When brash tornado researcher Jack Andreas and photographer Judy Hale cross paths with each other, a host of obsessed storm chasers, Judy’s sultry sister and a hapless storm tour operator, they can only be on a road to disaster … and dreams. With action, humor, romance and rapturous skies, Chris Kridler’s novel Funnel Vision takes you into the heart of Tornado Alley — and the hearts and minds of the adventurers who populate the nomadic, geeky, exhilarating world of storm chasing.
Long-time chaser Chris Kridler has published a novel about storm chasers. Fortunately, it's fiction!
I first met Chris in the middle of nowhere in north-central Kansas. There wasn't another soul around. It was one of those amazing moments you get to experience only rarely. I was really excited when she announced this book!
You can buy it in paperback or ebook format. Highly recommended!
Old-school 'chasing on a budget' gear
As if gas isn't expensive enough, gearing up for storm chasing can be a bit expensive! Here are some really basic tools if you're trying to save dollars.
NOAA Weather Radio - something like this Oregon Scientific WR602 Weather Radio with Charge Cradle can be very handy on the road. If you are on a budget and have no other data this will at least give you the general position of storms and tell you where the severe ones are. It won't help you for something too far away, but once you're in range it can help you zero in on your target.
Roads of Texas Atlas This series of maps (like The Roads of Texas ) is the best thing short of a GPS. Even the smallest road is marked. Almost all chasers used to have one or two of these. They don’t require electricity or batteries and are unaffected by glare.
Video Camcorder - I have always loved the GoPro videos - but is anything more of an adrenaline adventure than tornadoes? No, I think not. And this thing looks like you could mount it on your dash! They are designed from the factory to just keep running, that's what they do. No, you don't have any zoom. Just wide-angle glorious High Definition 1080p video of that tornado up ahead of you. It's cheaper than a big camcorder, or a DSLR. And you can probably get decent stills off of it. It won't be your last camera, but it would probably be a great camera for your first one!
Camera - while something like this Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens would be awesome, any camera is better than nothing. I started with a basic used Pentax manual SLR. Eventually I was unhappy with my pictures since they never seemed to capture the amazing things I was seeing with my eyes. I took a class at a local community college and that certainly helped with my technique, but I eventually upgraded to a Canon Rebel. This was in 1999. So start with what you have but just be ready to upgrade when you see what other chasers are capturing.
This definitely isn't a low-budget item, but it's a lot cheaper than the first digital SLR's were!
Modern High-tech Chasing Gear
When I started chasing my first big tech upgrade was a Dell laptop. I was running a copy of Street Atlas on it, connected to a Delorme GPS antenna the size of a pack of cigarettes. To get any internet updates (SPC or radar or satellite) I had to find a truck stop with a phone line or a library with free access on a computer. Now when I go chasing I can do GPS and check any data I want, including radar, right on my smartphone or iPad.
There are high-end systems which are more proprietary, but frankly the hordes of chasers descending on each severe storm on the plains tells you that such systems aren't particularly necessary…
Smartphones and Tablets
While laptops are still standard gear for most chasers, many have experimented with smartphones and tablets as their only source for weather data and location services. Both Android and iOS have seen numerous apps produced for even the serious chaser. Apps can easily replace many pieces of hardware. As a matter of fact, it is possible to do all of the following with just one smartphone:
- Pick a chase target area using SPC and model guidance
- Track your trip via GPS
- Get severe weather alerts based on your current location
- Find and track other chasers in the field
- View dozens of different types of radar images across the country
- Take high quality photos and 1080p HD video of tornadoes
- Post the photos, video and your 'chase log' to a web site or blog
- Find motels and gas stations, including the cheapest prices
Of course a tablet has a larger screen and comes much closer to duplicating the screen size of a laptop. They can do everything the smartphones do, but better and larger.
(to be continued)