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What does it take to become a Storm Chaser? 

From time to time, we get asked “How do you become a Storm Chaser?”  So, I thought I’d put together some of our personal suggestions, guidance and how to’s for those wishing to get into the storm chasing. Keep in mind, storm chasing is expensive and dangerous. If you don’t know what you are doing, you’re liable to get you or someone else hurt or worse. Don’t be one of those folks who goes out chasing with no experience just because you have a cell phone. With that said, here are a few of the following steps that will help you become more weather savvy!

First and foremost…you have to love storms!  If the sound of thunder sends you running under the bed with your dogs, you probably don’t want to consider getting into storm spotting.  However, if you’re thrilled at the opportunity to observe all of Mother Nature’s hissy fits, then this might  be the thing for you!  A lot of folks think you have to be some sort of a dare devil or risk taker.  Actually no…those qualities really don’t lend themselves to Storm Spotters because it could compromise your safety and the safety of anyone with you.  Safety is first!

My first and most important recommendation is to become a Skywarn Storm Spotter.  How do you do that?  Simple!  Each winter and early spring, weather offices all across the US host FREE Skywarn training sessions.  The classes are divided into two sections…Basic and Advanced.  I recommend you attend BOTH.  Basic is just that…the fundamentals of the atmosphere and severe weather development, tornado development, cloud formations, terminology, what to look for, etc.   Advanced gets more in-depth with how to interpret radar, how to position yourself to safely observe your storm, etc.  Here is some info on the Basic and Advanced Spotter Training curriculum that will be covered during your training.

Once you have completed your Basic and Advanced Skywarn training, you have a few ways to report severe weather. One of the new, popular methods is through Spotter Network.  This is one way you can make your storm reports. Those reports will be received by local emergency management and weather offices. You’ll also use that login to activate your spotter icon transmission. You can also report severe weather via dedicated phone numbers with your local National Weather Service office and Ameatur Radio.

If you’re really interested in learning more about weather, our next recommendation would be to do more in-depth study on your own in various areas of meteorology.  No, you don’t have to be a meteorologist to be a storm spotter or chaser, but it’s very helpful to be more knowledgeable about atmospheric dynamics.  I highly recommend the FREE courses offered under the MetEd program.   There’s plenty of courses that are designed for the general public, but there’s more nerdy stuff as well, so please check it out!

Now that you’ve been trained and you have completed some extra study on your own, it’s time to venture out and get some experience.  I recommend you go along with another weather enthusiast…two in the car is best.  One to keep eyes on the road, and the other to navigate.  A third person is also good to assist with reporting and documentation of your storm.   Always maintain your situational awareness.  Never exceed your limitations and never forget that Mother Nature has the upper hand.  She will not hesitate to smack you around if you’re not respectful and paying attention to what you’re doing.

Once you reach that point, you really do need a few key pieces of equipment, so now we’ll discuss the gagets!

Radar – either via smartphone app such as RadarScope or Pykl3, or on your PC Laptop from GRLevelX.

Reliable and sturdy hard-topped vehicle.  I don’t recommend chasing in a drop top, sorry!  Having 4 wheel drive is helpful as well, but is not mandatory.

A mobile hotspot for wireless internet.  This will be needed mainly to run the weather software on your laptop.

Maps – Yes, good old fashioned paper maps, especially backroads maps of your area.   When all else fails…and believe me it will….you’ve got maps.

CB or Ham radio.  Anyone can use a CB.  Ham requires that you obtain a Ham Radio license.  CB’s are handy for keeping in touch with others who may be caravaning with you.  Ham radio’s primary use is to report storm activity and damage back to your area’s Net Control.  Neither piece of equipment is mandatory, but they are both useful out in the field.

A safety kit in your car which includes a basic first aid kit, blankets, flash lights, and a helmet in case you encounter hail.

A camera or video camera to record your storm.

Snacks and water.  Your brain functions better when you’re fed and hydrated, and you need that type of sharp focus when chasing.