Safety and the greatest threat while Chasing

Oct 12, 2005
Little Elm Texas
Every Year I learn something new while chasing and this year is no different. It is amazing to me that none of us have been killed while actively engaged in a chase but this cannot go on forever. I honestly am quite sure that the first storm eaten chaser fatality will be caused by lightning. Tornados can be avoided, giant hail can be avoided provided the chaser not position his/herself under a mesocyclone, a flooded road can also be avoided. But lightning! how can we possibly hope to avoid a current that travels at over 60,000 miles per second, never gives us a warning of when and where out of the storm it will come and doesn't even have to hit the chaser directly to cause serious bodily injury. I don,t know about everyone else out thier but I think that terrible drivers or lightning are bound to take one of us out sooner or later. Even with the risks I've chased for over 9 years and I will never stop chasing, Please be safe out thier so we don't have any more bad publicity from the media on chasing.
There are usually more non-chasers out in a thunderstorm than chasers, except maybe on the barren outback roads of the plains. I guarantee you that a storm going through Dallas would have tens of thousands of people or more outside, far greater than any chaser convergence is capable of.
I'm talking about lightning. There are more people out in a general thunderstorm, with potential to kill, than there ever will be chasers. So odds of a chaser being killed by lightning are very very low, especially when compared to the number of people outside not chasing.
This is true and to make matters worse most people who stand around in thunderstors are totally unaware of the dangers of standing in the open or near power lines for that matter. Even if those of us who chase are aware of these dangers I still beleive that it is lightning that will get one of us in the future. It is just too powerful, unpredictable and fast too avoid. (Ive had some close calls already)
I think our vehicles are many times more of a risk to us than any storm related factor. Not to discount the storms, they of course do pose risks (lightning, high winds, etc). But I truly believe that the first chaser fatality (fatalities) during an active chase will be due to a car accident, and unfortunately I think it will be a nasty scene of tragic proportions and multiple casualties. I really hope I am wrong about this, but it is something I feel strongly about.

I see crowds of people on the side of the road all the time, some running across with cameras and tripods. Both drivers and runners are looking at the storm-tornado-wall cloud. I think it is a miracle that nothing has happened yet. I speak from experience because I have to admit I know how easy it is for an incredible storm to draw my attention from the road. Not to mention all of the distractions that can be present (cameras, laptops, radios, etc) I myself have almost drifted off the side road one too many times.

This danger is downright scary to me because it is so real. So much so that during a chase, I have shifted the priority of my safety thoughts to the road rather than the storm. Recently I have changed a lot of the ways I chase because of this. The storm poses risks, yes, but the threat from the road is much more ominous. I am just as guilty as anyone of lapses in chase highway safety in the past, but it is something I have resolved to give a lot more attention to.
If you add heavy rainfall to the mix then deadly crashes are even more possible especially in these infamous chaser convergence road side pile ups. We could always modify our chase vehicles with reinforced titanium alloy this can help protect us from large hail too. I guess the only thing stopping some of us from bringing in modded out chaase vehicles is money but I have seen a few Literally TANKED out chase units. Maybe they are all getting ready for a possible head on chase accident.
Tornado-don't drive into it.

Hail-stay out of it or stay in your car. If HUGE hail, cover your face, I'm sure you'll come out fine.

Wind-park under big trees if you really wish.

Lightning-very simple....stay in the car. Buy a window clamp instead of HAVING to get out for tripod stuff. Let Drummond do what Drummond does. Him or someone else that doesn't seem to respect it at all will pay for it...and guess what? The storms will still be there for me the next day.

At this point I pretty much don't care one bit what others are doing or do, so long as they don't drive into me. Their goal could be to run into a tornado and die and I'd be all for it. Just don't land on or near my cameras.

As far as regulation worries from what some other chasers might do- god I wish these laws and regulations would just freaking happen so I never have to hear about it again.

As far as I can tell there is no need to worry. The stuff to keep you from being hurt is pretty darn simple. You have to be having a very bad day to be hurt chasing. Look how much of it is done(and what has been done by many with no me when I first started..and still some days...) and how often does anyone hear of serious injuries? I can't say I've heard from anyone that was putting forth any effort.

I think some just want to believe it is so risky and unsafe. Well I don't have 9 years under my belt yet, but what I've done I feel it is a safe hobby to have. Seems like when I hear such terrible concerns about safety and chasing it stems from those that haven't done much of it.
Mike H. has some very good points. As far as being involved in a wreck while chasing...the solution is very patient and slow down! That will mitigate that risk tremendously.

I'll have to admit that I used to haul balls down the highway when I was after a storm. But after some of the horrible wrecks that other people have been involved in, I came to the reality that hydroplaning is no joke. I'd much rather miss a storm because I was careful, rather than injuring or killing myself...or someone else.
Chasing is as risky or safe as you make it. If you're careless, anxious, impatient, overly aggressive or merely oblivious to the danger, then all sorts of bad things can happen. Complacency may be the greatest danger. Are you truly safe or have you just been lulled into a false sense of safety because nothing terrible has happened yet?

On the other hand, I believe that anyone who learns the basics of chasing safety and understands storm development and movement can stay out of harm's way. It's a matter of making safety the top priority and erring on the side of caution. Maybe that means missing the best photo opportunity to be certain of that escape route, or jumping in your car when others don't seem worried when a CG hits in a nearby pasture.

Personally, I decided that if I couldn't find and photograph great storms driving at the speed limit and chasing safely, then I would keep working on my skills until I could.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned. If you're really worried that much about your (or anyone elses for that matter) driving, get into a defensive driving course. This will help sharpen your skills as a driver and point out areas that you don't normally look at. It also has the added extra that some Insurance Companies will reduce your rate a bit after having completed the course.

A lot of Chasers (not all by any means though) have experience in driving emergency vehicles. Anyone who has driven an emergency vehicle will understand the distractions and most Emergency Vehicles have a myriad more distractions than most chase vehicles.

To those that don't want to go through Defensive Driving, or don't think it's worth your time... Be AWARE, Be PREPARED. It will happen to you. Never think "It's always the other guy" because one day it will be YOU!
My biggest fear is oncoming drivers on those single-lane state highways during the trip home...

I can't tell you the number of vehicles I've seen driving eratically late at night. The closest call was a large pick up truck which PASSED another oncoming vehicle at the crest of a hill. I had to swerve halfway off the road to assure we wouldn't hit. It took a few minutes for everything to sit in... a few seconds later, and I probably wouldn't be writing this. (How many 65+mph head on crashes with a pickup vs small sedan do you see people surviving rom?)

Mike Hollingshead wrote: Let Drummond do what Drummond does. Him or someone else that doesn't seem to respect it at all will pay for it...and guess what?
Was that really necessary Mike?

I don't worry about it because to me that is like worrying about a volcano erupting or an asteroid hitting the earth. There are far more likely dangerous things to happen to me during a chase than lightning hitting me, despite the recent close calls. I suspect many have the close calls, just not everyone happened to catch it on video. I stand a better chance of winning the Texas Lottery than I do getting hit by lightning.

I live on the caprock and have most of my life, storms are a fact of life out here, we just accept them. IMO opinion, getting in the car to avoid lightning really doesn't help much. It just travelled through several miles of air, one of the greatest electrical insulators, does anyone seriously believe that 1/4 inch of glass is going to stop it from getting you if it wants you?

If a person really must take the fun out of their chasing by worrying that much about what is going to kill you, that effort could be better spent on things that you might accidently have some degree of control over, such as TRAFFIC and stupid drivers taking you out if you don't pay attention to them.

That said, no need to go standing under trees or tying a lightning rod to your head, but I just think if your THAT worried about lightning, perhaps your better off viewing the storm from 5 miles out with binoculars if you can see through the dust and haze.

Please don't think I don't know what it can do or respect it, I just accept getting hit by lightning as one of the many risks that aggressively chasing storms presents and live with it.

If your around the storm, and it wants you, nothing short of being in a vacuum is going to stop it from getting you.

Like other's have said, other drivers on the road, ESPECIALLY in the vicinity of severe weather, are by far your greatest danger to your life.