Sixteen million! That's the estimated number of thunderstorms worldwide each year. Here in the U.S. there are about 100,000 per year and of those about 10 thousand reach severe levels.
While our thunderstorm frequency varies slightly year to year the number of people chasing storms has increased dramatically. Chasing is extremely dangerous for those inexperienced and under informed we learned this year that these storm can injure and kill even the most experienced expert storm chasers.
During the recent El Reno, Oklahoma tornado storm chasers who are part of the spotter network were tracked by GPS and as you can see there are a great number of chasers and these are only the ones who are registered to be tracked. Storm chasing is as stated a potentially dangerous activity but the biggest threats are not tornadoes but actually traffic crashes and lightning. Driving in heavy rain, high wind, and hail is obviously dangerous even to the experienced chaser add to that debris on roads, animals and traffic congestion and the dangers increase. Tornadoes can pop up suddenly and change course unexpectedly. Many are hard to see if wrapped in rain and escape routes may be blocked or congested as was the case in El Reno.
Rick Lipscomb, a certified storm spotter says, "You don't have to drive fast, chase smarter not harder. Plan an intercept if a storms coming a certain way find a safe spot and let it come to you. As it passes by, get the pictures you want relay information to the NWS and let it go."
Where you are in relationship to the storm is extremely important and proper positioning can help you view the storm and help keep you safe. You always want to avoid the core of the thunderstorm where you find the heaviest rain and largest hail as you will be blind to all surroundings including tornadoes which could be very close by. Part of being a good storm chaser is knowing what you are looking at before during and after the storm passes. Diagrams of key aspects of storms are a good place to start. You should study these and understand storm structure then apply your knowledge in the field to know what you are looking at and to improve safety.
With storm chasing just like anything else one bad apple can spoil the bunch so chasers need to adopt and practice good ethics when chasing.
Charlie Prochaska, also a certified storm spotter says "We always want to have a good relationship with the local law enforcement. You also want to have a good relationship with your local meteorologist and with the national weather service. You've got to be able to give good report to be able to respect the law of the roads and respect other people and be able help with a good relationship with those that I mentioned."
If you are thinking about doing some storm chasing make sure you have a good understanding of storms, a good reason to chase, good equipment and a good amount of common sense. Like many other extreme activities storm chasing does come with many hazards but does have its rewards if done correctly. FOX 31 would always like to hear from storm spotters around the area so drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .