Your First Chase

Dustin Ward

I was thinking this could be a good topic with some entertaining replies. How did you get into chasing and what was your first chase? Was it a full-out effort with laptops, internet, and heavy-duty chase vehicles involved? Was it just a drive 10 miles from home in your car to get a better view? Were you drawn by interest to the storm or attracted by seeing stories of other storm chasers? My first "chase" was last year during the summer when I saw a storm was headed a good bit east of my house, I drove about 15 miles east to a tall hill where I could park and enjoy the long-distance lightning show. It was a great experience and real fun. Anyway, what's your story?
I used to sit on the roof as a kid and watch storms go by until I got my driver’s license. I turned 16 in November 1996, and started to ‘chase’ around southern Colorado the following spring. My first severe thunderstorm was along US50 in Pueblo West in May of that year, followed by my first marginal supercell in El Paso County later that summer. There was a rare tornado outbreak on October 11, 1997 in southeast Colorado (one week before the big blizzard); I went out, but I had no idea how to actually chase so I didn’t see anything of consequence other than some hail from an intense squall line west of the supercells. In addition, my parents told me not to go too far and to start home before dark (the good stuff happened around dusk and continued into the evening). The first tornado-warned storm that I actually chased was in Otero County near La Junta in early May 1998 (didn’t see anything), followed by my first tornado north of CO96 between Haswell and Eads in Kiowa County mid-May.
While I was growing up in Wichita I started taking pictures and videoing storms at age 8. Most of the time I was in my frontyard or backyard or somewhere in my neighborhood. Due to the isolation of my neighborhood fields were right across the street from my house so I could see many storms from a distance.

A memorable what you could call a "chase" was sometime in May of 2002 (not sure of the exact date). We were coming back from a zoo field trip and I had a cheap disposcible camera with me for some reason. The temps were soaring and it was a humid as it could be. While on the bus back to school I noticed a monsterous storm building. I shot a picture of it and my stomach tied into a knot. I knew something bad was going to happen. We finally got to school in Goddard to the west of Wichita and soon it started to rain very hard. An announcement came over the intercom saying that we would have to stay late due to inclement weather. The rain quickly changed to golfball sized hailstones. By now my entire 3rd grade class was scared, including me, but at the same time I was fascinated. While the teacher calmed everyone and started to play a game with us I couldn't focus and I kept starring out the window at the monsterous hail. Then, the power went out and the tornado sirens started blaring. This was getting very serious and I could see occasional power flashes from the telephone poles on US50. It seemed like eternity as the power flashed on and off and hail battered the window. Seconds later it stopped, no hail, no wind, only the sound of tornado sirens. The time was around 4:15pm, 30 minutes since our usual release time. The tension in the room was emence as the silence was an eerie silence that wasn't right. Outside of the classroom door the janitors came running down the hall with blowhorns informing everyone to take shelter immmediatly. I knew this wasn't a drill because the urgencey and fear in the teacher's voice. One of my friends called me to the window and about 1 mile away a tornado churned its way right at us. I jumped in line and hurried behind my class into the bathroom (our tornado shelters). I sat in the boys room listening to kids crying and waiting for the deafening roar I've always heard about. Time passed and nothing happened, could it have missed us. After 1 and a half minutes had passed and they sentenced us out of the bathroom I knew the tornado missed us. I later found out it tracked to the NE and missed our position. I grabbed my backpack and used it as shelter as small hailstones pelted my head on the way to the bus. This was obviously the most memorable weather expierence of my life!!!

My first real educated chase was April 11,2005 in Miami Co., KS near Louisburg. Nothing real impressive just some lightning.
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Although I had been a thunderstorm/weather book reader and NOVA special viewer for many years during my childhood, I went on my first true 'chase', that is, driving to position myself in an ideal viewing angle on a storm for photography, in July of 1993 in Washington, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Pittsburgh). An SLR camera - and a sidebar in a book by Dr. Uman that showed how to capture lightning - were the triggers for me to take the first trip.

I drove several miles east of town to get in front of an active cluster of storms rolling in after sunset. I parked on a hilltop road and set my camera up in the car (a 1986 Chevrolet Caprice wagon). As the frequent, vivid lightning blasted in (come to think of it, this probably ranks in the top 15 of lightning displays I've seen since), I had the shutter open for it.

The next day I picked up the film to see these.

I could have never known the great impact that night would have on my future and the things it would lead me to. From that point on, I was hooked. After that, any storm within 10 miles of me had my camera on it - and that travel radius increased every year. I've shot storms in a tux at my sister's wedding reception and at times when I was too sick to barely get out of bed. Every year since, my chasing has expanded beyond lightning to just about every weather phenomenon today.

My first year on the Plains was 2001. At the encouragement of Dave Crowley and Bill Coyle, I made my way out west just in time to catch the May 27 derecho near Meade, Kansas. We caught the nice LP in the Texas panhandle on the 29th and I had a great time with some tower lightning in OKC later that night. I've been back every year since.
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Michael, how old are you? I can't tell whether you were one of those third graders or not.

I didn't actually start storm chasing until 2005. That was my first chase, with Melissa Moon. A tornado watch popped up for the area, and though it was late afternoon, we decided to go out.

Saw a good storm in North Texas. It didn't do much, but there was a nice lowering and mammatus display. Some good lightning later that night.
Michael, how old are you? I can't tell whether you were one of those third graders or not.

I was one of the third graders. I'm 14 now.
I didn't start actual chasing until May 16, 1999(I don't count any driving around town stuff before then). That was the first time I actually took maps with and set out to keep chasing the storms as long as I needed/could. I wind up seeing a tornado only about 10 miles east of town on my first chase. Then I was redirected by police and get lost in the bluffs in western IA. The road I was on wasn't on the map. I end up just west of Logan when I thought I'd be coming out west of Missouri Valley. At the same time live coverage was now being broadcast out of Omaha for a tornado moving directly at Logan. I couldn't see crap and they sounded pretty darn serious. I didn't know what I was doing yet and thought it best to just pull over at a gas station and go inside. Well that quickly sucked, listening to this same situation being broadcast on and on. Soon baseball hail started hitting the roof, then not long after the power went out(following not one clap of thunder). The guy running the gas station said his mom was working for dispatch and she was saying it was 1 and 1/2 miles wide and heading right for Logan. Talk about a fun first chase experience being above ground and affraid to leave the place now. The tornado just misses Logan to the south by a couple miles. It was an F3 but it seemed to only get that status because of the farm houses it hit(not constructed well enough....they were gone). The damage looked rather violent from this tornado and it proved to be Iowa's first deadly tornado in a rather long time(killed 2 taking shelter in a ditch). Had it moved into Logan I wouldn't want to think what would have happened to those of us in that flimsy gas station.
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My first psuedo-chase was in 1997 but my first real chase trip was on July 10th 2000 in Colorado. The real fun begun right at dark and I was mezmorized with this nightime tornadic supercell (though I didn't see any of the reported tornadoes.) I believe I was just a little bit ENE of Denver. It was like the low clouds rearranged themselves each time the lightning illuminated it. With my headlights pointing out a dirt road I could see the crops and grass bend down towards the cell, as if it was bowing to it's presence.
Well that was an interesting first chase Mike. My first real chase, not spotting, was May 11, 2000 and was lucky enough to catch the Dunkerton, IA tornado. Unfortunately, I didnt bring a camera with and have nothing to show for that one!!
Hard to say really. I grew up in a military family, so we moved around a lot, and my interest in weather began around 1994 or 1995 at age 7 when we were stationed at Tinker AFB here in the OKC area. However, aside from running outside whenever storms approached, obviously no chasing was going to happen at that age.

From 1997-2005, through my middle and high school years, I was in Sterling, VA, an outer suburb of Washington DC. Not quite chasing territory, as you can imagine. However, we did experience a sizeable outbreak of tornadoes in September 2004 as the remnants of Hurricane Ivan tracked up the spine of the Appalachians. I lived only five miles northeast of Dulles Airport, where two tornadoes were reported on the ground simultaneously - upon hearing this, I naturally jumped in the car and proceeded to break traffic laws right and left in an attempt to get closer to the airport and perhaps catch a glimpse, but predictably, the oppressive DC gridlock won out and the funnel(s) were long gone before I'd moved more than a mile or two. Pseudo-chase at best.

Then I arrived here at OU last fall (2005). I suppose my first chase was March 30 of last year, but I didn't get started until late in the afternoon thanks to classes, so I saw very little, simply driving from Norman to near Konawa and back. The chase that will always stick in my mind as the first truly legitimate one, though, is April 24/El Reno, my first all-day type chase and the first one on which I saw anything substantial... probably no coincidence that I was simply following a caravan. ;)
My first chase was a local chase with Jim Westover on May 24, 2006. The storms were turning into a squall line but we saw some neat lightning and mammatus, and a couple of wall-cloud-esque thingys. You know...those thingys. :p

My first out-of-state chase was on June 20, 2006 with Scott Weberpal and Chris Gullikson. It was a total cap bust. :confused:
Ah yes, I remember it well--I even have it on tape. I was living at home in spring of 1999, taking a break from school. I'd been wanting to attempt to "chase tornadoes" for a few years, but didn't know the first thing about it. The 1999 season was incredibly active in the Dakotas. I almost headed out one day (June 6) but decided against it at the last minute. A cold core event ended up dropping 20 tornadoes in eastern ND that afternoon, including a ridiculous F4 that they showed on the news that evening. [It was probably better that I didn't go; I'd never have been in the right spot]. Two days later, June 8, a red box was issued for western ND. I immediately grabbed the camcorder and headed out the door. The road network in west-central ND isn't a lot different than say, Cherry county Nebraska. I went east toward Beulah and Hazen and drove through some multicellular activity. I knew enough to look for rain-free bases, but couldn't even locate any. Lots of heavy rain and that was about it. Farther north (west of Minot), a couple supercell storms did occur, and one tornado.
I cant put a date on my first chase, it was sometime around 95 when i was in 5th grade or so. My dad would drive and I would tell him where to go. For having no equipment, we did fairly well. Seems like we always saw atleast a funnel. Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, you dont have to try hard to see storms, they always seemed to come to you. We mostly would just go look at damage after the storms. Between 92 and 95 I got to see F4 damage to both of the neighboring towns of Borger (Fritch in 92 and Pampa in 95). I always remember Pampa because it was one of the biggest storms I ever saw. When we were checking out the damage in Pampa, there was a mobile home type house that had been smash to pieces, yet the roof to the house was sitting intact on the ground next to it. Images like that stick with you.
When I was a kid in the mid 80's I'd look at all the red blobs on radar and think it would be cool to drive toward them and see the storm. Nearly two decades later I realized others had the same passion. I finally had my first shot on May 4, 2003 but also had to study for an exam the next day. This was a High Risk day and since a monster supercell formed just north of me in Lincoln, NE I wasn't gonna sit on the sidelines. I cruised east on U.S. 6 toward Omaha and snapped one pic along the way. I made numerous rookie mistakes in a short amount of time. The first was not getting gas earlier in the day. When I was in chase mode I was driving northeast thinking I'm just going due east and end up driving through the hook only to have hail warp around and pummel me while turning down a road that turned out to be a dead end. The tornadic ciculation passed just to my north. The other rookie mistake was not taking lots photos. You learn from your mistakes. The only one I still have a knack of making is I still manage to always end up on the southwest side on a storm but their are far worse vantage points.

Took my exam the next day and the instructor had pics of his car at the air base that was demolished with softball hail. Here is my first pic in chase mode taken with a cheap 35mm. Turned out to be my only pic while actually on the road that day.
I grew up in CT, and although there are not many chase opportunities there, the definitive catalyst for my interest in weather was the 10/3/79 Windsor Locks tornado that struck 10 miles from where I lived in Enfield.

I moved to Denver in May 01 and the weather here further reinforced my interest. My first chase of any kind was 6/12/05. My wife and I signed up for a 1 day chase tour with Roger Hill. We intercepted storms in Kent county TX, encountered hail, amazing lightning, witnessed multiple tornadoes, and saw some amazing storm structure. I was completely hooked!

Since then, I've been studying up on meteorology, severe weather, chasing, chased several more times with Roger in 05 and 06, etc. to gain enough knowledge to where I felt I could safely start to also chase on my own. My first solo run was in June 2006. I headed towards Fort Morgan to try and interecept a right moving storm that was all by itself. The storm was to quick (and I was late leaving work), and it got to Fort Morgan just ahead of me. I moved E to try and get ahead of it with the intent to reposition to the S, but by the time I got to a decent S road option in Akron, the storm had died.

My wife and I went out on our own for the first time in late July 06. We busted in our target area near La Junta, but intercepted a storm (by accident) on our drive home. With my wife behind the wheel, we got caught in a hail core (penny size) on I-70. The 3 mile drive through that, and the "discussion" that took place, made for one of the most laughable moments my wife and I had in 2006.
First Chase Story

June 3rd, 1985 - Had just finished my forecast shift at the old NWS Forecast Office in Denver, Co. Jumped in a car with three scientists from NOAA's Forecast System Laboratory in Boulder. We followed a cell coming of the mountains south of Denver and saw a short-lived landspout near the town of Parker. I was one-for-one and thrilled. Never saw that batting average again!
I had my first chase while in college in Charlottesville, Virginia in Spring of 1989. I basically drove at night to intercept a prolific lightning producing storm. It was producing amazing CG's. Unfortunately, everytime I set up my equipment, the heavy rain would start. I kept adjusting my position to get out of the rain shaft. I never got a decent still of a CG. I was also lucky I didn't get struck by lighting. I was out in the open on multiple occasions on the edge of the preciptiation shafts. Today, I wouldn't consider being that exposed so close to the storm.

Bill Hark
My first was April 22, 1985. Like most, I had been fascinated with storms since I was but a wee lad, but had never thought about doing anything more than staring out the window as a storm blew through. It wasn't until I met Fred Ikard in 1985, who also shared a passion for storms, but told me he actually went out to chase them. What a novel idea! He promised to take me on a chase when conditions came together. They did on the 22nd..we got a late start thanks to classes, but we planned on intercepting a supercell that was moving across west central Calumet. We did a good job of catching the storm...almost too good. Just outside of town we ran thru some golfball hail, then ...nothing. We were a little confused but then we heard a weather report on the portable tv we had..."You folks in Calumet are in extreme danger...take shelter now...a tornado could form at any time!" Ok..the sun was out, the locals were all standing around...what was going on? I finally decided to look overhead and was greeted with a strange looked like a whirlpool right above us...the orange colored clouds looked like they were shimmering as the road does on a hot summer day. Clouds were violently whipping about...up, down...chaos. At that moment we realized we were in big trouble...right under the wall cloud! Our driver panicked and drove straight into the core, with 60-70mph winds and golfball hail. I thought for sure my first chase would be my last as a tornado surely was bearing down upon us. Well, it wasn't. The wall cloud appeared again to our south, a brief funnel formed, but that was it. The wall cloud persisted for a long time and we chased until dark...I had a blast. I often wonder if that would have been a blue sky bust type event, would I have continued to chase? Eh, probably, but I may not have been as excited about it.
My first real "educated" chase was while I was at OU...caught a nice tail-end charlie supercell on the cold core negatively-tilted dryline near Alfalfa OK. It spun like a top but failed to drop a tornado as the meso wrapped up to my southeast and a funnel weakly organized. The date was April 22, 1985. I chased a few times after that in '85 but failed to get that elusive tornado as a tenderfoot chaser. :cool:
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My first chase occurred when I was about 3 and in this particular chase I was the one being chased, while my Mom was the one chasing me. From the stories I hear combined with my very vague memories I guess I used to get all angry and would try to escape the confinds of the basement when I was young during tornado warnings; while my mother would restrain me and keep me in the basement. To this day I blaim the actions of my folks on my passion for chasing, it was the torture that lead to curiosity build up from being locked in the basement with my mother while my dad was able to stay upstairs and stand out on the porch observing what was occurring.
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That's funny parents could only hope to contain me when the tornado sirens went off. My Dad normally stood vigil with me on the front porch as tornado sirens blared across the entire county when the actual threatened area was 25 miles away!! :confused: The old warning days were sure frustrating ones I remember as a kid. Then add in the misguided information from the OLD Boy Scout handbook that showed that mammatus clouds were somehow connected directly to funnel/tornado production to boot. Those were interesting times growing up. Thank goodness for that one tornado book at the Kirkwood public library, and for later spotter classes to bring me knowledge as a soon to be chaser. I still can remember the infamous spotter class film...with "this is Salina KS"...and it shows a trailer park getting shredded (naturally).
well. when i was around 7 or 8(1993ish), i moved to owasso oklahoma(tulsa area) and my cousin would baby sit me. everytime it would storm, we would run out to the backyard, and push the trampoline up to the house. then we would stand on the front porch and watch.. lightning all around. wind, rain. it was amazing. i remember being on the trampoline, watching a distant storm, and then lightning hit a tree a few hundred feet away, in the nieghbors yard. we jumped off, and ran inside. i have never run so fast in my life. one time, when the sirens went off, he locked me outside. scared me pretty bad, but i saw some interesting things. nothing that i can remember very well, but some weird motion in the clouds. then i was hooked. i always tried to take pictures of lightning with some cheap@ss cameras that my dad bought me. i only ever got 2. they were ok. for my 10th birthday, my grandma got me a vhs camcorder. from then on, everytime there was a storm within 30 miles, i was outside. the only tape i have left, me and my dad were looking north out the back door, loads of lightning, low clouds not too far off, sirens blaring. we decided to go inside. before we even got inside, a huge gust of wind hits us. loud banging, roaring wind. we look out the front door, and see my trampoline flying across the street. since i knew how to read a radar screen by then, we were pretty much in the hook at that point. straight-line winds. rfd.

my first real chase. glenpool oklahoma. soccer practice. it was may, 2003. probably the 6th. during practice, i could see some storms popping up. i had been looking at pictures and learning all i could about storms on the internet. around then i was spending alot of time on dave crowleys site. i learned alot from those guys. well, i was leaving the fieldhouse, and got popped in the head with some penny sized hail. awesome. as soon as i got home, my dad was watching the radar on tv. sups everywhere. there was one just popping up just southwest of us. i didnt have my license yet, but i jumped in the car and took my dad on our first chase. went south on 75 to 151st, went east, and parked about 1/2 a mile east of 75. LP. beautiful. mean wall cloud. intense upward motion. really wrapped up. a small finger came out a little ways, then it went back up, we continued to follow the storm for a little ways. it transitioned into HP. we lost it. came home and watched it on tv. i knew i wanted to do this. for fun. for money. for whatever. a few nights later, i was at band practice(crappy little "punk" band) and i saw a tornado warning for creek county, west of tulsa. i made my bandmates jump into our drummers explorer, and go into tulsa. saw the rain free base. and a lowering(maybe wall cloud) but by the time we were close enough, it had just died. a cell to the north put down an f3 that dave crowley and justin teague intercepted. or maybe just saw damage. i dont know. i remember something about a dead horse. so yeah. that was my start.
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May 14, 1997: Clarksburg, OH

My Dad arrived home in time to see my mom waking me from a nap on the couch to inform me that a tornado had been sighted about 30 miles from our house. My Dad looked down at me and said, "You wanna chase it?"

In the station wagon we jumped and within an hour, I was snapping this shot; a small tornado just outside of Clarksburg, OH. We followed this supercell storm for over an hour as the debris cloud churned along the country-side. My Dad quickly grasped me obsession as I remember him looking at the tornado with wide-eyed amazment. Not to mention his 16 year-old son just guided him through quarter-sized hail and talked him straight to this tornado. How I wish I could replicate that luck!

So like my chasing buddy, Tom, I was one-for-one. Took me 3 years to see my next one, and another 3 on top of that before I really started counting.

My first chase, always one of my faves!
I'll keep it somewhat brief, first educated chase ( I had breifling messed around with chasing from 1999-2003) was on March 27th 2004, just missed large Kinsley, KS F3. On this day most attention was focused further south in oklahoma, so many have forgotten this tornado.

First tornado seen was on June 12th, 2004. (Infamous Mulvane Tornado)