When You First Started: The Biggie Mistakes

Anyone here remember your rookie years of chasing?

Anyone here have the experience of making completely inexperienced decisions you look back on now and thank heavens for the learning experiences?

And anyone here have the absolute frustration of missing tornadoes - many tornadoes - due to inexperienced decisions when you first started?

List some biggie experiences that you remember oh, so well - in your first one or two years of chasing.

With me, for instance, as a beginner,one thing was taking off for a severe storm without considering storm motion -- the storms were headed NORTH -- and I headed south and west and by the time I realized my mistake, the storms were beyond catchable. *BANGS POT ON HEAD*. So basic! Yet I screwed up SO bad!

This will be a great thread for our newer chasers to look on to feel better after some very needed learning experiences EVERY NEW CHASER has to go through.
Good topic Jeff. I think the thread could be a learning experience for all of us, new and old. This could range from basics to technical forecasting, which would make it educational for many.

My biggest mistake early on, and I'm sure we'll hear this echoed by others, was buying into others' forecasts instead of my own. This includes other chasers' forecasts, SPC highlighted areas, and warnings three counties over. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying mine is always correct by any means, but you have to succeed and fail on your own attempts to really learn the ropes. I think even seasoned chasers would echo these thoughts;)
I have made lots of mistakes, but I have one that really takes the cake. I wasn't a rookie IMO, it was my 3rd year of chasing, but this was definitely a rookie move. I was video taping the Attica tornado on May 12, 2004 (from less than half a mile) when it rapidly intensified and began moving North across the highway. I was looking through my video camera in disbelief as a house was picked up right off the foundation. I am sure most everyone has seen the video. After the tornado started to rope out I finally realized I had forgotten to hit record. Words could never describe how heart braking it was. If you saw the video on CNN I was the jackass balancing my video camera on my spare tire in front of the guy that actually got the shot.
Again on April 21, 2005 I got another house getting hit by the F3 Parsons, KS tornado. Once again I screwed up the video. I had tried to manually set the white balance (for the first time) and the video had gone all white and you could barely make out the debris from the house getting leveled. It is like I'm cursed. It wasn't as bad as the May 12 incident, but it was still devestating.
Well when i first got into chasing, i wasn't aware of the chaser becoming the chasee" ;-) i was up in the Hubbard NE, area chasing a line of storms, which a few were tornado warned , and reports of a possible tornado a few miles west of Hubbard, i could see a very nasty looking wall cloud rotating fast and well things changed in a matter of minutes the storms ended up chasing me, i was scared at that point because the storms were moving 65mph so im this idiot on the Hwy with flashers going honking my horn at other cars , and gunning it into town. I make it into the gas station and as i do golfball hail starts to pummet the building and the wind increased, being a beginner the sound being so loud i thought the roof was going to rip off... well i was wrong i lived lol... my advice is take some training before you go chasing ;-) lol
Hey Guys :)

Unfortunately, I haven't been chasing yet, since I live in Northern Ireland, but I am planning to come to the Plains next spring to chase, and so, I'm glad that you have posted this thread, Jeff, because it will give me an idea of what to try and avoid, as it will help me to learn more from you guys, with being much more experienced and knowledgeable chasers :)

I will say though, that one golden rule that I have always remembered is, "Never chase on dirt roads if it can be avoided" and the mud stuck thread, is enough to strengthen that ule for me even more :)

I still have a knack of overshooting while heading west toward a storm or target to this day after several years of chasing. It is far easier be play catch up east of a storm than it is if you are west of the storm.
Coming north into the southside of the storm - "I'm pretty sure my next east option is just a few miles up the interstate, I'll be fine."

Couldn't decide to either sit in the emergency lane and let it pass or continue to the next exit. Ended up punching and taking the next option - not a fun day for me. Have a few dents on the car from that decision.

Overall lesson: Know where your options are and when that close, it's easier to chase on gravel roads.
On my second 'chase', I followed the roads to the warning area without regard (knowledge) for anything else. I was coming from the North and ended up in some hail while driving west. It got bad enough that I turned around and went back east just to get out of the hail. After I did and saw the cool photogenic hail curtains I stopped to take some pictures of it. Then behind me about 1/4 mile away some circulation went right across the road. About 2 mins later I saw my first tornado.

I had driven right through the hail core and into the meso. It's no wonder no one else was around. After that day is when I started reading up seriously on storm structure, and I look back at that day as being potentially lucky that nothing bad happened.
  • June 4, 2005 (KS)
6/4/2005 was a good example of why it isn't always good to look for isolated supercells further south along the dryline, since sometimes there won't be any isolated convection period. I may have been more successful if I chased the even more crowded area in northeast KS and northwest MO where a strong supercell produced several tubes -- e.g. the georgous Hiawatha tornado. I played with crap further south all day long that could never mature, because of...
  1. localized increases in CINH from low-level diabatic cooling (thanks to anvil cover/precipitation from the competing junk storms) was too strong for surface-based ascent to reach LFC.
  2. synoptic-scale lift from the shortwave kept inducing new cells to form over and over again -- throughout the warm sector -- consequently, nothing was ever able to become isolated and surface-based.
  • May 10, 2003 (IL)
I don't even wanna think about that day...
  • June 8, 2003 (MI)
I missed the Livingston/Oakland county tornadic supercell because of being late to the scene, and that it was rather unexpected that a storm was to become tornadic in that region... IIRC, the tornado was rated an (E)F2, and the supercell traversed northeast into Genesse county and produced an additional tornado, while I was on I-75 trying to head north.
  • August 21, 2003 (MI)
I missed the nocturnal (E)F2 near the Ingham/Livingston Co. border by about fifteen minutes.
  • May 30, 2004 (IN/IL)
I missed the strong/damaging Indianapolis tornado by about ten minutes, given that I was being retarded by wanting to play around with that severe convective band on I-75 that crossed the area in the early afternoon. I should have hit I-94 and flew south on I-69 to get into my target to begin with, which was, of course, Indianapolis!
  • May 11, 2005 (KS/NE/CO)
I should have left that god damn convection in southern NE/northern KS after I kept seeing the stuff cross the warm front, and become elevated in terms of inflow sources once they ingested stable surface air on the cool side of the boundary. Instead, we end up playing around with the "tornadic" CO supercell... We could have ditched the warm front way earlier, and headed southward on the dryline, where convection was beginning to form. The region further south was charactorized by both stronger CAPE and stronger capping, but much less low-level SRH than further north near the warm front. Of course, it didn't really matter... A couple of convective cells formed, and then died given that CINH to a boundary layer parcel was too strong, and unstable inflow was choked off. It took until sunset to get a cell to mature as it moved off the forcing boundary (dryline), where it quickly became supercellular. The mesocyclone deepened, tightened and began to extend down into the lower levels, and consequently, the storm quickly dropped a georgous tube, which Justin Teague has excellent shots from. A good lesson learned... I think, in most setups like this, you'll always have at least one notable supercell well southward along the dryline that produces, and I can probably name 50 days that resemble this one. I ended up playing with the crap up north, hoping that the richer baroclinicity could help an isolated storm to produce, but it didn't.
Anyone here remember your rookie years of chasing?

List some biggie experiences that you remember oh, so well - in your first one or two years of chasing.

May 25, 1997 My first experience with tornadic HP storms. I was approaching a storm with a confirmed tornado from the northeast (worst possible angle) and could see virtually nothing to the southwest because of an intense precip core. This was my very first tornado day on a planned chase. I came to the intersection of I-35 and OK74 in Purcell, with a decision to make. I could take OK74 southwest directly towards where the tornado was confirmed, hoping it would move more easterly and I could come in behind it...or I could take the slightly safer route and go due south on I-35 to try and stay ahead of it and give myself a better shot of seeing it....but also putting myself into the path. I debated for about 30 seconds, then chose to go south on I-35. I drove a few miles, then pulled over. All I could see was rain and lots of low scud, moving rapidly west to east over my head. As it turned out, the tornado (which had been 3/4 mile wide at its largest) dissipated about a half mile west of where I was...though I could never see it. Was this the right decision? Not sure, but it was thought out and safety was considered first, viewing second. So for a rookie, I'll call it a good choice.

June 11, 1997 Another tornadic HP storm day, but this time we were in close. After observing a small tornado from a powerful supercell near Magic City, TX, we moved south and then west to get closer to the updraft base. As we did, the storm transitioned into HP mode, cloaking a 3/4 mile wide F3 deep within the rain curtains. We had gone too far west in our inexperience and were now on the backside of the storm, as it was still north of us, lumbering slowly south. We knew there was violent rotation in the updraft, and that a tornado was certainly possible in there, but we could see nothing but a thick black core. As the storm began to cross the interstate (I-40), we were hanging back west still, maybe three miles from what we figured was the tornadic area. Suddenly I started getting a very bad feeling, and told my chase partner to pull over. So we did, and sat there looking due east down the road. We could see nothing but a solid mass of gray, as we were in heavy rain and west winds to around 45-50mph....the RFD, but at the time we didn't understand what that was. All I knew was something didn't feel right about continuing into that core. A few minutes after we'd pulled over, we received word that another storm chaser was observing a "huge tornado" in the area just ahead of us. As painful as it was to know what we were missing, we stayed put. After about ten minutes, we slowly moved east again. Less than two miles from where we'd been sitting, we drove into a 3/4 mile wide damage swath, with large trees snapped four feet above the ground, overturned semis, and one car that was lying on its side, fifty yards south of the interstate (a sheriff's deputy was already on the scene so we just kept moving). Had this been a classic or even LP storm, we'd have had an amazing view of this wedge tornado, but even from just 1.75 miles away - we couldn't see it at all. So as painful a failure as this was trophy-wise, it was an invaluable experience as far as learning and smart decision-making. I'm probably most proud of this day from that year, as far as our real-time, storm environment execution.
Last edited by a moderator:
Being the rookies that my uncle and I were, on March 28 1998, after chasing a squall line and seeing a funnel cloud, once we couldn't really chase it anymore, we saw some hard looking white clouds to our west. Looked pretty interesting... well we got closer and the clouds came nearer.... they were pretty all right.... pretty WEAK!!! They weren't EVEN storms, they were CU! Now who can top THAT screw up? Baaahahahaha I laugh at this every time :)
My first year chasing outside of Wisconsin was 97 I think. I was somewhere in TX, sitting on the shaded side of a closed business, waiting for initiation. A narrow whispy band of cirrus started to crawl across the sky. I was able to get internet through my bag phone using a cellular connector interface. I brought up my site to see a meso scale disc issued for where I was. It read, "vis sat is showing a boundry in this area". I was so excited. The whispy band of clouds must be the boundry they are talking about. I sat for another half hour as the line of cluds stretched farther across the sky. Finally I decided to look on the other side of the building. DOH!!! that whispy line of clouds was the anvil of a thunderstorm off in the direction I was not looking for the last hour or so. Lesson learned... keep an eye open in ALL directions.

Doug Raflik
I would have to say remaining patient and understanding what your looking at feature wise on a supercell base. So many times, I was caught in the stupid pattern of watching every updraft lowering and assuming a wall cloud. So many times I would sit and watch and wait, only to see the ugly face of a updraft blow out soon appear. Also... be prepared for rapid changes in what you are gawking at. Sometimes an innocent piece of scud can signal a meso boundary that wall clouds quickly develop as the updraft and the convergence/rotation intensfies. Cap can be a great friend or a very bad foe for storm chasers. Find that magic balance zone and get ready for action...find the hell cap...and get ready for a sunburn. !! One last thing...Learn from your busts !! Try to do as much
"post bust analysis"as possible to figure out why you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This will certainly help your bust percentage drop if you have good pattern awareness and develop a good grasp of positives and negatives in all chase setups. One thing for sure....if you chase a lot and have a good understanding of things...newbie status goes away very quickly and your success rate will begin to climb. ;)
My first year in the Great Plains (and indeed in the US!) was 1998 - 3 weeks in late May/early June.

At that stage, not only was I rather uneducated in severe weather, there was not much data about, and as such, we just basically drove to areas which the Weather Channel had highlighted! We did see some quite good storms, but nothing too grand.

I suppose just driving headlong into some nocturnal convection north of Amarillo, and then hearing the weather radio squawking a tornado warning for right where we were was one of the more "interesting" moments!

We did have some success when we teamed up with some other British chasers, and some US ones too, including Dana Mack. We headed to Clovis on June 7 and saw a fairly nasty supercell, complete with baseballs!
Another good thread was the "10 commandments of storm-chasing". These represent a lot of mistakes we never want to make again.

For me, it was not recognizing what I was seeing, until I would replay the video the next day. I STILL do this, but I'm working on it......getting to a great place, and not being patient, and then moving to a "better" place. When I first started chasing, I would literally STAY mobile, never setting up anywhere. I've learned to trust the radar, and my "gut" feeling, and stay put. Now, if I can just take LONGER videos, instead of choppy ones, I would be a little bit happier. Also, when I first started, I would wait until I was CERTAIN there would be a great chance of tornadic weather before I would leave my house, and by waiting to long, sometimes I waited TO long to even go. All the ingredients seldom set up perfect...you just have to GO FOR IT, and hope it works out right.
One of many MAJOR mistakes during the first years of storm chasing, happened on May 3, 1999. Back then, instead of learning from experienced chasers, we would chase warning statements from the NWS...knowing very little about storm structure. Basically we'd drive around like a chicken with its head cut off.

On May 3, 99, we were very lucky and intercepted the Moore supercell in its early stages just northeast of Lawton. After watching the first few tornadoes and the developing wedge, we attempted to get closer. Near Bridgecreek, we were driving northward through a forested area...and completely lost visual of the wedge and our position relative to the storm. When we emerged from the trees, we looked to our west and saw the F-5 wedge moving rapidly towards us...it was only about a mile away. Instead of turning the car around and driving in the other direction (our car was a soft-top Geo Tracker--which is another mistake)...We abandoned our vehicle and ran on foot to the nearest overpass!!! thinking the tornado was going to hit us! In the end, it missed us by a few hundred yards, and the entire side of our vehicle was covered in mud, insulation, and other small debris.

Not a smart decision to say the least.
1. God God? If not, you'll be praying to some higher power at some point in time, because if not you're probably doing something wrong.:rolleyes:

2. I never carried any serious photography or video recording equipment for the first 5+ years; I just drove to the storm and pursued it...don't ask. The good news is that I encountered few significant tornadic storms during those five years (save for the July 2004 Roanoke, IL event), although the bad news of course is that I still missed some great photo and/or video ops. For God sakes, take either a camera or a camcorder..don't be an idiot like me..it's worth the investment even if it's just a disposable camera.

3. I had a horrible tendency to "punch the core" without ever really intending to do so. The good news is that I never sustained any significant hail damage.

4. At the onset of my first season, I was on a permanent scudwarn program. Don't be in a hurry to create a situation or mistake gustnadoes for tornadoes. Watch the storm and observe it's behavior before letting the "Zeitgeist" take over and sweep you away.

5. Like a few others, I mispositioned myself a few times. I hit the ditch once after being caught less than 1/2 mile from a rain-wrapped tornado that was bearing down on my location at a dead end country road. Buy a GPS and/or a good Delorme atlas that lists all backroads, because it's gonna suck arse when you're trapped or stuck in a mud pit on the Oregon trail.

6. I didn't know much about storm structure, forecast tools and debriefing conferences. It's a good idea to educate yourself and get your hands on severe weather literature and information. Go to seminars and workshops! Familiarize yourself with model products and forecast tools. Learn from your mistakes. As someone else already posted, it really is a good idea to review bust scenarios and even times when you "blew" it in the field.

7. A fool repeatedly learns from his own mistakes, but a wise chaser learns from the mistakes others have already made!:D
What I learned in the first year of chasing (2005) was "dont go it alone". After running around the first two days on my own and not seeing anything (it was 2005, also) I hooked up with a couple of veteran chasers in Grand Island, NE and we ended the week well, no tornadoes, but 2005 and 2006 werent big producer years for tornadoes.
After chasing in Florida for years, if you want to call it chasing, I wasnt prepared for what the "Big Arena" had in store for me, I still consider myself a rookie, perhaps if I keep that attitude I can learn more and wont think I know more than I do.