Lessons/Advice from Storm Trip

apr23I learned a lot from my first legitimate chase trip out west. There were some things I did well and other things I can do differently in the future. I was in the midst of a multi-day tornado outbreak, saw two tornadoes and also had a few days where I didn’t see anything at all, despite higher expectations. Here are some lessons that I learned, and/or I think others could learn from.

Perhaps the biggest lessons I learned was to set up cameras before getting into the thick of a storm chase. The best example of this was in Mayflower. Aside from the fact that I bailed away from a tornado, I only had one camera set up in a single direction. Normally I would have two or three cameras set up facing different directions and I could have put my Sony Action Cam on the outside of my car to face in the opposite direction. In fact, it’s funny that I’m thinking about this now, because I had already planned to have a camera facing in each direction in the case of an escape. On Sunday in Mayflower, I was rushing down I-40 as a storm was rapidly developing and I didn’t have time, or didn’t make the time to stop and set up another camera. This should have been done before a tornado popped up on radar.

Another lesson that I can share is to give yourself extra time. Too much time is better than not enough. In the case of Mississippi on Monday, I was with a chase group and we almost didn’t get to the storms in time, because we didn’t leave until Arkansas midday. If you have time, get set-up into an area that you want to chase hours in advance. The last thing you want to have to do is drive through storms from the backside. Not only can this be dangerous, but it can literally slow you down. Another reason for extra time is to scan the local area and look for good viewing spots.

The best place to view a tornado in most cases is from the south or southeast. With the way that supercells develop, there’s usually going to be rain and often a hail core and clouds on the north side. Mayflower is a case where part of why I didn’t get a great view of the storm was my location, which was to the immediate north. South and southeast of a storm, you’ll usually get into a clearing where it’s safe to see the storm from a relatively close distance. We did achieve this on Monday as we watched a tornado near Crawford, MS.

Often forecasts don’t pan out as you might expect. Saturday featured very few storms at all, even though there was quite a bit of hype leading up to that day. Also, Tuesday in Mississippi ended up being another dud day. I thought that maybe some storms would fire up on Wednesday over the Carolinas, but once again, there was very little of anything. When storm chasing, expect that some days will be a bust. It’s ideal if you can go out for a week or two at a time, that way there’s a much greater likelihood that you’ll see at least something.

A piece of advice from me is to focus on storms and safety. Don’t get too caught up in social media or your phone. If you know you’re very close to a storm, just focus. A text or a Tweet can wait a few minutes. Sure, it’s nice to try to be the first person to share a great photo of a storm, but doing so could cause you to miss out on actually witnessing the best action.

Watermark photos. There’s been a growing problem of people stealing storm footage online and people posting fake footage. I highly recommend downloading an app to watermark your photos. If you have an iPhone and $2 to spare, iWatermark is a great app. You can take a photo and easily add a watermark to it in seconds. I created a custom logo that I can add on photos before I share them. Not only does watermarking stop people from stealing your photos, but it also “confirms” that what you’re sharing is actually what you’re seeing. It’s just another way to legitimatize your storm chase.

Other software and hardware. One of my problems is that I’m trying to work with a 5-year-old laptop to process HD videos. If you want to have the best footage and edit/share it as fast as possible, you need quality technology. Because of my own issues, it’s taken me several days just to upload storm video footage. That’s far from ideal.

That’s all for now. I’m taking a break from storm chase trips, but the more time I have, the more I can focus on making my next trip even better.

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Quincy

Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com.

After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design.

He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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