dinged up pretty well and not loose much value. Which of these would you recommend? I'm guessing that most chasers use an SUV and it is probably rare to see a sedan, much less a minivan, but it is what I have access to. Also, if I do enjoy this and decide to do a more extended trip next year, what kind of car would you recommend looking to buy? I don't have a lot of money, so that should be kept in mind. Oh, and what are some good accessories to have in the car?

Finally, am I even going to get a chance to see anything this spring? It seems like there is debate whether or not the season is over already! While I would have loved to get out earlier, school is important and I can't just skip a week of class to get a chance to see some supercells in the plains. I really am only looking for a few days with storms which are predicted a few days in advance so I can get on the road and go see something before coming home. Is this realistic, and is it worth waiting for? I am really hopeful to get a chance this season, but if it doesn't happen, well, we obviously can't control the weather.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for making a wall of text, but as there is no weather coming through, I figured that maybe this would help some people pass the time!;) I look forward to your responses and hope to learn even more before my first chasing trip. Oh, and if you have any tips on how to NOT be a "yahoo" (thats what you call the crazies, right?), please let me know... I would hate to start off with a bad reputation!

Readers Digest version:
-Is bluetooth tethering to a normal phone (enV) ok? How about Verizon Wireless?
-I have a Mac. Is this going to hurt me in the long run?
-What is a good GPS solution? Standalone?
-What software should I try to run? Is Level II NEXRAD going to be something I want/need?
-What type of vehicle should I use?
-Am I going to get to see anything this season?

If you plan on answering something, please read the paragraph about it though as to avoid asking a question that might be answered in the paragraph. The readers digest matches the paragraphs above for convenience.
 
-You should have no problems using bluethooth to tether to your laptop. Just make sure your plan supports plenty of data usage so that you dont run up a massive bill downloading visible satillite or radar images.

-Mac should not be a problem, though I think most people use cheaper laptops simply because of the rigors and abuse associated with chasing.

-Just starting with GPS so I am not the best to answer that question.

-I'd recommend GRLevel3... a moble connection wont always support the higher res data and level 3 is plenty for chasing.

-Of the 2 you posted... I'd use the van. More room is always a plus and there are actually a few users here who use vans, including chase tour groups. Just make sure it is in good mechanical condition and do any regular maintenence before departing on your trip.

-Their may still be a chance this season... but its looking pretty grim :(.
 
1. If your phone is capable of tethering than this is a good option. Make sure you power your phone with a car charger or you'll quickly run out of battery. I like to connect via USB because then it also charges and sends data through the same cable. I used to tether with my Razr over bluetooth and it worked fairly well. Occasionally I'd run into problems getting it configured or having to redial.

2. I am not a Mac guy but I'm sure there are several others on here who are running a dual boot system without too many problems.

3. Pick up either Delorme Street Atlas or Microsoft Streets and Trips. Both have packages than include the GPS reciever. Both are effective for chasing. Personally I prefer Street Atlas because it has a few additional features, but others prefer Streets and Trips because of its asethetic and less cumbersome interface.

4. GrLevel3 is definitely the prefered radar software amongst the majority of chasers. In addition, you'll want to get Franson GpsGate so you can use your Gps with multiple applications such as GrLevel3, Street Atlas (or Streets and Trips), and Spotter Network. Level 2 data is usually too bulky to download in the field unless you are in a broadband area. I would stick with the level 3 for chasing.

5. Cars are a very broad topic. I'd say there is an even mix of vehicles out there, not a strong preference towards SUVs. Personally, I chase in a minivan. I love the room and seating capacity. Sedans are very common for chasers. Some even chase in two seater sports cars. As for dinging up your vehicle.... hail cores can be avoided. If you decide to punch a core though its usually a calculated decision. Windshields can be replaced. ;)

6. The season is not over. Although it looks bleak for May on the models, June will not escape without a few storms somewhere. The summer usually holds one or two surprises as well. In fact, the midwest might see a little more play later this season than the plains. Will you see a tornado? Lots of newbs get lucky, but it takes years for some.
 
I chase with a Macbook w/Bootcamp installed. No issues with software whatsoever. I run GRLvl3 and Street Atlas 2007 and connect with an older LG CU500V via Bluetooth for data.

Secondly, my laptop is a MacBook Pro which works well for what I do in school. However, it seems pretty much all the software used in storm chasing is Windows based. While installing Windows on my MacBook is no problem, I was wondering if anyone had tried this and ran into any issues that might make a Mac a less than desirable choice.
 
Just make sure your plan supports plenty of data usage so that you dont run up a massive bill downloading visible satillite or radar images.

Will 5 Gb be enough for this purpose? I think that is what Verizon's plan is, but I've heard that they don't really monitor this number very closely.

Pick up either Delorme Street Atlas or Microsoft Streets and Trips. Both have packages than include the GPS reciever.

How are the receivers that come with these? The one with MS S&T appears to just be similar to a USB flash drive, which I can't imagine would get very good reception when under the roof of the car.

As for dinging up your vehicle.... hail cores can be avoided.

While they can be avoided, I'm guesing that still every once in a while you get caught up in them? How hard would it be for a novice (like myself) to avoid these hail cores?

I chase with a Macbook w/Bootcamp installed. No issues with software whatsoever.

Do you run in Windows only mode (requires a reboot to switch between Mac and Windows), or do you run parallels and fire up a "virtual machine" on the Mac side?

Thanks for the answers so far, its all helpful to see!
 
Will 5 Gb be enough for this purpose? I think that is what Verizon's plan is, but I've heard that they don't really monitor this number very closely.

They can and they do charge sometimes so I wouldn't push your luck. 5 Gb is more than enough for a typical chaser as long as you aren't streaming a lot of video or using it as your primary internet connection while at home. If you are streaming, just watch your usage.


How are the receivers that come with these? The one with MS S&T appears to just be similar to a USB flash drive, which I can't imagine would get very good reception when under the roof of the car.
If you put them up on the dash under the windshield they usually work quite well.


While they can be avoided, I'm guesing that still every once in a while you get caught up in them? How hard would it be for a novice (like myself) to avoid these hail cores?
Its usually as easy as just turning around. If you are core punching from the north though this might be your only intercept option. You'll have to decide whether or not the chase is worth it because that might be your one shot. Hail dents are braggable war wounds for me, although my van has almost 200,000 miles on it so I don't really care.
 
Wow, I never thought I would have to do this. I mean, Steve Miller is a common name....mine is not. Am I Kevin Crawmer-MO now and you are Kevin Cramer-OH???

Just because you chase doesn't mean you have to get to close to the storms yet. Hail cores can definitely be avoided. I think I have only been in hail in about 5-10% of my chases. Obviously that is by choice.

5 GB will last you a long time if you don't stream a ton or download a lot of videos and music and stuff. I think it comes out to about 170MB per day. I am under that almost every day by quite a bit. I bet I only use half, but I haven't been on any hard chases with it with tons of data either. Most people I know say it is plenty though.

Good luck.
 
If you put them up on the dash under the windshield they usually work quite well.

So do you have your whole laptop setup under the windshield, or do you use a USB extender cable or something like that? I just don't see how the laptop would still be usable if it was way up on the dash, and from what I can tell, the GPS is just a tiny "usb key" with no real length to it.

Its usually as easy as just turning around. If you are core punching from the north though this might be your only intercept option. You'll have to decide whether or not the chase is worth it because that might be your one shot. Hail dents are braggable war wounds for me, although my van has almost 200,000 miles on it so I don't really care.
Just because you chase doesn't mean you have to get to close to the storms yet. Hail cores can definitely be avoided. I think I have only been in hail in about 5-10% of my chases. Obviously that is by choice.

I realize this is probably better placed in weather, but is there an easy way to tell if something is a hail core or not? I'm sure as you gain more experience it is easier to pick out, but part of me feels like I'm going to get out west with somewhat of a handicap due to it being my first time and not really seeing how certain situations pan out. I am glad that people here are helpful though! As a side note, how far away from the storm can you really be to see it? I live in a pretty hilly area with a lot of trees and such, so unless the storm is close, you aren't going to see a whole lot. While there are some areas here where you can see quite a ways, most of my experience with them are in the winter when the big storms aren't around as much.

Wow, I never thought I would have to do this. I mean, Steve Miller is a common name....mine is not. Am I Kevin Crawmer-MO now and you are Kevin Cramer-OH???

Haha, sorry if I'm stealing your name! When I first read your response, I thought that I had posted it and was so confused. Anyways, nice to meet you! :)
 
I am hoping to borrow an older family vehicle ('92 P.O.S. Oldsmobile or 2000 Honda Oddessy) that can get dinged up pretty well and not loose much value. Which of these would you recommend? I'm guessing that most chasers use an SUV and it is probably rare to see a sedan, much less a minivan, but it is what I have access to. Also, if I do enjoy this and decide to do a more extended trip next year, what kind of car would you recommend looking to buy?

Something dependable, not a P.O.S. esp. if you plan on venturing into tornado alley. IMO the vehicle, other than being the one and only truly *required* piece of equipment, it's by far the most important piece of equipment to have a newer/nice dependable one. You're going to put tens of thousands of miles on the vehicle annually, often thousand plus miles from home, and the miles are often “tough” miles, chase vehicles take a lot of abuse, you don’t want to be dealing with breakdowns and the hassles a non dependable vehicle can provide. I personally don't buy the whole 4x4 is a must BS, I've chased in a variety of vehicles from vans to SUV's to a wide array of cars; from my experiences, no combined benefits of one outweigh the combined benefits of the other, sure its better to have 4 wheel drive, but its also better to have good gas mileage, I just don’t see where anyone scenario dramatically outweighs the other . I had some experience with Ford Fusion’s and was always impressed with their performance, so last year I bought an 08 Milan (Mercury's mirror of the fusion) and now use that as my chase vehicle; no complaints at all, other than the obvious amazing gas mileage, it's roomy, fast, and surprisingly "decent" off road (I have actually yet to get stuck in this car, unusal for me). Unless you have some specified project that requires otherwise, I see no reason that dependable mid-size and full size sedans can't be practical options for chase vehicles, just makes sure to take good mechanical care of your vehicle so you don’t end up stranded.

While they can be avoided, I'm guesing that still every once in a while you get caught up in them? How hard would it be for a novice (like myself) to avoid these hail cores?

They can be avoided, but if you want to chase seriously (see some crazy stuff) your number will be called from time to time and you will not be able to avoid them, it's just part of the "hobby"

So do you have your whole laptop setup under the windshield, or do you use a USB extender cable or something like that? I just don't see how the laptop would still be usable if it was way up on the dash, and from what I can tell, the GPS is just a tiny "usb key" with no real length to it.


They come with a cord, most people are going to use a laptop mount and just simply plug the GPS into the computer, most GPS cords I've seen are if anything to long.

5th picture down shows how simply GPS works, note the yellow puck attached to windshield with cord extending to computer, newer units use bluetooth and don't even require the cord... http://www.severechase.com/3-6-09.html
 
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Have you been to any spotter training of any kind? If not, I would highly recommend it. If you stay out of the core of the storm you will likely avoid the hail. Spotter training will discuss thunderstorm structure and where hail cores will likely be. You can also figure it out through weather programs such as GR that you have mentioned where it will give you hail indicators and such. I would go through the beginners forum if I were you and look up "Haby's Hints" on the internet and read as much as you can. I started from scratch a few years ago and did spotter training, hours and hours of reading on here and other online articles, bought a couple of books that I read, and pretty much still read articles here and there for things I don't have a great understanding of or specific types of setups (traditional dryline, northwest flow, etc). The neat thing about this stuff is, like any science, there will always be new stuff to learn. Also, just get out there and watch storms as often as possible. Try to forecast what you are going to see before going out and then go out and watch it go down and see if you are right. If things don't happen, try to figure it out.

Good luck.
 
They come with a cord, most people are going to use a laptop mount and just simply plug the GPS into the computer, most GPS cords I've seen are if anything to long.

The MS Streets that comes with a GPS locater has a "compact, cable free, locator" which doesn't look like it is a wireless bluetooth thing or any longer than about 3 inches... does anyone have experience with this before I buy it?

Have you been to any spotter training of any kind? If not, I would highly recommend it. If you stay out of the core of the storm you will likely avoid the hail. Spotter training will discuss thunderstorm structure and where hail cores will likely be. You can also figure it out through weather programs such as GR that you have mentioned where it will give you hail indicators and such. I would go through the beginners forum if I were you and look up "Haby's Hints" on the internet and read as much as you can. I started from scratch a few years ago and did spotter training, hours and hours of reading on here and other online articles, bought a couple of books that I read, and pretty much still read articles here and there for things I don't have a great understanding of or specific types of setups (traditional dryline, northwest flow, etc). The neat thing about this stuff is, like any science, there will always be new stuff to learn. Also, just get out there and watch storms as often as possible. Try to forecast what you are going to see before going out and then go out and watch it go down and see if you are right. If things don't happen, try to figure it out.

I have done the Spotter Network training but nothing more than that. I tried to get in contact with my local NOAA branch (SPS branch?) about SkyWarn training but have not heard anything back after several weeks. Are there any other online or offline resources you could recommend?

I am enjoying trying to forecast somewhat right now by myself, but it is a lot of information to absorb and apply in a short amount of time.
 
How are the receivers that come with these? The one with MS S&T appears to just be similar to a USB flash drive, which I can't imagine would get very good reception when under the roof of the car.

you can go on ebay and buy 2 ft, 3 ft, 6ft, 10', USB Extension Cables so you can position the puck where you want it.

Just makes sure they are USB 2.0 Male AM M to Female Extension Cables.

they are pretty cheap and most usually come with free shipping.


I have done the Spotter Network training but nothing more than that. I tried to get in contact with my local NOAA branch (SPS branch?) about SkyWarn training but have not heard anything back after several weeks. Are there any other online or offline resources you could recommend?

what city do you live in? I'll find something for you if it's out there.
 
you can go on ebay and buy 2 ft, 3 ft, 6ft, 10', USB Extension Cables so you can position the puck where you want it.

Just makes sure they are USB 2.0 Male AM M to Female Extension Cables.

they are pretty cheap and most usually come with free shipping.

Awesome. I figured there would be a way to do that, but the USB spec is pretty goofy about lengths so I'm glad to hear it is possible.

what city do you live in? I'll find something for you if it's out there.

I'm in Columbus, but can pretty easily get to the 3 big C's in Ohio. It seems frustrating to not be able to find anything, but I'm guessing I'm just not looking in the right spot... or I'm too late for this season :(.
 
I'm in Columbus, but can pretty easily get to the 3 big C's in Ohio. It seems frustrating to not be able to find anything, but I'm guessing I'm just not looking in the right spot... or I'm too late for this season :(.

Columbus is covered by the Wilmington, OH NWS office. Their spotter page is at http://www.erh.noaa.gov/iln/spotterpage/spotter.htm . But, the "How to become a spotter" link ( http://www.erh.noaa.gov/iln/spotterpage/howtobespotter.htm ) does show that they don't do training after May, so, you probably will need to wait until January for a session from that office.
 
I run mac

My computers are all Mac except for a desktop compaq I don't use much.

A imac g4 is my stormchaser laptop that I will use burning DVDs with Roxio Toast 10. I use it for wifi and it is really great especially with the big screen.

I may also burn with Roxio 9 on my desktop Imac.

There are atlas and GPS software for Mac (I can find out the specifics in the future).

My wife who does not chase with me has her macpro but does not use the intel side. She does not have to.

There is lots you can do with your mac on the road. There is more flexibility to if you have the windows side and you can load and run the only windows/ pc stormchaser chaser software packages (which I don't obviously don't use myself - yet )
 
I'm new to chasing to but have learned what so far works and doesn't work lol

I use a MacBook Pro having bootcamp with windows XP. Mainly use radar lab HD for the Mac OS X and Windows compatibility.

Data- I have a verizon UM175 USB Model with a external antenna which works VERY fast 500Kb/s to 3MBps in most areas.

I also have my iPhone Jailbroken to T-Mobile and use a tethering app to use T-Mobile data when Verizon is no where to be found. (Oklahoma Yuck)

GPS software- I got the Deloreme but i still find paper maps to be the best.

Hail Damage- I'm right with ya. I got a 07 Scion TC and it's pretty much my baby but i only take it chasing when i have to and stay good distance and smart chasing to keep the car in the same condition. Luckily storm chase partners help with my car issues and let me tag along for i would quite say a much more intense chase experience
 
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