Laptop usage/wireless internet

James Gilbert

I'm still new to this chasing thing, and got a new toy for Christmas: a laptop. It's wireless internet ready, I'm just wondering what the best way to utilize this would be. I'm typing this on a dial up connection, so I'm still in the 'stone age' of internet so to speak, so any help or ideas would be cool.
Also, what would be the best way to use this on a chase? Is there any software I should get that would be useful? Thanks everyone!
What do you mean by "wireless internet ready"? My hunch is that you are referring to WiFi, in which case you have two main options. First, you can sign up for a subscription-based service for companies like Wayport, etc. You pay a monthly fee, and you can use their hotspots (e.g. Starbucks, Flying J, etc). The second main option is called "wardriving". Essentially, you drive around until you find an open, unsecure access point (i.e. no WEP key, no WPA/TKIP/etc protection). There are usually several that are accessible, particularly if you are in apartment complexes, etc.

As far as software... There's quite a few that different people use. For radar viewing, you have GRLevel3, StormLab, Storm Predator, and a few more that aren't coming to me right now. Many chasers also use their laptop with GPS. You can buy the DeLorme Earthmate (GPS + Street Atlas) combo for ~$100 at occassionaly. Others use Microsoft's GPS USB system, and there are a few other manufacturers out there as well. Combining radar+GPS, there are a few options that'll let you plot both your GPS position and radar, namely Swift WX, and I know that a beta version (only accessible if you buy the regular version first) of GRLevel3 includes GPS plotting on the radar image.

Also, you should check out Tim V's Digital Atmosphere software. You can plot radar, surface obs, upper air obs, etc etc etc. Contouring, advection, divergence, et cetc etc,,, You want to plot it, chances are you can with Digital Atmosphere.
Muchas Gracias, very helpful Jeff, thanks! Your hunch was correct in the WiFi department, I'm going to look into the subscription service maybe, as I don't want to have to cruise around green West Virginia looking for an open line when a storm is going up right *here* and the open line will no doubt be over *there*. I'll also check out the software recommended. Thanks again!
Hey James , I am in WV as well,near Beckley. We use Swift WX on the road. I have not found any services in WV that have good coverage. We use cellarone cell service and a dial up service. It is slow at 9600 baud but I get most everything I need in one min. or less. I also use netstumbler to get wyfi on the road as nessary. you can see our chase unit at
To elaborate on Jeff's point a little, a great place to utilize WiFi is in a hotel parking lot. Well, a hotel that advertises High-Speed Internet, in any case. If you sit in the parking lot, you're close enough to the router to be able to use the WiFi. I don't know if this helps at all, but that's the way it's been done on the chases I've been on. Lol, all three of them. :D

The number of hotels and motels providing wi-fi has skyrocketed this year, so much that it's rare to book a room in an economy motel (national chains) without wi-fi, and if they're not wireless then they have network connections and cables you can borrow with a deposit. You can also park near these buildings and if you don't make a nuisance of yourself, use their signal anytime of the day or night.

In the 15 days I was out (so far this month), I found wi-fi free and readily accessible in almost any town of more than 10,000 people. Motel parking lots mainly, but even unexpected places like the Kettle in Childress. In smaller towns, it's hit and miss, but anything over 5000 people and you're likely to find open wireless internet. It's a good idea to keep the software active and searching, and if you have a card with an antenna port, such as the Orinoco gold card, you should keep the antena deployed. You never know, even in the middle of nowhere.

Even a decent signal is superior to how we've connected for many years, and you can have a satellite image, surface chart, and other graphic-intensive products downloaded and in cache in a matter of seconds. By next year I expect I'll no longer use any sort of cellular internet connection because of the explosive growth of wi-fi in the plains.
My experience has been you pretty much have to be in the parking lot of motels, truck stops, etc - sometimes even in the parking row closest to the building itself.

You can actually cruise down the interstate in a commercial/urban stretch and get signals, but the signals come and drop so quickly that it really isn't practical in a moving vehicle.

Seems like the information value gained by sitting at a wi-fi hot spot rather than sitting in the middle of a field at your exact target is probably worth about 30-50 miles of chase distance. Once you have left the spot, though, it is a good idea to have a nowcaster ready over the cell phone and/or your NOAA radio on the local frequency to at least give you info on storm location and vectors once convection initiates.
Many hotels will be happy to let you use their connection if you ask for permission, even if they require an access code. Hampton Inns have been very friendly to me, even if I'm not staying there. Hamptons require a code to get access, but I've never been turned down when I've asked. The reception I've received is similar to that of libraries, when they know you're a chaser they're happy to help you out. One Hampton Inn even invited me to use their inside lounge area and offered me refreshments.

We stayed in an el-cheapo hotel south of Chicago last week, $37 weekend rate. Even they had wifi - and a pretty fast connection at that. I also have accounts with the T-Mobile and Flying J hotspot networks. Cost is $6 for an hour, which isn't bad if you're having trouble finding a legit connection and need the data.