Frequently Asked Questions about Storm Chasing

How many tornadoes do you see on a typical trip?

Hopefully at least one, but we can't guarantee it.  Sometimes the weather pattern is simply unfavorable for tornadoes, even in May and June.  And, most tornadoes are short lived, so they can  be difficult to catch even when the pattern is favorable.  We average more than one tornado per trip, but this means that there are trips where we see four and others where we see zero. 

How close do you get to tornadoes?

Five to 10 miles (8 to 16 km) is a good distance from tornadoes. Any closer and you risk getting hit by debris or other dangerous winds and hail associated with the storm.  We’ve seen them from as far as 30 miles (48 km) away.  The farther you are for the tornado, the most storm structure you can see as well--a nice bonus.

What special equipment and weather instruments do you use?

Surprisingly less than you might think. We aren't conducting research, so we don’t need a bevy of weather instruments (though we do bring some that you are welcome to borrow). We have multiple radar feeds from both cellular and satellite networks. When we’re near a storm, we primarily rely on visual identification of storm features and our knowledge of storm dynamics.

Is chasing hazardous?

It can be, but not for reasons you think.  The biggest hazard is actually the driving. Most chasers are killed or injured in traffic accidents, so we do experienced drivers comfortable handling the rain, wind, hail, and other hazards associated with thunderstorms.  We also have several rules to help reduce the risks.  For example, we don’t chase in cities or on Interstate highways.  We also never chase at night. 

The second biggest hazard is lightning.  Sometimes we need to stay inside the vehicles so we don't get struck.

Obviously the storm is hazardous.  We don't core punch (see below), we avoid heavy precipitation, and we stay a healthy distance away in case the storm develops or moves in unexpected ways.

Do you core punch?

No, core punching (where one drives through the intense part of the storm to get to the other side and see a tornado) is extremely foolish and dangerous.  Sometimes we just have to accept that we are in the wrong position.

Where do you go on chase trips?

This sounds trite, but “wherever the weather takes us.” We’ve chased as far west as Great Falls, Montana, as far south as Raymondsville, Texas, and as far east as Wisconsin.  In May we tend to be in the in the southern Plains and in June we tend to be in the northern Plains. But we’ve been in North Dakota in May and New Mexico in June, so take that last statement with a grain of salt.

Do you stay at campgrounds?

No, trying to set up a tent in the dark is not fun, and nighttime storms are common in the Plains. After being in vehicles all day, a hotel room seems quite spacious.