Violent hurricane chasing and safety

Mar 21, 2004
Phoenix, AZ KD7SMQ mobile
After reading Mike Theiss' Charlie blog today I can't hold back from starting this. I know and also have the greatest respect for George, Dave, and the guys coming south for the party.

Separately, both Mike and some in the Weathervine group experienced conditions and were hit by debris that except for the grace of God could have injured them severely. They're all prudent people and experienced chasers. They know how to pick relatively safe locations to ride out a storm.

The insidious problem is that they must expose themselves in order to record the storm. In all cases this is when they came close to harm.

Charlie was a small, fast moving storm whereas Frances is large and slow. Frances' characteristics makes riding out the eyewall passage potentially a test of pure physical endurance the likes of which I do not believe any of them has experienced.

There have been many discussions on Stormtrack of the risks of thunderstorm chasing and of the potential consequences to the chase community should there be injuries or deaths.

I feel and fear that there's a very significant risk that this may happen to some of our friends and acquaintances with respect to Frances. I couldn't bear it well if I didn't say something.

Guys, this is potentially a monster that can eat you up, spit you out, then drown you in a flash flood. Be very, very, very careful!

Thus ends my polemic.
I feel and fear that risk as well. Being a holiday weekend, I believe that there will be a significant increase in chasers out to intercept Frances. One of my fears is that the hurricance makes landfall at cat4/5 at night. Without any power, it gets so dark you cant really see what's going on, much less see where your driving. I am very confident in most experienced chasers, will know when its necessary to abort a dangerous chase, I just hope that they don't let their guard down should they put themselves in harms way.
I'm not aware of any of the Weathervine crew having been struck bodily by serious debris, which isn't to say they weren't in some danger. Perhaps you have other information?
I was debating catching a cheap flight and renting a car for the weekend, but it's starting to look like no fun.

A bit of advice, the gas supply in Florida is running short. I imagine a lot of other things are running out too. Stock up before you head down there chasers.
I agree, intercepting these kind of monster storms is a little to risky. It's to big and widespread to try and get into. I hope no amature chasers go down there and put themselves in harm's way.
IMO, Frances seems more of a stringer party than anything else. People have been talking about how storm chasing numbers have increased, I'd say cane intercepting numbers have exploded this year. I think I can name (and spell those names) all the people who aren't in Florida for this thing. As far as safety and hurricanes, IMO the two just don't fit in the same sentence; to have a cane experience worth the while, seems like you need to be exposed....after all, the only draw is wind, unless you're seeing debris, and then, well.....

I think cane people are cool, they are definitely a different breed. I've discovered that I'm far too lazy to intercept a hurricane, way too much preperation for my taste. I'm more of a "what have we got to work with today.......ok, let's go" kinda guy.
I chased hurricane lilly in october of 2002 with some guys from OU and wasn't impressed at all. It landed as a cat 3. It was hot, humid, windy and it flooded some. Tree branches here and there, signs blown over. Eh, I've seen monsoon storms do more in New Mexico. Nothing that a plains supercell couldn't do. And, we were only 5 miles from the eye when it made landfall.

I know cat 4 and 5 storms are a different story, but Lilly left a sour taste in my storm chasing pallet and I'll probably never chase a cane again unless its moving right over my house or something. Give me a violent supercell anyday, but you can keep the hurricanes.

Save your money for a real chase season later this fall or next spring!
As it looks now I could honestly see the plains/midwest offering more excitement this Sat/Sun.
I chased Hurricane Isabel last year. A nice short local chase became dangerous as I dodged falling trees and debris in Virginia eventually becoming stuck in my car on I-95 for 4 hours at night. I had no food or water. I was also surrounded by trees that could fall across the road at any time.

Here is the account:

I did get some cool video of a tree falling down. I said I would never do it again but there is something awesome about experiencing the force of nature. I would chase Frances (much better prepared) if I hadn't promised my girlfriend a Labor Day weekend vacation.

BTW, we were scheduled to go to Ft. Lauderdale and drive to Key West but the flight was canceled :(

Bill Hark
I've chased several tropical systems in the past. So far only one has been a good experience. The most notable disappointment was Lily. We drove all night to get to Lafayette and hunkered down in a parking garage. If I remember correctly, it might have hit the actual 'coast' (if LA has a 'coast') as *maybe* a cat 3 but quickly (15 minutes later) became a cat 1 at best by the time it go to any reasonable area of elevation and shelter (i.e. Lafayette). We saw some wind and lots of tree damage afterward, but it was mainly just cold, rainy, and miserable. :?

The positive experience was Claudette. Being at A&M at the time, we only had to drive 4 hours to get that one. It's rapid strengthening at the end provided unexpected pleasures such as an eye with blue sky, which we were in at Port O'Connor, and decent surge and wind with little debris (other than sand) and other small party favors. It had the violence of a hurricane while maintaining some relative safety. Our forecast of *timing* and location of landfall panned out much better than the NHC's, so we were pleased with our chase decisions.

A few buddies of mine have left to chase Frances, but last night and now moreso this morning it looks like that may be 48 hours of driving wasted (Isabel anyone?). I'd kind of like to be there, but my tolerance level for busts after long drives is decreasing exponentially with my chase experience, so I'm happy to ride this one out via CNN.

For me, the only capacity I'll chase a hurricane in the future is getting paid as a member of the media or in a research capacity with the Wind Engineering/ATMO group from Texas Tech that sets up mobile towers and collects landfalling wind time-series.

My 2 cents.
I think the most important thing about wanting to chase after a hurricane is to really know the location where you're going to station yourself.

I would really get to know the ground level, whether or not it gets flooded easily for starters. Second of all, know where you can go if things do get so bad that you have to vacate the location you are at.
Next would be the stability of the building in which you are parking yourself and your vehicle.

Debris is something that can be a problem so just remain as vigiliant as possible, noting locations around you that could cause a serious debris problem.
Not knowing the area where you're located can cause more problems for yourself as far as getting into a situation that will cause you harm, but expect the unexpected too b/c there's always a chance for that once in a millenium storm, like what happened with Floyd here in NC.

Of all the hurricanes I've been through, I have had fewer problems living on the coastline than others in NC due to flooding. But I've also only once been in the situation where the storm surge came in exactly where I was living also.

I think just the biggest key to riding out a hurricane is being familiar with the location where you want to station yourself.