The Safest Position

  • Thread starter Christopher Madairy
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Christopher Madairy

What is the safest position to take when viewing a tornado? I have read that S or SE of the storm? Doesn't this depend on what part of the country you are in? Thanks again everyone & 73.

Christopher, N3QXX
The safest part depends a lot on the storm, and each storm is different. In general, given a 'typical' supercell structure, the most prefered place for tornado viewing is 90 degrees to the right of the storm motion. For example, for a storm moving northeast, the preferred spot would be to the south of the storm. The "safest" is probably behind the storm, but viewing can often become obscured by wrap-around precipition (or the DRC I would think, should this turn out to be real)... Sometimes, however, the wrap-around precip is so dense that you can only really see the tornadic while in the 'Bear's Cage", or the area between the tornadic circulation and the front-flank precipitation. This can be a very dangerous locations however (anyone in this position on the Hallam storm? LOL I think not, or at least not for very long). Of course, as you noted, it does depend on the road network as well as other factors.
Originally posted by Jeff Snyder
This can be a very dangerous locations however (anyone in this position on the Hallam storm?

I don't think anyone got a great view of that beast that night, no matter where they were. We were on US 77 south of Cortland looking towards Hallam as it was being destroyed, and we had no idea what we were looking at until we got to a hotel and reviewed the video, matching the time stamp with reports. Of course, the fact that the car was rocking every so often was a good indicator that something bad was going down. I've never experienced inflow winds like that.

As far as the original question, I normally prefer to the southeast or east depending on storm motion.
We were on a hill just south of Hallam as the tornado moved through ... same story - we took the video through the lightning, unsure if what we were seeing at the time was a dense area of downdraft or tornado ... didn't decide it was likely tornadic for quite some time later. I spoke with several survivors who mentioned the same thing - they couldn't tell it was a tornado coming toward them either. There were some shots of it various people had before it struck Hallam and also afterward through the lightning as well.

As far as positioning goes - there are so many factors that go into the ultimate position you get. Half of it is luck of the draw - trust me. A chaser can intend to set up in the hook to get good contrast, but it doesn't last long and doesn't take much for a chaser to be forced to play catchup behind the cell. I don't like south of the cell because of poor contrast. My preferred location is tucked right up in the notch, to the SE (assuming we are talking about a N-E moving supercell) preferrably on a N-S oriented road that allows me to move south quickly if necessary ... at this location the tornado is moving to away from me, crossing to my NE and I'm bound to get some kind of view. The way things go for me usually is, I get set up right where I want to be and the storm goes through a weakening cycle and then produces a great tornado again just after the meso crosses in front of me. Happens a lot ... a lot of it really comes down to circumstance. If you want to be SAFEST, then park yourself a few miles further back or to the south. If you are just starting to chase, this is your best bet ... you'll still be able to make out the action with your eyes, though your photos/video may not be quite as good. Don't risk it until you are thoroughly comfortable with storm motion.