VIDEO & SAFETY TIPS FOR DOCUMENTING SEVERE WEATHER
I would say that the first thing anyone interested in documenting severe weather should do is learn as much about severe weather BEFORE attempting it. There are many dangers to consider and grabbing a camera and running out into a storm is not recommended. Storm chasing can be dangerous and I would not recommend attempting it. But, if you are going to do it...here are some tips that I've learned over the years.
Storm chasing has been hyped up big time by the media these past few years and it's understandable that certain people want to experience mother natures fury for themselves. The problem with this is by jumping in your car and heading out towards a storm you're putting yourself and others in danger if you do not understand what's taking place. There are many resources that are available via the internet that will give you a basic understanding of severe weather. But by far, I would recommend taking a Skywarn Spotters class. They are usually held during the spring, and you can find out where the closest one to you is being held by accessing your local National Weather Services website. Even after taking the class it's best to "spot" locally until you have some experience.
Another great option for anyone interested in storm chasing would be to sign up for one of the "chase tours". There are several to choose from and it's a great way for a beginner to experience chasing out on the plains in a relatively safe manner. Many people who started with the chase tours 4 or 5 years ago, are now chasing solo out on the plains, or with people that they first met on a chase tour!. Just be careful on which "tour" you choose. Some of them are run by people that don't have much experience chasing. I have several links to chase tours on this website that are great, and run by very experienced chasers. Just remember, storm chasing out on the plains is not all action, there are many hours of driving involved, and there are times that you can go over a week, or even two weeks without even seeing a bolt of lightning. I've personally experienced this many times, so make sure you don't have a problem with spending many hours in a car. Also, no tour company...no matter how great they are will ever guarantee you a tornado. There is that possibility that during your entire trip, you might not even see a storm. Keep in mind, what you see on television is only the "highlights" of chasing, it's much different in reality. Also, chasing can be very expensive. Motel rooms, food, gas, etc...are all things that cost bucks, it is possible to spend in excess of a thousand dollars a week out on the road. Ok, now that all that's out of the way...here are some safety and filming tips.
First, if you are chasing out in the plains, a GPS navigation system is a must. Knowing where you are at all times can help you from getting lost in and around a storm....very important. Also, make sure you have an access road out of harms way. We've been on chases where a storm will suddenly do something unexpected and in a time like that, you want to have a road out of there. In my experience, it's best to chase with two people, one to concentrate on driving (and only on driving) and the other to navigate. Driving in severe weather can be very difficult, so make sure whoever is driving that they have at least some experience in severe weather conditions. If you decide to pull off the road to take some pictures, pull ALL THE WAY off the road. There have been a few occasions where we've encountered people wandering in the middle of the road with their vehicles parked partially in one of the lanes. Also, if you see an emergency vehicle coming up behind you, pull over immediately and let them pass. Sounds like common sense right? You would be surprised at what we've seen some people do over the years. But by far, the majority of chasers are very responsible and courteous. To this day, I haven't met one out on the road that I didn't like. In most cases, the "chasers" that break these simple rules are actually "locals" that have no idea what they are doing. Like I mentioned before, becoming a Skywarn Spotter can really be helpful to the communities out on the plains. You can relay reports of what you are seeing to the local emergency management or NWS. This can save lives by getting warnings out to the public. This is also why it would be a good idea to get a HAM Radio License. But by no means should someone relay a report if they are not sure of what they are witnessing. Again, this is why taking a Skywarn Spotters course is important. One more safety tip that just came to mind, never shut off the engine of your vehicle when you're in or around a storm! I broke this rule once and had a tornado warned storm approaching my location when I found out that the car wouldn't start again. Thankfully I managed to get it started but that was a very scary experience and one that I never want to go through again.
Now on to the actual filming. Many chasers have invested money in some high end video cameras such as the Sony VX2000/2100. These are great mini dv cameras that deliver top notch pictures. But since they are still pretty pricey, a good Hi8 or Digital8 camera can be picked up relatively cheap and will still deliver great images. Also, have a tripod with you. There are times that you will have to shoot handheld...mostly for safety reasons, but if possible shoot on a tripod, it will give you nice and steady images. Keep in mind though, there are many times that getting out of your vehicle to get tripoded video is not an option. If there is lightning hitting close to your location you do not want to be standing out in an open field with a big metal tripod! Only do it if you feel that it's safe to do so.
All cameras now have "auto focus", but it's never good to use the auto setting when filming a storm. If you're shooting video through a windshield, the camera will many times try and focus on the windshield instead of what's going on outside. When shooting video of a storm, always set your camera to "infinity", this way you won't have to worry about your camera going in and out of focus. Something that you may not notice at the time, but will kick yourself for later. Spare batteries, another important thing. I bring three "5 hour" batteries with me so I don't have to worry about running out right at a crucial moment. Also, recharge your batteries at the end of the day so you're ready to go the following day. And definitely make sure you have plenty of spare video tape, it's always better to bring too much, than not enough.
I'm sure I'll think of some more tips to add to this over the coming weeks, and will post them when I do. But to sum it up for now, storm chasing can be a very rewarding experience. I love every aspect of it....traveling, meeting other chasers, sharing experiences, meeting new people, visiting small towns in the middle of nowhere, witnessing the beauty of the plains, the storms themselves (of course), etc... But like I mentioned in the beginning of this, starting with a chase tour and having a Skywarn class under your belt is the best way to go if you are going to do this. Oh yes, a great book to get on storm chasing that myself and many other chasers have is "The Storm Chasing Handbook" by Tim Vasquez. You can purchase it through Amazon.
Storm and Emergency Guide For Kids (Submitted By Pey. Thanks Pey and Kaylin!)
Storm Spotting From Home (Submitted By Mia. Thanks Mia & Diane!)
Tornado Safety and Preparedness (Thanks Mary & Michael for the link!)
Staying Safe Outdoors In Severe Weather (Thanks Connie for the link!)
Cyclone Jim- Jim Leonard's Website
Chris Kridler's Sky Diary Website
Face The Wind- Dave Lewison's Website
iCyclone- Josh Morgerman's Website
Caleb Elliott's Website- Caleb chases storms from the land, and from the air!
Typhoon Fury- James Reynold's Website
Michael Laca- Hurricane/Storm Chaser
Mark Sudduth- Hurricane Track
Weather Shack- Electronic Weather Stations & Accessories
Twisted Meso Photography by: Michael Cochenet
Shane Adams- Passion Twist
Adam Lucio- Aerostorms
Jack Thunderhead Corso- FaceBook
Dayna Vettese- Severe Weather Diaries
Extreme Storms- Jim Edds Website
Todd Torsrud- Weather Chaser
Eugene Thieszen- WXtreme Chase Team
Steve King's Twisted Storms Website
Danny Murphy Storm Chasing
Jeffrey Gonzales- Tornado Raiders.Com
George Kourounis- Storm Chaser from Canada.
Doug Kiesling- Weather Paparazzi
Ron Gravelle's Storm Chasing Website
Mike Theiss "Eye In The Tropics"
Frederick Furneaux- Hurricanes, Blizzards & Noreasters Website
Ian & Mark's UK Storm Chasing Website
Jason Politte's Storm Chasing Website
Cloud 9 Tours
StormStock (severe weather stock video agency)
Michael Carlson's Storm Chasing Blog
Tony Laubach's Tornadoes Kick Storm Chasing Website
Greg Johnson- Tornado Hunter Website
Thad Bowling's Weatheraholic Storm Chasing Website
Jeff Gammons- Storm Visuals
Jason Foster's Weather Warrior Website
You Tube Page of Michael Moss