Being a storm chaser is as easy as saying you're a storm chaser, but to really be one, you need to first chase a storm. I mean what kind of storm chaser are you if you never chase? A common mistake people seem to pin with chasers is that we JUST chase tornadoes. This is not true. We chase all sorts of weather and storm activity including severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, derechoes, flood producing storms, hurricanes and even winter storms. You don't have to chase just tornadoes to be a storm chaser and whoever says you do is just plain ignorant. Before venturing out into severe weather, you really need to consider all the safety awareness and even training for you out in the world you can participate in.
Become a Skywarn Storm Spotter
One word of advice that I strongly recommend to beginning storm chasers is becoming a Skywarn Storm Spotter. A skywarn spotter is a trained and certified volunteer storm spotter with the National Weather Service. Spotters take annual free training classes which usually last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours and for only 1-2 days. These classes are free to anyone of any age. Spotters are not chasers however, sure some spotters do chase but the spotter program was not made to be a storm chasing group. Storm spotters get out in their city or local/county and observe and report severe weather and tornadoes. They don't do this for the rush, they do it to save lives. Spotters are the backbone of the warning system. Radar and detection equipment can not see what human eyes can see, so spotters are a very important function when it comes to severe weather awareness.
The Unofficial Rules
The following rules are unofficial and are more like tips to help you start your chasing adventures. These tips will keep you out of harm's way and out of jail. Please read them and follow them very closely as they are very important and most chasers live by them:
1. Always think of SAFETY FIRST! Never put yourself in a situation where you or another can be serious injured or even killed. Remember to think SAFETY FIRST for the other people on the roads in the storm area. People may be trying to get away from the storm and not realize your a storm chase and could accidentally wreck into you. Some people will also be curious to what you are doing and that could put them in harm's way in they do not know what they are doing.
2. Don't pull over unless you can do so in a safe manner. Interstates and freeways are not a good place to pull over when storm chasing. There is too much traffic on these forms of roadways and accidents can be very deadly. If your going to pull over, do it somewhere on a road that is not used as much and make sure you are not breaking the law as some roads have signs that ask people not to park on the side of the road and that means YOU TOO!
3. Obey the laws! Being a storm chaser or spotter does not give you extra rights or permission to violate traffic laws. You can not speed over the posted speed limits and you can not park in areas where parking is not allowed. You also can not trespass on other peoples property including fields and private roads. If law enforcement has you turn around or take a detour, abide by their orders and do as they tell you or you can go to jail. Too many bad chasers out there are arguing with police officers and giving us sane chasers a bad name. Don't do it!
4. Watch your speed! Remember some people may be trying to get away from the storm and driving badly. Some people can't drive as good anyways and may be all nervous and scared as they flee putting them and everyone around them in possible danger, including you. You should also take rain in to mind and hydroplaning where you drive across water and basically lose control of everything.
5. Core punching in dangerous. Driving through a storm to get on a different side of it is a form of core punching. Many chasers do it but its extremely dangerous as tornadoes can form where you are or already be on the ground and just invisible because they are rain-wrapped. Try to keep a safe distance from the storm at all costs. I have seen very nice vehicles core punch and by the time, they got out of the storm, their nice vehicle was destroyed from all the softball size hail that hit it.
6. Don't chase alone. I chase alone most of the time, I have over 10 years experience in storm chasing and many years being the actual driver but it is still a bad idea to chase alone. If I were to break down or get hurt, there is no one there to help me. I would be alone (maybe not even conscious) with the tornado or severe weather. Especially when you are a beginner, you should take someone with you. A suggestion if you have the money is doing one of these storm chasing tours. They are expensive but they will take you on a chase and they are very safe and experienced chasers.
7. Don't be a emergency vehicle! You can put fancy storm chaser and spotter decals all over and even a warning light on your car (if your laws allow it!) but it's a good idea to put less stuff like that on your vehicle. For one thing, people may mistaken you as law enforcement and cops may pull you over and even cite you for such activities. Another thing is that is draws attention to you and people may come over to talk about it getting themselves right in the middle of harm's way.
8. Supplies! Supplies! Supplies! Make sure you have everything including a full tank of gas, emergency cash, food and water, first aid and your other needed equipment. I would also make sure you have oil, power steering fluid and a spare tire or two because you may need to use this stuff at some point. Come prepared and be safe prepared!
9. Be cautious of the severe weather itself! Lightning is a big threat as people get struck by it all the time. Your getting close to these storms which are producing a lot of cloud to ground lightning most of the time and now you have a bigger chance of getting struck. You also need to make sure your not in the path of the storm but rather behind it and within a safe distance of it.
10. A final tip and a very important one is morality. People may lose their homes, lives and love ones lives after a tornado or severe weather event strikes. You should not go around video tapping these people after one has been through their area, be moral and have a heart. Not everyone likes storms as much as we do. And for the record, I don't want to see anyone die, get injured or have their property destroyed by severe weather! It would be better if you stayed out of damage areas so you can avoid this and be out of the way of emergency personnel trying to do their jobs!