Whether it is chasing a blizzard, a hail storm, hurricanes, or tornadoes, storm chasing can be incredibly dangerous and costly. But if done correctly, it is an amazing experience. Here are some of the many dangers of storm chasing.
A mistake storm chasers make, especially inexperienced ones, is that they stand in awe without realizing that they are in the path of a storm. While it may look amazing, this storm may be producing a tornado heading right towards you, or dropping baseball size hail. Before you realise it, you are stuck and unable to get away without either being hit by the tornado or getting hailed on. Storm chasers have plenty of time depending on their position, but those who don’t react upon the situation set themselves up for danger. Storms can also shift directions on a dime, which can throw off nearly anyone, so storm chasers must always be prepared for a storm to change direction. Storms that strengthen often make a right turn, which can take people by surprise.
If you ask a storm chaser if they will chase in a city, most of them will say no. That is usually because of traffic. Imagine trying to intercept a thunderstorm, but you are stuck in traffic. The cell drops a tornado, and you are stuck in insane traffic. If a tornado is headed for a city, that can also be a problem if you are in the city trying to chase that storm. Traffic may keeps things at a stand still while you are either trying to flee the tornado, or chase it. In a lot of the videos of tornado going through cities, you see traffic backed up, and people swerving around other cars not moving. Not every driver is aware of the situation, although they should be aware about the current weather conditions.
Although it may sound cool, chaser convergence can be a hassle for some storm chasers. Chaser convergence is when storm chasers, a lot of them, converge towards one storm. It isn’t coordinated either. Having all of the people wanting to get up and close to a tornado or supercell thunderstorm can be quite dangerous, especially when they start cutting each other off. People can get stuck between others trying to leave the area to flee a tornado, but chasers are all over the place. Some chasers also stand in the middle of the road… which is obviously dangerous.
Nighttime Tornado Chasing
Nighttime storm chasing is very dangerous. you have to use all of your senses to chase a tornado. If a chaser can’t view the tornado because they are within a wooded area, they have to depend on their ears to listen for the rumbling of a tornado. If they can hear that, then they know that they are close. You have to use your eyes to view the lightning or power flashes (power lines exploding in the tornado from being snapped in half) lighting up the tornado. You can also feel the wind direction, and depending on where you are, it can point you towards where the tornado would be. In the image below you can see the tornado because of the lightning that was able to illuminate it.
Chasers have to deal with wildlife while driving, and even when they are observing severe weather. When pressure drops, animals and reptiles alike start to get a little anxious, so any time they feel threatened, they may either flee or attack. Snakes are a good example of that. Ticks are also common all throughout the Great Plains, the most common area for storm chasing. When driving chasers have to worry about animals crossing the road like everyone else as well.
Rain wrapped tornado can often be found in high precipitation supercell thunderstorms. When tornadoes are rain-wrapped, they cannot be seen unless a chaser gets really, and I mean really close to it. Rain-wrapped tornadoes are dangerous because people don’t believe that there may be a tornado and don’t take it seriously. Some storm chasers also have a similar mentality. If they are unable to see the tornado, then they must get closer. This can often get chasers caught in the tornado, because they thought it was farther inside the storm. Nighttime rain-wrapped tornadoes can be revealed by lightning, but as I discussed in that section, it’s dependent on the chaser being able to see it in that fraction of a second that the lightning persisted. In the image blow, you can’t even make out clearly where the tornado is. But there is one there.
Storm chasing is quite dangerous, but if done successfully, it is truly an amazing thing to do. I have gone storm chasing before, and it something I would certainly do again.
-CWS- Lance Huffman