Our very first trip to Tornado Alley

Jesper_Copenhagen

Hello all american chasers!

In Denmark we have a club called â€￾The Wild Weather Clubâ€￾, which would be pretty much like this site just on a much smaller scale. If You are curious about our club check over webpage, http://www.vildtvejrsklubben.dk/, well it is in Danish but You can see some of our pictures :D

3 of us have decided to carry out a life long dream, and in the middle of May we are coming to Tornado Alley in order to go on our very first tornado chase. However we have come to realize that we are on a quite tight budget, if we want to go on a tour with a professional chasing company.

So we are thinking of an alternative plan: Rent a car, get a laptop with live internet, and get a weather radio. We are a team of three one could drive, the other one could navigate and look at a road map, and the last one could “readâ€￾ the sky and follow the weather on the internet.

We are all fascinated by severe weather and have therefore gained some knowledge about it. Personally I work as a forecaster here in Denmark, and are used to reading weather maps, looking at radars etc. Currently I am gaining a lot of knowledge about Supercells and tornados by following the discussions here on Stormtrack, reading material on the internet, and finally some books on teh subject by Howard B. Bluestein.

There is also the security at stake, we want to get back to Denmark a life :D . Personally I would assume getting the windscreen smashed by large hail or nearly get blown of the road by serious downdrafts would be considered calculated risks even for the experience chaser. But by using caution and proper preparation, You should be able to avoid getting in life-threatening situations, even as a rather inexperience chaser?

Here on Stormtrack there should be some of the most experienced chasers in The U.S, what do You think of our alternative plan, is it overambitious and/or to dangerous?. How did You plan your own very first chase, did You go with experienced chasers?

We don’t know the exact date and place of our arrival yet, but I would like to hear if anybody perhaps would be interested in taking us along on a chase, if time and place allows it? We would have our own car and be willing to pay some money for the service.

We expect to be around 10 days in The U.S, and realize that even the best chaser in the world can not be guarantied to see a tornado, but we do expect to see some serious convection and some Supercells, as we should arrive in the peak of the season.
 
Although it is better to go with an experienced chaser, if you can't, then "go for it" provided you have read and studied. Everyone has to get their start somewhere. I would still recommend do a tour from a reputable company first before trying it by yourselves. I was with Cloud 9 before I went on my own. I found that a tour is actually cheaper than chasing by myself. If you share expenses including gas and hotel rooms, the total cost should be less than a tour but your potential success rate would be lower.

Bill Hark
 
Hello Jesper!

You sound like you have plenty of weather knowledge and more importantly a proper attitude toward chasing. I am sure that by looking around the Stormtrack site you'll gain more than enough information for a safe and productive trip to the Alley. Many of "us" chased alone our first time and did just fine because we taught ourselves severe weather and made good decisions.

With three people, your group should be able to handle expenses well. Be sure to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle, and bring something to make sleeping on a motel floor comfortable for that third person. Also, many chasers do not have live Internet in their vehicles; if you can afford this you are doing well. Those chasers rely on nowcasters and/or small town libraries (but some may not be open after 5 pm or on Sunday).

One thing that might be overlooked is driving in the US. There are MANY poorly qualified drivers here. It's not as bad on the interstate highways but you will be best served by very defensive driving. It would be best to not chase your first day here, and just drive for practice. Ask the locals questions about good roads, bad roads, and speedtraps.

What else is important for people new to the States and chasing?

Allsups Burritos: DANGER! :D
 
Hello Jesper,

I am glad that you have come to stormtrack to seek advise on chasing in the USA ~ what a better place to seek REAL advice. Now for us international chasers (I live in the UK) we face many challenges when we come to the USA so I will list a few off the top of my head.

Firstly going with a tour is not actually a bad bet for your first time out here as so many of the logistical hurdles have already been over come. However if you do decided to chase on your own as a team you need to factor in the following.

Firstly book your car online from Europe – this will work out loads cheaper – I go with a 4 wheel drive SUV. You need FULL insurance cover as well as out of state cover – get the windscreen cover as a must – be prepared to pay a $1000 deposit as well (because you are from Europe) also unlimited mileage – expect to rack up 5000 miles in a week!!

Do not speed! – Police in the US will nail you – this is not Europe and just 4MPH over the limit will get you a ticket.

Laptop/data on the road – forget it !!! Europeans can not get a USA cell phone data plan – I actually use my UK cell phone when I am really desperate – but I pay £7 PER MB – read expensive. Only a Baron system will over come this but this is further expense.

Only stop at hotels with free internet access – Now in 2006 there are loads of them about.

Get a WiFi card for the laptop – you can grab internet access out side of liberies as well as hotels etc – you just need to sniff them out.

US credit card – Most hotels insist on have a credit card stamp before they will rent you the room. Normally not a problem but the US date format MM/DD means that the Europe date format DD/MM wont register with their systems – call your credit card company and check that your card will work in the US.

US immigration now insists on you having an address for your first nights stop – book your first night hotel in advance from Europe.
I am sure that this will generate some questions – please feel free to ask some more – advice is free :)
 
Hello Jesper!

Nice to see another European going to States this year. Also three of us decided to chase 4 weeks in Tornado Alley this May ;) Lets face it with problems we're getting and others have warned us.

We at first wanted to go with a chase tour, but since we are from far away, which brings a lot of money to spend few weeks there, we cannot afford it. We're going by our own. Sounds you have a good weather knowledge, chasing experiences would count as well. Just be prepared to spend more than half of day driving.

We're booking a rental car in advance, too. I came around $1500 with the price at the end. Check here: http://www2.shrani.si/files/konc1340111.png or here: http://www2.shrani.si/files/untitled340422.gif. Its not a SUV, but anyway.
I have a question here: which insurance is "full insurance", does it cover the windshield, too? I didn't notice out of state cover. There are plenty of insurances available on their cities, can't decide which one should I pick. Any advices would be helful.

I don't want to sound rude, but what concerns internet access on the road via cellphones I highly doubt its so impossible. I've read on howardforums that it would be possible to get it. Even it sounds too simple, because as Stuart and fellow Italian chaser Andrea Griffa told me, they didn't have that luck. I still don't know (if I am unable to do it by myself) or do I need someone to sign a contract or he/she just have to give them US address so he can get an access. That would help me that I know what and who to ask for a favour. A friend of mine has some relatives in States, maybe I can do something here. But don't know what to ask actually.

BaronWX software would be a nice option as well, but I doubt we can afford it. Try to use as much wifi access as you can with a combination with your home roaming service if you really need it. But I am really sceptical to chase without net access, especially in danger days.

Stuart you said we need US credit card. Would MasterCard be ok, it is a worldwide credit card.

Thanks for a warn Joe, I thought there are more cultural, that sounded scary.

So Jesper, we can always chase together and split our costs, if you're interested. This would be much easier I guess. You could also send me a PM or email.
 
Conrats on your first trip to the plains. I hope it is everything you want it to be.

One thing you should definitely purchase is a GPS device and software for your laptop. Maps are great but in my opinion when you are in the heat of the chase it is extremely helpful to have a good gps going. You should always know your exit plans just in case. You don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and realize that you are on a dead end road with limited options.

Persoanlly, I prefer the Delorme GPS with Street Atlas. You can get it in the $100 range and its easy to install and use. You can also use it to find libraries, hotels, restaurants, etc.

Have fun this May and best of success to your group!

Fabian
 
First of all thanks for the great replies!

I have noticed a couple of chasers went chasing Sunday/Monday. Personally I had been following the preceding chase forecasts here on Stormtrack from the sideline, while looking very closely at the ECMWF, GFS, etc. Secondly as the "system" passed, you were able to point out the wf, cf, and the (likely) point of occlusion on satellite images. Reading the chase reports afterwards, is when you come to realise that chasing is an art, but it was great fun to see on the satellite pictures in which area you probably had been chasing.

When it comes to driving experience in the U.S, I have spend half a year in Alaska as an exchange student in Atmospheric Science, before I went home I met my family in Seattle we rented a car drove through Canada up to Alaska, back again on another road, heading down the west coast to L.A and the finally back to Seattle, so I think I am prepared for the worst possible road-conditions :D

Marko when I lived in the U.S I was able to use my VISA-card in most places, however someplace it doesn’t work, so You should always be carrying extra cash.

When it comes to chasing on your own as an European, it seems like the internet problem is a very hard nut to crack. However if you were able to get that internet, having read all the answers in this thread, I personally would prefer chasing on our own and not with a professional chasing company.

Even though I realize that the success rate is lower, but the thrill of the hunt itself, and making your own decisions (even though they might be wrong :D ) based on analyzing the thermodynamics and dynamics of the Atmosphere would bring me satisfaction. However the ultimate thing would be to join forces with some experienced U.S chasers.

We took a vote in our group, and at it seems like we are 2-1 in favour of going with a professional company, even though we might only be able to afford a one week trip. However we have not made our final decision yet, and plan on having a meeting this Sunday.

Marko I have checked your webpage and you seem like a dedicated chaser with good weather knowledge, so if my group decide to rent a car on go on our own, I would, personally, be in favour of joining forces with your group. When we have had our meeting here in Denmark, I will send you and pm and tell you of our decision.
 
First of all thanks for the great replies!

I have noticed a couple of chasers went chasing Sunday/Monday. Personally I had been following the preceding chase forecasts here on Stormtrack from the sideline, while looking very closely at the ECMWF, GFS, etc. Secondly as the "system" passed, you were able to point out the wf, cf, and the (likely) point of occlusion on satellite images. Reading the chase reports afterwards, is when you come to realise that chasing is an art, but it was great fun to see on the satellite pictures in which area you probably had been chasing.

When it comes to driving experience in the U.S, I have spend half a year in Alaska as an exchange student in Atmospheric Science, before I went home I met my family in Seattle we rented a car drove through Canada up to Alaska, back again on another road, heading down the west coast to L.A and the finally back to Seattle, so I think I am prepared for the worst possible road-conditions :D

Marko when I lived in the U.S I was able to use my VISA-card in most places, however someplace it doesn’t work, so You should always be carrying extra cash.

When it comes to chasing on your own as an European, it seems like the internet problem is a very hard nut to crack. However if you were able to get that internet, having read all the answers in this thread, I personally would prefer chasing on our own and not with a professional chasing company.

Even though I realize that the success rate is lower, but the thrill of the hunt itself, and making your own decisions (even though they might be wrong :D ) based on analyzing the thermodynamics and dynamics of the Atmosphere would bring me satisfaction. However the ultimate thing would be to join forces with some experienced U.S chasers.

We took a vote in our group, and at it seems like we are 2-1 in favour of going with a professional company, even though we might only be able to afford a one week trip. However we have not made our final decision yet, and plan on having a meeting this Sunday.

Marko I have checked your webpage and you seem like a dedicated chaser with good weather knowledge, so if my group decide to rent a car on go on our own, I would, personally, be in favour of joining forces with your group. When we have had our meeting here in Denmark, I will send you and pm and tell you of our decision.
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Hi Jesper!
First of all Congrats on your next first chase!

Then I've to confirm what Marko said. You need an american address to make a wireless contract with any cell phone company, and if I understand well, Stuart said the same thing. I tried upon my skin last years. This is the first thing. Anyway you MUST have an internet connection(and Ithink it's so important have a mobile connection).

Moreover if you can buy Baron system it's better but even with Baron they request you an american address.
 
When it comes to chasing on your own as an European, it seems like the internet problem is a very hard nut to crack. However if you were able to get that internet, having read all the answers in this thread, I personally would prefer chasing on our own and not with a professional chasing company. [/b]

If you have a laptop with wireless capability, you can pickup (leach) Internet access in just about any motel, town, or exit from interstate or highway with services. Without cell phone access you will not be able to get “continuousâ€￾ service while driving on the road, but with some well-timed data stops you should be fine. I would not view this as an issue.

Also,the police , MOST LIKLEY, will not stop you for going 4 mph over the speed limit on a highway or interstate. Just be sure to slowdown when entering and leaving small towns, as this is the most likley place anybody will get pulled over. Small town cops do not like speeders! But they do like the money it gererates for the towns gereral fund! :blink:
 
If you have a laptop with wireless capability, you can pickup (leach) Internet access in just about any motel, town, or exit from interstate or highway with services. Without cell phone access you will not be able to get “continuousâ€￾ service while driving on the road, but with some well-timed data stops you should be fine. I would not view this as an issue.

[/b]


We have to say that chasing only with wifi internet connection is not so easy. Once convection is started, the sky is full of cloud and it's not so simple to know wich is the best cell to chase. From the other part if you have sat and radar on the field, it's another planet.
 
I also noticed that the internet-problem had been discussed earlier in the equipment-forum. Live internet in the car would from my point of view be mandatory, because we have never chased in the U.S before, and it could probably take us some time, as foreigners, to find a library or motel with internet access, and time is an important factor in chasing, You do not want to loose valuable time.

On solution would be chasing the Storm Chasing Companies, just kidding :D , and they would probably get suspicious pretty fast :D

I do have some contacts in the U.S, Alaska; maybe I could work something out there. But right now the majority of my group wants to go with a chasing company, but our final decision will be made soon.
 
Yeah I would think there would be lots of US chasers on ST that would be willing to host our friends from Denmark for a few days. Maybe even switch off with different chasers.

I probably recommend going it alone (as apart from the Tour). You'll get more out of anything you catch on your own.

You ask can you avoid hail, and injury even if careful when inexperienced...I'd say generally yes, but there is no guarantee. It depends on the weather scenario unfolding and how widespread and fast moving. Without data and with lack of experience you can get yourself into trouble. Recommend you have something like Threatnet and GPS.

Myself, when I started chasing I had no experience other than just watching clouds and storms locally. One day I just decided to follow a warning to see what would happen and the rest is history.
 
As far as connectivity...I chase all the time - more than most and last year I didn't use my wireless internet connection at all even though I have it. I made due with Wifi and Mobile Threatnet. With a wifi setup you can get data even in small po dunk towns anywhere. Most obvious places are around hotels/motels in most towns for free and they are all over.

Your lack of experience could be helped extensively if you have Mobile Threatnet and GPS mapping like Delorme StreetAtlas. If you know how to forecast just make your forecast the day before, move to your area and fine tune early the next morning on you chase day forecast. Bounce that off what SPC is saying for a 'sanity check' and then hit the target and wait. Monitor surface and SPC Mesoanalysis via a wifi place you wait near your target. When the action starts Threatnet and Streetatlas will keep in in the know on what is developing, where, and what road options. Oh, you might also want to have a NOAA radio scanner that has all seven weather channels with possible external antenna. Keep roadmaps and road atlas's as a backup if the tech fails. You should have not just regular road maps but the more detailed Atlases like "Roads of Texas" that show smaller county and dirt roads. Probably you should stick to fairly main roads, but it's nice to know your roads options to get a bit closer or to get away in an emergency.

You may be able to pick up Threatnet cheap here or on Ebay. Possibly a chaser that can't chase would loan it to you for a week or so.
 
To be honest all you need is a road map and a NOAA weather radio. That's all I started with. But having more data and tech will make you more effective and safer.
 
If there’s that much debate and uncertainty, I would probably suggest picking a tour company and enjoy. When you are on a limited time schedule, the last thing you want to do is have to get here and figure everything out, wasting valuable time. Book a tour and hit the ground running. Chasing can be as high or low tech as a person wants it to be. I first started with the vehicles am radio and a rand McNally atlas. I have added several items to make my life easier since, (laptop, cell phone, GPS) but these are not necessities. If you spend all your time worrying about high tech issues, you can sometimes miss the beauty of chasing. Getting all this equipment together and working takes a lot of capital, spend the money on a tour and relax and learn. You may want to come back. :)
 
I think the most important thing to bring is your eyes and your heart to experience this big-hearted country. It's easy to get so involved in the technical, small-scale details that you miss the big picture. That's also a big factor in chase "success", to me anyway. The storm-scale phenomena are the visible outcomes of larger-scale interacting physical processes. Those grand-scale processes are always occuring somewhere in "Tornado Alley" during the storm season.

Last year one of the best days for me was chasing an area of huge CAPE and helicity with a very stout cap. Near Gage, OK, rotating towers started to go up with enough vertical motion for precip and some lightning. Would it "do it"...? Uh...nope -- not quite, that day. Still got nice pictures of cows and a very pretty park.
 
Another comment about tours. This year many of the chase tours have recently learned that there is new legislation by Department of Transportation that they must adhere to and comply with. This will make it difficult for a lot of them to get the certification by chase season. This will also push up the costs, so some may not be available this year. Check with your individual tour company to find out their status.
 
Hi Jesper! :)

I'm not a chaser; just a writer & severe weather fan from the Northeast USA. This is a VERY informative board, and there's lots to learn here.

If you do come to our country, I hope you have a safe, enjoyable time chasing storms! :D
 
Hi Jesper

I have never been to the US chasing, but know several fellow Australians who have. Some have just just relied on internet access at librarys and they still scored tornados. The one thing they did have in common however is a long chase background at home.

You like most OS visitors to the plains will have one thing working in your favour, the scale of what some US chasers call 'crap' storms will still leave you satisfied and excited. Tornadoes are just icing on the cake. Lightning, structure, hail they are all in abundance on those ' crap ' storms on a scale that will probably be up with or exceeding the best you have seen abroad.
 
Hi,

Michael Thompson hit the nail on the head I guess.

But one more comment I can say (not out of disrespect) is that the US chasers most likely don't appreciate or perhaps understand just how much more effort people from other countries have put in to make things work when planning a trip independently. Some comments listed above seem to support this. I think when some of the US chasers come to Australia to chase one day - they may understand what I mean. Why Australia? Because you will be driving on the wrong side of the road and on the other side of the equator apart from the diverse conditions that exist here.

Regards,

Jimmy Deguara
 
Michael, Jimmy I am not real sure where you get that point of view about us "US Chasers". The thing about us "US Chasers" is that we are here for the entire duration of chase season where as the Chasers coming from other countries are normally only here for a few weeks. Thus us "US Chasers" have to spread our money out and pick an choose the best setups for us. I would chase every thing I could if I had the money and the time even if it was "crap".

You guys invest a good sum of money getting here to the States so I can respect that. I can agree that even the things that some US chasers may take for granted can be very rewarding to those who don't see much of it in their home countries.

Mick
 
Jesper, congrats.

You seem to have the right approach to planning, enough drive, and the right attitude to make your trip a truly memorable one, whichever choice you make. Plan well, but once here, don't get so wrapped up in all the details that you forget to enjoy yourself. The first chase trip I made to the plains was a bust as far as tornados go, but my siblings and I had such a blast on this glorified "road trip" that we were at once hooked and have returned yearly for the past four years with increasing success.

On that note, it might be wise to research many possible non-chase sites of interest, especially if you choose to go it alone. There will surely be at least a few days of little to no significant storm activity, and you could spend the day seeing something interesting instead of sitting around a hotel room, waiting for the next best shot or burning fuel senselessly. In our trips we have made stops in Dodge City, Kansas, Rosswell, New Mexico, Devil's Tower, Wyoming, the Black Hills & the Badlands of South Dakota, as well as a few random fishing adventures along the way.

You also should be prepared for lots of road construction, especially the roads you just happen to rely on in route to the cell you want to chase - happens all the time :( Or more seriously, the roads you choose to rely on as your safety escape route, should you get caught in harms way. Be careful.

Also, you might be able to save significantly on hotels/motels by picking up coupon/travel circulars at truck stops and convenience stores. Many chains run coupon ads for specific towns at significant discounts to help fill empty rooms during slower months. We have often saved nearly 50% off the standard advertised rates. Just pick up coupon books at fuel/food stops and set them aside until you begin to wrap up the chase day. Then browse the books for the towns nearest your current position to try to locate a steal.

If you do decide to chase on your own, get the equipment as early as possible to work out the kinks and learn to use and customize the features. I would also recommend training your fellow travelers to use some of the equipment, so you can be free at least some of the time to observe the sky, road, sites, etc. Division of responsibility can prove not only freeing, but crucial when timing becomes an issue. I much prefer chasing with my siblings to chasing alone. The driver can focus on traffic and the road while other pairs of eyes stay focused on the skies, laptop, radio settings, cell phones, camcorders, etc. And for laptops, cameras, cell phones, Threatnet, etc. it is smart to install a power inverter to power equipment from the vehicle's battery and charge batteries for mobile use. I use two in my vehicle with power strip to run virtually everything.

I hope this is helpful and not too redundant of other replies. I wish you the very best of luck, safety, and enough success to make you return often to fuel the addiction.
 
You like most OS visitors to the plains will have one thing working in your favour, the scale of what some US chasers call 'crap' storms will still leave you satisfied and excited. Tornadoes are just icing on the cake. Lightning, structure, hail they are all in abundance on those ' crap ' storms on a scale that will probably be up with or exceeding the best you have seen abroad.[/b]
Thats exactly what I wanted to say. I am sure that a lot of those US storms (which you named "crap storms") are for our European conditions so outstanding that I cannot even imagine to see them here. I chase and see a lot of pretty impressive structures here, which would probably be the usual stormy day in the States. So I am not even worried that we won't see anything, I am sure it will be memorable and I could be bored when I come back home, heh. If I just take it in banal way and compare satellite images, many times our country looks like a little dot besides those systems.

Like David said, our first trips should be focus on enjoying and not so much on the techical stuff like. Thats why we are there, remember? Of course we must have things to make it as much safer as it could be, but even without a radar on the road we are not lost. Its helpful if you are caught by an extreme event, that the only thing that worries me on the road chasing just visualy. We should use as much wifi access as we can and if we are really desperate, we can always use our roaming service to make us sure out there.

I have an approximate price for our trip, it comes around $2500/person for whole month. Of course it would be great to make a few weeks chase with a tour company and get some experiences etc, but that at laest doubles the price for whole trip, won't even think further...

Some of you mentioned NOAA radio or I read HAM radio? Would it be possible to get it with rental car or how/where to get it? That would be pretty helpful I guess.

Whats up with those cojotes or those animal warnings on the road? It seems you mention them very often..
 
Some of you mentioned NOAA radio or I read HAM radio? Would it be possible to get it with rental car or how/where to get it? That would be pretty helpful I guess.

Whats up with those cojotes or those animal warnings on the road? It seems you mention them very often..
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You won't get NOAA radio with a rental car, but they aren't too expensive to buy, maybe US$30 or so. I suggest that you go to a Radio Shack, look on eBay, or even search elsewhere on the net. Forget HAM, that requires classes, tests, and equipment purchases (and I don't know, but assume, that you must be a US citizen to operate HAM in this country). (Won't come with a rental, either.)

LOL, well, I guess it's worth mentioning that you need to be extra careful driving at night, because that's when the critters are really scurrying all over the roads. That's gotta be true in every country.....

Bob
 
I have an approximate price for our trip, it comes around $2500/person for whole month. Of course it would be great to make a few weeks chase with a tour company and get some experiences etc, but that at laest doubles the price for whole trip, won't even think further...
[/b]

How much of that $2500 does it take to get you here?

Some of you mentioned NOAA radio or I read HAM radio? Would it be possible to get it with rental car or how/where to get it? That would be pretty helpful I guess.
[/b]

If you get a decent scanner you can pickup most of the spotter frequencies and also all the NOAA radio frequencies. They may run you around $100 and can be helpful.
Mick
 
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