The Utility of Tech Chasing

Joined
Apr 16, 2004
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Location
Austin, Tx
Some have remarked recently that they somewhat despise chasing with gadgets, equipment, i.e tech.
Notebooks, cellphones, wifi, wxworx - just to name a few are looked down upon as being problematic,
distracting, or too expensive.

I had the pleasure a month of so ago of stopping into Belton and visiting with Lon Curtis and Alan
Moller. Later in the long conversation I whipped out my new Gateway notebook computer with various
software and gadgets that I was somewhat proud of. Alan remarked that he had no use for all that and
didn't even own a notebook computer. He thought it would only be a distraction for him and probably
cause him to miss more storms or other headaches.

While it's true that computers and tech can be daunting, and intimidating - ok downright annoying
sometimes, I guess I'm stuck with liking all the gadgetry. For myself chasing is a pleasurable
experience not just because of the storms but because of all the different facets that the
hobby/sport involves. To facilitate and document a chase we may be involved in the following
pursuits of interest: 1) automotive; 2) photography and videography; 3) cell phone tech; 4)
computers; 5) wifi; 6) Map navigation; 7) Meteorology and forecasting; 8) Storms and love of nature
and natural phenomenon. These are just a few and there are probably more; however I guess what I am
saying is that for me chasing provides stimulation in lots of different areas which I personally
find entertaining and rewarding. Some people may find all of this overwhelming and sure, it can be.
However that challenge is part of the reward for me.

Of course another challenge of all the tech is the high cost involved and I can certainly understand
difficulties there as I often can't afford the good stuff either.

I'd like to discuss a few different aspects of chase tech however that you may find interesting:

1) Is Tech for chasing cost effective?
2) Can you find more storms using tech, or does it cost you storms?
3) Does dealing with tech kill the aesthetics and enjoyment of chasing?

Here are my opinions however some of this is of course subjective. You may have a different opinion
and that is fine. It's the myriad options of this hobby that makes it rewarding.

1) I find it interesting that now that I have Wifi and Wxworx - for the most part I may not have to
make cell connections at all anymore. Cell phone chasing can be very expensive based on usage rates
of cell providers and ISP rates for connecting such as Earthlink. Technically you could get a lower
end notebook at a good price and run Wxworx (800mhz required) along with a wifi card for internet
data connects. I'd say that other than the moderate cost initial set up fee based on notebook
computer and purchase of a wxworx, - after that the year to year price remains low. Now the Ground
Responder is $100 / month, but I think anyone could probably get by with the $25/month Marine deal.
That means after purchase and set up that yearly costs other than activation will only be $25 /
month. That is cool and cheap. That means that all the data available is utilized for only $25 a
month and you are set.

What are your alternatives? Well you can just do a forecast and run blind on your instincts, or you
can have a Nowcaster to tell you where to go and what is happening. Chasers that used to chase for
the old NSSL labs used to call this 'rat on a string chasing'. Really that's not for me, because
part of the thrill I get out of chasing is making my own forecasts and being able to assess the
situation in the field along with being able to interpret radar data and make my own choices - not
those of an expert on the other end.

2) For item #2 Moller didn't think he liked computers and tech. He thought they'd get in the way and
he'd lose storms. More than that he felt they didn't contribute to anything he didn't already know.
I have to disagree. I don't know if he was listening, but I told him you have to take it all in and
use each without it being a distraction. In other words you have to learn to manage all the
information and priorities at once in the field. Now perhaps on a clear day with only one supercell
forming in your target area you could get away with Moller's philosophy. But many chase days are
unlike this - especially the big days. Take for example Gene and my most recent trip up near Paris.
That day visibility was bad, storms were all over. We could have chased the Sherman storm to our
hearts content but had no clue there even was a storm at Paris, much less if we should go after it
or if it was T-warned. We wouldn't have a clue. We also wouldn't know where the stronger parts of
our storm were once we were in core. Visually you can tell some of these things, but like I say you
don't know what is around you really except in special circumstances. This pretty much eliminates
your chances of breaking off for another storm unless someone makes a phone call and finds out some
extra information or calls Tim Vasquez on the Hotline. Once again, what I get I like to get on my
own. I like the full experience, and I also like the multiple options that all these tools provide.

I might add that safety is also enhanced. That was a big factor for me with purchasing Wxworx. Too
many times I've been in areas with no cell phone coverage in very bad visibility conditions, or at
night with tornadic supercells all around trying to run me over. This can be a bit intimidating. I
remember a chase in northern OK years ago south of Medicine Lodge, KS where tornadic storms were all
over me at night as I drove in remote country. All I had was a paper map, and a NOAA weather radio.
That is just plain frightening - LOL! I mean I navigated as best I could and ended up not getting
killed or hurt that time. I've done it many times and lucked out. Still it is not necessarily a
great philosophy if you want to live to chase a long time. Heck having the tools may allow you to
get closer and see more stuff you otherwise might not be able to do.

I realize it is possible to go visual, and learn rules of the sky, and be very attentive and
observant. I chase with Gene Moore and he is one of the best at this method and he used it for
years successfully. I think he realizes the value of tech however and uses it for a reason. This
brings us to #3.

3) No doubt going fully visual techless is a great release for freedom, and is enjoyable because you
aren't tied to any equipment. Being sort of poet myself I realize the value and beauty of nature,
and of this method. It is true that sometimes tech can get in the way of that. LOL - I once wrote
a poem entitled 'Death of a Programmer' about how tech kills the natural aesthetics of our outlook
on life if we let it. The key is to not be ruled by tech but to learn to use it just enough to get
improved life out of it. Of course the key is to have it simplified enough to where it is reliable,
and useful, and not too big of a distraction. Sure it is possible for it to just be one more piece
of equipment such as your vehicle that may break down. That potential headache comes along with it.

I am a person that builds my own computers, programs, and works on databases. So, for me computers
are challenging and rewarding, but believe me sometimes I pull my hair out and want to scream. If
they have you down this much - then I agree you want to keep your distance. If you can get it all
together though and use it the right way I think you may find it rewarding, and beneficial.
 
:D I have to agree. I am most likely the most gadget chaser around. I have 4 laptops on every chase and as many 6 on special days. See our rig at www.wxtech.com I have never lost a storm due to haveing too much info. I do not think it takes away from my enjoyment. I have Sat. internet but still use cellphone in bad spots. We have a unlimted plan and I can connect and stay on as much as I like,
 
I can say from experience, with gas prices the way they are, any vehicle with a wx-station burns so much gas it's pathetic. The drag is like a funny car driving with the chute open. We're out there to chase tornadoes, not take scientific measurements or documentation, so I can't justify the need. Regardless, I simply can no longer afford to fuel geared-out vehicles, they burn through gas far too quickly. I don't know how you gearheads afford to chase as much as you do.

So far this year, with a wx-station, we've chased twice for a total of 991 miles. Total gas costs? $122.

That's about 15.7 miles a gallon, highway. Unacceptable.
 
Originally posted by Shane Adams
I can say from experience, with gas prices the way they are, any vehicle with a wx-station burns so much gas it's pathetic. The drag is like a funny car driving with the chute open. We're out there to chase tornadoes, not take scientific measurements or documentation, so I can't justify the need. Regardless, I simply can no longer afford to fuel geared-out vehicles, they burn through gas far too quickly. I don't know how you gearheads afford to chase as much as you do.

So far this year, with a wx-station, we've chased twice for a total of 991 miles. Total gas costs? $122.

That's about 15.7 miles a gallon, highway. Unacceptable.

I am sure if varies by vehicle, but I am going to have to disagree with you Shane, at least in my case. Driving around checking the mileage lately since I have mounted everything rooftop, including the lightbar and wxstation I have seen no change in gas mileage. Of course, I added a K&N Filter about the same time, so any 1 or 2 mpg I might have gained with that might have offset any loss from the roof equipment, I don't know. But as it stands now, I am getting the same mileage I was prior to installing everything.
 
I have to agree with david. Even with a sat. dish on top I don't lose that much mpg. of course 15 mpg is godd for our unit. :cry:
 
Moller didn't think he liked computers and tech. He thought they'd get in the way and he'd lose storms. More than that he felt they didn't contribute to anything he didn't already know. I have to disagree. I don't know if he was listening, but I told him you have to take it all in and use each without it being a distraction. In other words you have to learn to manage all the information and priorities at once in the field. Now perhaps on a clear day with only one supercell forming in your target area you could get away with Moller's philosophy. But many chase days are unlike this - especially the big days.

I think this gets into some pretty complicated philosophical issues. The measure of what we get out of a chase may not boil down to bagging a tornado, and enjoyment may not equal "success". It may sound like I'm being all metaphysical or something, but I'm serious.

For me, I find that storm outbreaks and tornadoes are big events for me, but the experiences have a way of storing themselves only in short-term memory. My long-term memory seems more geared to remembering more mellow, enjoyable experiences on the Plains, and amassing those memories tends to be an important objective when I hit the road. Seeing unusual sights, getting on a strange and unexpected storm, meeting unexpected people, taking "the road less travelled" and so forth all seem to be effective ways of doing that.

I find that getting tangled up with gadgets tends to short-circuit that. The gadgets are distracting, and if I'm looking at all the same data that everyone else is looking at, then I'm really not doing much to take the path less travelled.

Maybe a different way to approach the question is: would you get more enjoyment out of seeing an average tornado along with a media circus, or would you prefer to be on your own on a stack-of-plates nontornadic storm? I think different people would have different answers, and the reasons would be just as complex. You may even have different ideas on different days, depending on your mood.

I think the journey is still half of the fun, and that's probably where Alan Moller is coming from. Not just the road journey, but the entire experience enroute to the storm.

Tim
 
Originally posted by Tim Vasquez
I think the journey is still half of the fun, and that's probably where Alan Moller is coming from. Not just the road journey, but the entire experience enroute to the storm.

Tim

His quote was something like "I don't need anything like that to find storms, I've been doing it successfully for years without it. I think it would probably just distract me and get in the way".

So with my post I was addressing three different aspects of chasing with tech. What you are referencing is kind of item #3 Does it get in the way of the aesthetics and enjoyment of chasing.

Sure you have a point as we all chase for different reasons and none of them are simple as you say. I guess all I was getting at is over the years I have heard people sometimes make fun, or belittle the use of tech type equipment for use in chasing. What I wanted to do was provide some positive spin on what it can do for you versus it's negative aspects.

I brought up several issues, but two things I wanted to relate is not only a possible increase in efficiency in finding storms, but enhanced visibility for safety. Also the fact that the new setup and recent technologies are making tech chasing less expensive in my opinion. Now and into the future there will be much more information available which is accessible at a lower more affordable price point - particularly when you average over 5 or 10 years.
 
Originally posted by Joe Nield
The convoluted rooftop gadgetry and lightbars (could someone explain the need for a lightbar to me, please?)

I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I have one. I wouldn't say it's NEEDED, anymore than any other thing any one else takes along on the road aside from a reliable vehicle, their driver's license, and their eyes.

However, one thing mine will do is give me various areas of flood lighting over 180 degrees which is darn useful when shooting video of hail or various types of damage at night, which I find myself doing from time to time. I could think of a number of other times that flood lighting would come in handy. My vehicle will also be used in various severe weather awareness events locally and will be on display, and will probably be lit up then. Then there is some perceived safety benefits that may or may not come from it, depending on what side of the fence you sit on. One could just as well question the NEED for fog lights, driving lights, or handheld anemometers, laptop computers, electronic maps, etc etc etc for chasing. Some of us like to have them, others don't. To each his own.
 
Shane brings up the gas mileage cost of gadgets on top of the vehicle. I'd say this has to do with the size of the vehicle and what type of engine. I've chased in different kinds of vehicles with different kinds of gas mileage. Some of the smaller 4 and 6 cylinder engines / vehicles may do well in gas mileage at normal highway speeds and loads. However if you try to go to "chase speed" to get to a storm and are going against a strong headwind it will usually have to run at higher rpms and do more work. Now compare that to a vehicle like my Tahoe which has a 350 HP 8 cylinder I believe. That thing is always producing a lot of power so whereas going faster into a headwind may make a little difference it isn't so drastic as it is to the smaller engines. On the other hand the Tahoe gas mileage always sucks even when not going fast, or headwind.

Anyway my point is having stuff on the roof probably works similarly. The bigger vehicles trucks and vans it may not affect it as much, but hooking it on a smaller car may make a big dip in the cash in your pocket.

I sure agree with you on the price of gas. It's out of control. Last chase we had to buy $2.19 / gallon. I didn't think I would ever see or have to pay that much. If this keeps up will all be chasing in those Honda Prias.
 
Originally posted by Tom Burgess
:D I have to agree. I am most likely the most gadget chaser around. I have 4 laptops on every chase and as many 6 on special days. See our rig at www.wxtech.com I have never lost a storm due to haveing too much info. I do not think it takes away from my enjoyment. I have Sat. internet but still use cellphone in bad spots. We have a unlimted plan and I can connect and stay on as much as I like,

Tom, what kind of setup do you have with that tripod mount on your dash for the camcorder? I want to have a tripod type head to mount the camcorder on for dashcam action but right now I am just using a Ram mount that doesn't swivel very easily.

Looks like you just have that tripod bungied to the dash or something?
 
Here in the hills of kentucky you better have a net control station directing you (if you are a ham) or a laptop with radar software. If you don't you'll have a tornado or large storm crawl up your backside and crest over the hill you are standing on. Then you'll be in a world of hurt.

We have mainly squal lines and storms that are completely rain wrapped.

You can chase/spot naked if you want but I'd rather have my security blanket I can check every 15-20 minutes.
 
Originally posted by David Drummond+--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(David Drummond)</div>
<!--QuoteBegin-Joe Nield
The convoluted rooftop gadgetry and lightbars (could someone explain the need for a lightbar to me, please?)

I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I have one. I wouldn't say it's NEEDED, anymore than any other thing any one else takes along on the road aside from a reliable vehicle, their driver's license, and their eyes.

However, one thing mine will do is give me various areas of flood lighting over 180 degrees which is darn useful when shooting video of hail or various types of damage at night, which I find myself doing from time to time. I could think of a number of other times that flood lighting would come in handy. My vehicle will also be used in various severe weather awareness events locally and will be on display, and will probably be lit up then. Then there is some perceived safety benefits that may or may not come from it, depending on what side of the fence you sit on. One could just as well question the NEED for fog lights, driving lights, or handheld anemometers, laptop computers, electronic maps, etc etc etc for chasing. Some of us like to have them, others don't. To each his own.[/b]

I didn't mean it as an attack, I just didn't know how they were useful. More often than not, they seem to be attention-grabbers rather than functional pieces of equipment. I know you of all people would NOT be in that category, though. :)
 
Originally posted by Joe Nield

I didn't mean it as an attack, I just didn't know how they were useful. More often than not, they seem to be attention-grabbers rather than functional pieces of equipment. I know you of all people would NOT be in that category, though. :)

No worries! Just giving my use for them. :wink: I agree too, I have seen some "light machines" on the road from time to time. Last year 3 of them blew by us going, somewhere? while we were on the side of the road filming a tornado. :lol:
 
chasing w/ tech

The entire tech/non-tech debate is purely a personal one. For me, running with SOME technology, a balance of what I feel individually is useful vs. burdensome, is key. I typically use a cell connection on 1 laptop; slow, but typically I get enough information to keep me happy, along with a partner manning a ham radio, along with NOAA wx radio. When in a bind, a call to "lab support" may be in the offing. Part of the appeal to me is being forced to go on somewhat limited data. I've gotten to the point where I let other chase partners take over filming, etc., so that I can just TAKE IT ALL IN and enjoy the subtle aspects of a storm that I might otherwise miss. I'd highly recommend using whatever you want to use to get you to an intercept point, take a few photos, etc.... and then sit back and let it all soak in! -DC
 
I chase with just enough to be useful to me, not too much to distract me, and vary it some. There are some items I will not go out without - one example is communications equipment - cb, radios, scanners, phone. Some items I never use - televisions, overhead lightbars, multiple computers. Some things I vary, depending - camera and video equipment, and items I use specifically for Monsoon or just for Plains. Whatever it is, it has to earn its keep if it's going to take up room in my vehicle and require fuss-time. To me, that is time away from storms. I agree with Shane, gasoline in Phoenix starts at $2.35/gallon. Some types of extra equipment would weigh more and cost gas over long trips. A lot of people in the desert permanently store their golf clubs in their trunks. That does impact the gas mileage so I can see how stocking up a chase truck with equipment would make a difference. I do not store my ultra-heavy Monsoon-proof Bogen tripod in my vehicle on a regular basis. The thing weighs as much as a small aircraft :)
 
1) Is Tech for chasing cost effective?
2) Can you find more storms using tech, or does it cost you storms?
3) Does dealing with tech kill the aesthetics and enjoyment of chasing?

1) If you're making money, I would venture to say probably... but if you're a hobbyist as most chasers are, I would say no. The up-front price alone on most things is enough to send most chasers for a loan. Add to that subscriptions costs and monthly bills and you're definately hurtin for cash.

2) Again, that depends on your level of experience. Amature to novice chasers will likely prosper with the help of techie gadgets. Even some "new-age" chasers who have a lot of experience will likely score better with their toys. Old-school chasers like Moller have more field experience and have the experience without the toys to where they're able to sniff out storms with nothing but their wit. I, personally, find aid in having the toys at my side.

3) I'm a techie nerd, so chasing not only allows me the chance to chase after my life's passion, it also wraps into it various other hobbies and fun things I enjoy; such as road trips and gadgets! Why do you think I enjoy chasing so much! I gives me a PERFECT excuse to go out and buy GPS, laptops, software, etc. Its part of my enjoyment to have all of that... you just need to know when to let it go. For instance, on April 10; used the Baron system all day, but I never once glanced at a computer screen when something was visually going on around me. No need for it then!

I guess its a personal preference. I enjoy my gadgets and like to use them! Does it aid in catching storms? Most definately; I didn't grow up in the Great Plains, so it'll be another 10 years before I feel comfortable enough with the skies to let go of my toys to get me there. But you damn well better believe when my eyes are fixed in the skies, the gadgets are just radiation sitting aside...
 
I carry a lot of equipment in my truck, but all of it is not used specifically for chasing. I have numerous public service band radios installed, as my vehicle is used as a back-up command unit for emergency management and the fire dept. that I belong to. The weather instrumentation is very usefull at wildland fires. I do have a Federal Vision light bar (clear and amber lenses) with the Smart Siren unit, and signalmaster, along with scene lighting, which are necessary for several aspects of my other positions. Laptop with GPS and wireless (adding satellite internet unit), television, 2 scanners (which I only need when chasing out of state), power inverters, ham radio gear, radio broadcast EMWIN unit, lightning detector, strobes in the head and taillights...well, as you can see, I am a maxi-gear chaser. My point is that while I do use this on chases, a lot of gear is primarily used for other purposes. Can it be distracting? Sure...especially if you attempt to re-boot the computer while driving (which is why Texas is minus one large turkey). You just have to make yourself stay focused.

In reference to what Shane was saying, I do notice a noticable difference in gas mileage when I have the truck fully decked out...between 4-6 MPG difference, especially on the highway. All of that stuff does create quite a drag.
 
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