Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Storm Chasing part 4.

This is my 4th and final part of this series on storm chasing. I was undecided on what to cover, until a friend of Andy's and I were talking about our enjoyment of seeing and taking pictures of lightning. In part four I will try to cover the basic photography technique required to take good lightning pictures. I will cover both daytime and nighttime techniques along with some equipment ideas. Taking pictures of lightning is a challenge. However, with a little practice you will be shooting like a pro. You always see lightning when you chase. You will at times find you caught a lightning bolt by accident. Sometimes they will turn out great. However, most of the time they will be lacking the emotion you were feeling. It actually take a lot of planning to get the perfect lightning shot. I will try to convey what you need to know to have picture worth framing. Because, lightning always makes for a shockingly good picture. Sorry, I know...bad pun...well nobody is perfect. Before I get started, I will answer the question I posed in part 3. Who was the first american storm chaser? That would be Benjamin  Franklin. In 1755, Franklin saw what he called a large whirlwind...after it had passed his location he gave chase.....therefore, he was the first person in America to record a storm chase. 


Shooting lightning can be dangerous if you're not careful. Lightning kills from 50 to 300 and injurers five times that number each year in the U.S. Generally, the smart thing to do when lightning is near is head to cover (though this is no guarantee) If you're taking lightning photos, you are doing the opposite, heading out into the path of the storm. Just because you're taking pictures doesn't mean you should take chances. So don't stand in an open field, stand on top of a hill, being near a fence, or stand next to a tall object. Normally I get back in my SUV if the lightning is getting close. There have been times I don't get out of the vehicle because I thought it was just too dangerous. I've had a few close calls including a time when my the hair stood straight up while sitting in the vehicle; the lightning missed the car by just a few feet. Lightning is very unpredictable, So always think safety and  never take unnecessary chances.

Good sites to go to for lightning safety.

National Lightning Safety Institute:

National Weather Service:

Equipment Selection
Any camera that has a bulb mode and gives you the ability to control ISO , Aperture,  and Focal Length settings  will do.
A  sturdy tripod
A cable release
A micro fiber lens rag (to wipe off water)
A flashlight.
The equipment you chose is strictly up to you. I use a Canon Digital Rebel T3i DSLR camera, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5  lens, EF-S , 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, Canon RS60-E3 cable release, vanguard espod HD Tripod, 
Camera Selection
Digital Cameras:
The best camera for lightning is a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex ) with a 'bulb' shutter setting.
Point-and-shoot digital cameras can do a good job.  These don't have a bulb function. However, you can be set  them on a fixed long exposure setting, such as 10, 20 or even 30 second exposure intervals. If you can set your camera to its lowest ISO speed.
 Film Cameras:
I know some of you still use these. and that is fine....In fact many who take lightning pictures still prefer to use film. Film Cameras are more rugged and handle splashes of rain better than their digital cousins. I've never used a film camera. So, I can't give much advice in how to use them. However generally the SLR camera settings would be the same as those used for DSLR cameras, that is listed below.
I called a friend who uses an old SLR. He said the best type of film to use is 100 speed slide film. The kind he uses is FujiChrome. Any kind of film will catch lightning, but slide film gives the best picture quality.
Here is a site that sells FujiChrome slide film.
Lens Selection
Normally, wide angle lenses perform better when you're taking lightning pictures, because you can include more sky, so your chances of catching a lightning bolt is much better. I’ve found that I mostly take pictures of lightning using a focal length between 18mm to 100mm. with 18-55mm being the sweet spot.

Like I said earlier, You will need a good sturdy tripod, so you can take long exposure shots. However, Many times it's just too dangerous to get out of the car. when this happens you can place something on the dash to support the camera and lens. Then just hookup the cable release and your ready to go. You might have to use your windshield wipers, but don't worry most of the time your shutter speed will be slow enough that the wipers won't even show up in the picture.  
DSLR Settings
Noise Reduction:
If you're using a long exposure have one of these digital cameras that allows long exposure turn this setting off. If it's on the time between shots will be incredibility long.  
ISO Settings:
Always set your camera to its lowest ISO speed. You will be using a tripod so you don't have to worry about camera shake.  
Mirror Lockup and Timer:
Lock up the mirror so you minimize camera movements as much as possible  
When your shooting lightning pictures you should keep the aperture between f/5.6 and f/8.
Shoot RAW:
If you will be using  digital darkroom editing software like Photoshop, shooting in RAW gives you the most flexibility.
The exposure time will greatly depend on the light conditions.  
Set your lens on Manual Focus and focus for infinity.  
What Thunderstorms to pick for the best results
An isolated active thunderstorm is always a good choice.  Also squall lines , mesoscale convective systems (MCS) and of course supercell storms are also great candidates. Always avoid taking pictures if there is a lot of rain between you and the storm. Rainfall washes out the lightning and produces a very low contrast image.
Taking the shot
The best and most interesting lightning shots have part of the ground and other objects in it. I've been trying to keep a lot of the photography lingo out of this. However, I can't leave this out. You may have heard of the rule of  thirds; It is also popular amongst artists. It works like this:  Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect. The rule is not always desirable for lightning pictures. I have a Rule of Sixth. It works the same as the other rule. For this to work you would frame the shot for something around 4/5ths or 5/6ths sky; this will make the picture much more dynamic. When you frame the scene you want to be on the lookout for power lines and tree branches, these could spoil the picture.  when shooting at night watch out for Streetlights and car headlights. They will make you cut your exposure time or cause glare.
You've found a good thunderstorm and you're in a safe spot. Now what? The first thing you do is study the storm. You want to pick the part of the storm that's producing the most lighting. When you've found it you set your ISO, secure your camera on the tripod or on the dash, frame the camera for the composition you want, set the aperture and shutter speed. It's always a good idea to take a few test shots to make sure you have the setting right. The settings will depend on the time of day or night. Nighttime shots are easier than daytime shots. I will show you some general settings that will give you a place to start.
Night Time Lightning Photography:
Taking pictures of lightning a night is fairly easy. Here are the basic steps.
 Set your camera on a tripod or on the dash of your car..
Don't forget to connect a cable shutter release to reduce camera movement.  If you don't have a shutter release you can try to use the camera timer.
Next you  focus at infinity and lock it in place.
 Set the shutter speed to bulb 'B' (this will keep the  shutter for as long as you hold it open)  If  you're not using a DSLR you will have to set the exposure time between 10 and 30 seconds.
Set the aperture somewhere  between F2.8 and F5.6. you will have to take a few test shots to get it right. I would not take the aperture much higher than 5.6; if you do you could overexpose the shot.
Frame the shot.
 As you're observing the storm you will notice some  lightning can last longer than others. Some of the cloud to ground (CG) lightning strikes only last for a fraction of a second, while CG can last for as long as 2 seconds.  it has flashed and gone). Other CG bolts strobe or pulse for anything up to 2 seconds. If you're fortunate enough to see an anvil crawler ( lightning that spreads across the cloud and sky) you will see these can last a few seconds.  If you  have the exposure to high you will blur the storm. Therefore if the storm is fairly close the exposure time should be 5 to 10 seconds and never longer than 15 seconds. If the storm is a fair way away then exposure time can between 20 seconds and 2 minutes.

                                                                 Taken in Texas

Late Afternoon or Early Morning (low daylight):
You would setup your camera and frame and compose the shot just like at nighttime.
 Set the shutter speed to 'B' if you want to control the length of the exposure, otherwise I recommend setting the speed to aperture priority setting if you have this. For a Canon DSLR it's called Av mode, for a Nikon it's called mode A. I'm not sure what it's called on the other DSLR's.
 Set the aperture higher than for night time I would say somewhere between  F5.6 - F16
 Frame the picture where the most lightning is occurring, or where the most spectacular clouds are.
 You can either wait for the lightning to occur then press the cable shutter release to open the shutter, or just press  the cable shutter release and hope you  have lighting flash fairly  quickly.
Daytime lightning photography:
Trying to capture lightning in the daytime can  be a challenge. There isn't much to tell you here, you have to react quickly and be pointing the camera in the right direction. Observe the lightning before you attempt any shots. if the bolts a quick (only lasting a fraction of a second) your reaction time won't be fast enough) However if the bolts last at least a second you may have a chance to capture a few.
You setup, frame, and compose the same way as always.
I would recommend you use the cameras light meter to find the exposure. Then if the lightning is over a five miles away drop one F stop, if the lightning is closer than that drop two stops.
you can also use continuous mode (taking shot after shot).  This work fine with a large memory card. However, with film not so much.
One other option:
Use a lightning trigger. These hook to the hot shoe and will catch most lightning, Lightning triggers react by sudden changes in light level. The problem is  it will trigger even if lightning is not in your camera's view. However, it will capture a lot of lightning bolts in the cameras field of view. They are expensive but you may think they're worth it.  I feel personal reaction (at daytime) is more at least as effective. At night, you won't need a trigger anyway.

Well that's about all there is to it. Just remember safety first when photographing lightning.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Some of the great hurricanes that have impacted New York State and New England.

With the approach of Hurricane Irene I thought I would  make a blog post on northeast hurricanes. There have been other tropical storms and hurricanes that have impacted the area. But, these are in a class by themselves.  Monster hurricanes are rare in the Northeast. However, that doesn't mean unheard of. This is a list of the greatest  hurricanes that have impacted New York State and  New England.

The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635
August 25, 1635

This hurricane is the first recorded intense hurricane to  strike New England. This storm had estimated winds of 115-130 mph which makes it a Category 3. The storm’s eye passed between Boston and Plymouth causing at least 46 casualties. A 20-foot tidal surge was reported in Boston, ruining farms throughout the area. the amount of damage suggest that this storm possessed even greater intensity than the storms of 1815 and 1938.

The Great September Gale of 1815
September 23, 1815

This storm started in the West Indies, It's at its height it had winds of 135-140 mph making it a  Category 4 After crossing Long Island, New York, the storm came ashore near Saybrook, Connecticut. The storm was so strong that it funneled a 11-foot storm surge up  into Narragansett Bay. it destroyed hundreds of houses, 35 ships and flooded Providence, Rhode Island. Impacting Central and Coastal Massachusetts.

The September Gale of 1869
September 8, 1869

A Category 3, this ‘September Gale’ was first observed in the Bahamas. The storm made landfall in Rhode Island a little west of Buzzards Bay, It caused extensive damage in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine.

The Great New England Hurricane of 1938
September 21, 1938

This is the hurricane all other Northeast hurricanes have been measured too. At one point in its life it was a Category 5,. Another name it goes by is  “The Long Island Express”, this is because it suddenly accelerated to a forward motion of 60 to 70 mph, when it was 100 miles east of North Carolina. Without warning, it made landfall as a Category 3, during an astronomically high tide along Long Island, New York and the Connecticut coast. The Blue Hill Observatory, outside of Boston, measured sustained winds of 121 mph, with gusts of 183 mph. Storm surges of 10 to 12 feet inundated portions of the coast from Long Island to Southeastern Massachusetts, most notably in Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay. Heavy rains of 3” to 6” produced severe flooding, particularly in areas of Western Massachusetts and along the Connecticut River. Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was impacted by a 20-foot storm surge. Sections of the Towns of Falmouth and Truro on Cape Cod were under 8 feet of water. The widespread destruction resulting from this storm included 600 deaths and 1,700 injuries. Over $400 million in damage occurred, including 9,000 homes and businesses lost and 15,000 damaged. Damage to the Southern New England fishing fleet was catastrophic, as over 6,000 vessels were either destroyed or severely damaged.

The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944
September 14-15, 1944

Sometimes compared to the Great Hurricane of 1938, this storm was first detected northeast of the Lesser Antilles. It was similar to Irene in that it hugged the United States coast, crossing Long Island, New York, the Rhode Island Coast, emerged into Massachusetts Bay and impacted Maine. Up to 11” of rain fell in areas of New England. 390 deaths, mostly at sea, were attributed to this hurricane. It wreaked havoc on World War II shipping, sinking a U.S. Navy destroyer and minesweeper, as well as two U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

Hurricane Dog
September 11-12, 1950

A strong Category 5, Hurricane Dog reached a peak intensity of 185 mph. First observed east of the Lesser Antilles on August 30th, this was a major hurricane that never actually made landfall, passing within 200 miles of Cape Cod. However, it was responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen fishermen off the New England coast. It also caused about $3 million damage. To this day, it retains the record for the longest continuous duration for a Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane of 60 hours, from September 5th through September 8th. ‘Dog” also fluctuated between Category 4 & 5 strength on four different occasions, which is also a record.

Hurricane Carol
August 31, 1954

Carol is another hurricane that had a similar track to the forecasted track of Irene. This small, but powerful Category 2 battered New England, killing 68. With 100 mph winds, gusting up to 135mph, ‘Carol  destroyed around 4,000 homes, and thousands of boats. This was arguably the most destructive storm to hit Southern New England since 1938. She  formed  near the Bahamas, making brief landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The storm passed over Long Island, New York, through Central New England into Canada, bringing a storm surge of 14.4 feet to Narragansett Bay and New Bedford Harbor. Over 6” of rain fell. Water depths reached 12 feet in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Some consider ‘Carol’ the worst storm in the history of Cape Cod.

Hurricane Edna
September 11, 1954

‘Edna’ arrived right on the heels of Hurricane Carol. It formed off of Barbados, She reached  Category 3  at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, with its highest winds of 120 mph. Before striking New England, its eye split into two different ones, up to 60 miles apart at times, moving over Cape Cod & the Islands where peak gusts were recorded at 120 mph. Its eastern track, which resulted in heavy rain and major inland flooding, adding 5” to 7” of rain to Carol’s previous 6”. The storm was responsible for 29 deaths and $40 million damage.

Hurricane Hazel
October 15, 1954

Hurricane Hazel made landfall near the North Carolina/South Carolina border as a Category 4 storm, on the morning of October 15. Hazel struck Myrtle Beach, South Carolina before moving north. It passed over Raleigh, North Carolina, still a strong Category 3 hurricane. Hazel accelerated to over 48 mph upon landfall and was centered over New York state and Pennsylvania by 4:30 p.m. EDT. Contrary to expectations, Hazel had not lost much intensity: winds of100 mph were measured in New York, and Pennsylvania.  What makes her unique is she drove inland from North Carolina from there the track move NW moving into western NYS and eventually impacting Toronto Canada. Before leaving the United States the storm had claimed 95 lives, of which the majority were drowning casualties. Though not near the center, a gust of 113 mph was recorded in Battery Park, the highest wind speed ever recorded within the municipal boundaries of New York City.

Hurricane Diane
August 17-19, 1955

Born in the tropical Atlantic, this storm reached Category 3 status, as it followed the path of Hurricane Connie of 5 days earlier. Maximum winds were recorded at 120 mph. Although it weakened to a Tropical Storm as it reached the Southern New England coast, ‘Diane’ dropped heavy rain of 10” to 20”, setting flood records throughout the region. The storm was blamed for between 185 and 200 deaths. The $832 million damage qualified it as the most costly hurricane in U.S. history until Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

Hurricane Donna
September 12, 1960

Hurricane Donna was a Category 5 Cape Verde-type hurricane that impacted most of the Caribbean Islands and every single state on the U.S. Eastern seaboard. It recorded 160 mph winds with gusts up to 200 mph. ‘Donna’ holds the record for retaining ‘major hurricane’ status of Category 3 or better in the Atlantic basin for the longest period of time. From September 2nd to September 11th it sustained winds of 115 mph as it roamed the Atlantic for 17 days. This storm is the only one on record to produce hurricane-force winds in Florida, the Mid-Atlantic States and New England. ‘Donna’ hit New England in Southeast Connecticut with sustained winds of 100 mph, gusting to 125-130 mph, cutting diagonally through the region to Maine. It produced pockets of 4” to 8” of rain as well as 5 to 10-foot storm surges. The storm ultimately killed 364, and caused over $500 million in damage.

Hurricane Gloria
September 27, 1985

Hurricane Gloria was a powerful Category 4 Cape Verde-type storm that prowled the Atlantic for 13 days, with highest winds of 145 mph. Hugging the coastline, as it made its way north, ‘Gloria’ crossed Long Island, New York, making landfall at Milford, Connecticut. In spite of arriving during low tide, it did cause severe beach erosion along the New England coast, as well as the loss of many piers and coastal roads. There was a moderate storm surge of 6.8 feet in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The storm left over 2,000,000 people without power. It dropped up to 6” of rain in Massachusetts, causing many flooding issues in the region. Overall, casualties were relatively low with 8 deaths, but damage reached $900 million.

Hurricane Bob
August 19, 1991
Formed east of the Bahamas, Hurricane Bob made landfall in New England near New Bedford, Massachusetts with 115 mph winds, cutting a path across Southeastern Massachusetts towards the Gulf of Maine. Peak winds of 125 mph were recorded in the Towns of Brewster and Truro on Cape Cod. Over 60% of the residents of Southeastern Massachusetts and Southeastern Rhode Island lost power. There were 4 different reports of tornados as ‘Bob’ came ashore. Buzzards Bay saw a 10 to 15-foot storm surge. A number of south-facing beaches on the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard lost 50 feet of beach to erosion. Up to 7” of rain was reported to have fallen throughout New England. ‘Bob’ was blamed for 18 storm-related deaths. The damage total for Southern New England was set at $1 billion, with $2.5 billion overall damage from the storm.

So you see you can never take a hurricane lightly.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stage Collapse at the Indiana State Fair.

By now most of you have heard about the horrendous stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.  When the stage came down, it sadly killed five people and Injured between 40-45. The NWS estimates winds were around 70 mph.  Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has called the event a “fluke". Also,  I have heard some say the NWS was negligent because the warning was issued only minutes before the accident. I feel both of these statements are untrue. The NWS had issued a severe thunderstorm watch about three hours and a warning about 10 minutes before the incident. As for the Governors statement,  Whenever there is  an severe weather event it seems people will say stuff like this. This was no fluke.  The SPC was talking about the threat of high winds a few days before this happened. And like I said above the NWS did have watches and a warning up. 

 After watching the video of the collapse, some meteorologist feel it is was a gustnado. One of these  meteorologist is Henry Margusity who feels the lack of damage elsewhere and some swirling dust shown in the video points to a gustnado.

In my post "The Tornado" I said,  gustnadoes are short lived vortex's of wind that can form in  front of a thunderstorm. you can read more at this link.

There is a  definite  possibility it was a gustnado, Just prior to the stage collapse, gustnadoes were spotted in the Indianapolis area and captured on video. However, downburst and gust fronts can cause dirt and dust to behave like it did in the video. In fact, radar showed an outflow boundary (gust front) caused by collapsing thunderstorms about 3 - 4 miles ahead of the severe thunderstorm complex.

Link to a radar loop that shows how things looked when the storm pulled through. You will need Quicktime to view it.

                       These pictures taken by Ernie Mills show the sequence of failure.

The point I'm trying to make here is it doesn't matter if it was a gustnado or straight line winds that caused this horrible accident.   My point is, severe weather can strike quickly. You have to be aware of weather that's heading your can't always wait for experts or officials to tell you what to do; you have to be ready and willing to take your family's safety in hand.  Reading things like my blog series on severe weather awareness will help by giving you the knowledge you need to make good decisions.  

Rebecca Ladd

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Storm Chasing Part 3

I'm back with part 3 of this storm chasing series. Now while, I had planned on covering safety rules and ethics in part 3...a conversion I had the other day...changed my mind on how to cover it. This person thought it was wrong to write about what it was like to storm chase and how to do it safely in a blog format....They felt it was irresponsible and would promote people going out and chasing storms......Also, this person felt programs like "Storm Chasers" on the Discovery channel promoted the same thing. This is a valid's not the first time I've heard this argument. It may surprise you, but, the argument maybe more than partly right. I also feel storm chasing shows over dramatize the subject. Every year more and more thrill seekers are on the Plains chasing storms....I've seen traffic jams in the middle of nowhere (this is called a chaser convergence) where the roads are clogged with cars following a storm. Are chasing shows to blame for this?  Maybe,  a small percentage of the people chase because of TV shows. However, like I said in Part 1 of this series, many people chase on a whim....they see a storm, they have a camera, they decide to chase the storm, Why, so they can post it on YouTube  for bragging rights with their friends. How do I know this? I've seen and talked to many of these chasing newbie's and they do very stupid things. Is shunning the guy or gal the answer?  In short no,  I tell them what I think and show them how to do it right. I feel this will keep them from doing it ever again.  This brings me back to the argument, is it unwise to write a blog on this stuff?  The answer is no,  I think not talking about ways to chase safely is what's irresponsible. I feel people will do stupid things and make bad decisions. All I can do is try to educate people who are interested in chasing on how to do it safely.  If you look over the  11 post I've made, you will see safety and education are at the heart of every one of them. Awareness and education is the reason I'm writing this blog.

Before I start..........I will ask the question who was the first American storm chaser? I will answer this in part 4 of this series.

No, there are no official rules or code of ethics for storm chasers. However, there are what we call unwritten rules. These rules will help you  chase with common sense. 

Storm chasing safety rules.

Modern Storm chasing got its start in the 1950's. Names like David Hoadley, Roger Jensen, Neil B. ward, and Chuck Doswell are legendary. Even back in the 60's people were acting reckless, dangerous, and were inconsiderate when chasing storms. There was  enough of them that Chuck Doswell started using the term "yahoo" to describe storm chasers who engaged  in this sort of  behavior. So you can see this sort of stuff was going on long before shows like "Storm Chasers".

1) If you want to be a safe chaser it involves planning and paying attention to what's going on around you. I don't mean just paying attention to the storm.  I'm talking about things that will keep you and those with or around you safe.  So when you see a wall cloud... don't stop dead in the road and jump out of your car, instead park it as far off the road as you can. Driving safely is a must; driving rules and laws apply to you as well as everyone else.  Tornadoes are far down the list of the most dangerous things encountered while chasing. The first is unsafe roads and other traffic. When your chasing things like potholes, wet roadways, animals, wires, branches, and other debris in the road are things you find all the time. This is why having someone who's only job is driving and not navigating or taking pictures is so important.   

2)  Lightning is a big danger when you're around a supercell or any thunderstorm for that matter. Unfortunately lightning and storm chasing go hand in hand.  Capturing lightning with a camera is exciting. Just don't forget if you're out of the vehicle you can be struck.  I've had close calls with lightning on a few always use common sense around thunderstorms.

Here is a link to my blog on severe weather safety. It covers lighting safety as well as other severe weather dangers.

3) Try to avoid hail. Hail is a constant danger when your chasing. Half Dollar size hail can break windshields, when the hail becomes Baseball sized even your car is not a safe place be.

4)  In part 2,  I mentioned my rule about calling in a tornado before you reach for your camera. This rule fits here.......when chasing you're the eyes of the NWS.....never assume that someone else will call in a funnel cloud or tornado. This is why I said necessary equipment includes a ham radio. It's a very reliable way to get the word out. 

5) When you're on a storm don't have tunnel vision, keep your head on a swivel... know when you're in over your head....don't be afraid to back off a storm you're not prepared for.. I had one close call with a tornado. We were fixated on the wedge tornado in front of us. It wasn't until we decided to move back a bit that we saw the rope tornado behind us.

6) Be careful when you're in close proximity to a mesocyclone..If you don't know what you're doing stay out of the bear cage...don't drive under a rotating wall cloud.  But if you do  use extreme caution.  RFD can be very dangerous and if a tornado is going to form it usually happens only a few minutes after the RFD reaches the ground. Please read my blog series on severe weather and tornadoes for more information.

7) Never chase alone.....I like to chase with three people. This way you can have a driver, navigator, and a third set of eyes who can also help with the camera work.  If you chase alone it will lead to distracted driving - which we all know is a bad idea.

8) Always have an escape route when you approach a storm.....If you don't have one back off the storm until you do have one.

9) Safe chasing also include this education thing I keep harping on....Learn about storms before  you go out and try to encounter them. 
10) Try not to chase in heavily populated areas.

11) Always yield the right of way to emergency vehicles.

12)  Always choose your chase partners carefully...You will be spending a lot of time together. Decide as a group how decisions will be made.

13) Don't drive through deep water....find another way around.

14) Never chase if you're leads to very bad decisions.

And while it's not a rule for say.....try to learn a little about forecasting...In my opinion you're not a real storm chaser if you don't.

Storm Chasing ethics.

The lack of courtesy is an epidemic in modern society.  Road rage, people shouting at each other in parking lots, hearing rude language in public are just a few examples. A generation or two ago it was expected that gentlemen would hold doors open for ladies. I can tell you that's not the case now. The lack of courtesy is a big problem in chasing as well. The yahoo's Chuck Doswell first talked about are alive and well.  I've seen people driven off the road, I've been passed by people driving 100 mph on a wet road. This kind of behavior is not limited to just chaser wantabe's.  I've seen professional storm chasers passing several car's on a double solid line, TV news chase trucks drive across someone's field leaving trench marks with their tires, Pro's who set up equipment in the roadway. This Gladiator mentality will probably never go away; the need to get that picture or win that Emmy will drive some people to do anything; nothing I say here will change that. However, it's my hope that I can reach someone who has not sold their soul to the dark side.

1) Always stop to help a chaser who is stuck, has a flat tire, or their car has broken down....It could be you next time...that same person could be the one who helps you.

2) Always be courteous and respectful of law enforcement....They're not out there to ruin your chase day...If a roadblock is setup and you can't talk your way through...let the storm go...remember it's not personal they're only doing their job.

3) Always be respectful of property owners.... never trespass on a private roadway and don't use some farmer's field as a shortcut to a destroys the land and crops. Farmer's can be a great ascent if you get stuck on a muddy back road.

4) Always  tamper down your enthusiasm around locals about the storm. Remember you're the outsider, it's their home, land, or town that's being torn up.  This point was driven home to me in 2008.  A supercell was south of West Liberty, Iowa. Thinking we had time, we decided to top off the gas tank and grab a little food for the road. I was paying for drinks and snacks when the tornado sirens went off.  I said to the casher hopefully it stays out of town.  By the look on her face  you would have thought I had slapped her.......She said "Maybe so...but, my family and I live out there". My comment had upset her and caused anguish.

5) Always act  responsibly and safely...Always put the safety of yourself, the team, and local people ahead of your desire to get that close-up of the tornado. When you're chasing a storm you represent the chasing community.  Don't be one of the yahoos or a thrill-seeker. All you will do is give all chasers a black eye.

6) Always respect nature....don't leave your trash on the ground....pack it back to the motel and put it in a dumpster.

7) Always respect the storm.....when you're chasing severe weather things can change in a heartbeat.  keep your eyes open whenever you're near a severe storm.....The best way to be respectful is to learn all you can before you start the car to go on a chase.

8)  Always show respect for storm victims. don't stand around taking pictures of someone's destroyed home. I've seen chasers who started an unofficial damage survey....don't do this... unless you're invited to join a damage survey or cleanup crew.

Chuck Doswell and Alan Moller have written codes of ethics for storm chasers. You can read what they have to say at these two links.

Now, I will go a little into storm spotting.

Storm Spotting

A storm spotter is a trained individual who monitors all kinds of hazardous weather situations....But primarily they deploy and watch severe thunderstorms for tornadoes. In order to become a spotter you need to take Skywarn classes. Skywarn is what the storm spotting program is called in the USA. In Canada it is called Canwarn.
 The classes are free and cover such things as
Basics of thunderstorm development

Fundamentals of storm structure

Identifying potential severe weather features

Information to report

How to report information

Basic severe weather safety

In my severe weather awareness series. I covered a little about radar. Also, in the post on tornadoes, I talked about the limitations of modern weather radar.  As a storm spotter you're the eyes and ears of the NWS. It's your job to bridge those limitations by reporting what is going on.
Contact your local NWS office for details on spotter training in your area. The last I knew, Steve DiRienzo and Ray Okeefe were the Skywarn contacts for the NWS Albany, NY. If anyone is interested, send me an email and I will give you their contact information. Or you can contact Andy at WTEN, I'm sure he can give you the information as well.  

The difference between a chaser and a spotter.

The main difference is that in order to be a spotter you must have formal training. Whereas, for a chaser training is only highly recommended. A storm spotter normally stays in their local area, where he or she reports on severe weather that they see. The storm chaser normally drives all over the place and observes and films severe weather. However, this difference has blurred over the recent many spotters also documents what they see. As for chasers, they are reporting on the severe weather they see.

Here are a few sites that will give you more info on storm spotting.

I hope you found this an enjoyable read; more importantly I hope you come away with a better understanding of the rules and ethics of storm chasing.


Rebecca Ladd