Storm chasing should be considered an extreme sport. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of pursuing a one-of-a-kind weather event, getting close to it and capturing epic photos and/or video footage. Today, we will be talking about everything there is to know about storm chaser equipment. I’ll tell you the different pieces of gear you’ll need for chasing tornadoes, why you’ll need it, and give you some tips on what to look for when you go shopping.
In addition to that, I’ll help you to completely transform your vehicle into the perfect tornado car with key pieces of storm chasing equipment that will give you the information you need without cluttering your cab.
Let’s get into it!
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Why Chase Storms (and how equipment helps)
First let’s cover some of the basics for those who haven’t really gotten serious about storm chasing yet.
I think it’s important to talk about what it is, the safety concerns that come with chasing violent storms like tornadoes, and what you really need to do before you hit the road.
What is Storm Chasing?
For starters, what is storm chasing? Simply put, storm chasing is exactly what it sounds like – chasing a storm. This can be tornados, hurricanes, or any other severe weather conditions that the general public would avoid.
So, why do people do it? For a number of reasons. Some do it for research purposes, while others just enjoy the thrill of tracking storms, witnessing the incredible power of mother nature, and taking photographs or videos of the tornadoes they pursue.
Is it Safe?
Most people stay indoors during a storm, and I know some dogs who like to hide under the furniture.
In severe weather, the government will actually evacuate you from your home to a safety shelter.
That’s why being a storm chaser requires close attention to detail in picking all of your equipment. This can also include doing checks on your location, vehicles, and deciding when to go on a storm hunt (and when to stay home).
Admittedly the guys and gals who chase tornadoes have an adventurous streak and a wild side, but the best storm chasers balance risk and reward and are able to decide when it’s not safe to continue with a chase, even when it’s hard to hit the brakes.
If you are not the sort of person who can make tough choices under exciting or frightening circumstances, storm chasing is probably not for you.
Before Chasing a Storm
Storm chasing is not like any other recreational hobby. It requires experience and a lot of studying.
You will need to learn about the different types of storms, study their structures, how they occur, and practice different protocols that may need to be carried out during emergency situations.
You will also need to be able to forecast weather and adapt quickly to your surroundings.
Keep these things in mind before plotting out your first storm chasing adventure. You can buy equipment and tools, but the most important thing you’ll take with you is knowledge, and that takes time to acquire.
Getting to know other storm chasers and seeing if you can go for a ride-along to learn from seasoned storm chasers may be the best way to learn. It’s a tight-knit community, and you can learn a lot from the people who have been doing it for years.
Choosing Your Storm Chasing Vehicle
When taking up storm chasing, it is highly advised that you customize your vehicle. For domestic storm chasers, most of their time will be spent traveling towards the storm. So you will want to have your vehicle prepared for just about any weather condition. This means paying close attention to all details from the inside out.
Here are some things to note, and what I consider to be the most important considerations when choosing and outfitting your storm chasing car.
For starters, there’s the vehicle itself.
You will want to make sure that the vehicle is heavy duty and one that you won’t mind taking a few hits with. Generally, most storm chasers prefer older, reliable models. This means sturdy exteriors and decent mileage.
Given the nature of this activity, it is very important that you are prepared for the worst. This means that having a back-up tire and an extra tank of fuel would be wise to have on hand as well in case of emergencies.
You can’t control where these storms will take place, and the last thing you want is to run out of gas in the path of a tornado.
In terms of the interior of your storm chasing vehicle, you will want to customize that to the best of your ability for the perfect tornado car. I’ll go into that in some detail in a few moments, but I do advise you make sure that there’s a level of comfort in your tornado car.
Most of your time will be on the road pursuing storm systems, so it’s nice to have a comfortable ride.
Storm chasing is cool. Hemorrhoids? Not so much.
Inside your vehicle, you will want to make the appropriate adjustments.
For starters, it is wise to have both an inverter and a wireless backup battery to have on hand for all your storm-chasing equipment. This craft requires you to be fast, on the move, and connected at all times, which means you must have reliable access to electricity.
You will also want to have a laptop and scanner specifically for storm chasing. These should be ready to go in your vehicle, charged and prepped for use at all times.
If you are traveling with a team, it is also wise to have your own radio system set up so that you can communicate without having to use cell phones. Cell service and connection will not always be reliable.
Aside from these basics, there are also a number of different storm chasing tools and gadgets that you can have installed in your car to make it the perfect storm chasing vehicle.
Let’s cover some of my recommendations below:
Storm Chasing Essential Gear & Equipment
Now that we have gone through the basics for the vehicle itself, you will want to be prepared with having all these things on hand.
Preparation is key for getting the perfect shots, while maintaining your safety.
Not quite equipment, but definitely essential. As you go through the list of equipment below, it is a good idea to take a look at any insurance policies offered. Especially for more expensive pieces of equipment: cameras, computers, and the inverter.
Insurance policies, warranties, and repair policies are the best way to go. With that being said, that also includes insurance on your vehicle, as well as life and health insurance.
If you are a storm chasing photographer or researcher, then you will want to have a laptop on hand. This will help with finding and tracking major storms, and can even work as a GPS.
I like and recommend gaming laptops for storm chasing, because they have the graphics card, ram, and processing power to handle just about anything you throw at it, and they typically have a great display with a fast response time. Something like this one on Amazon will work well.
Be sure to have the appropriate software installed under both the online and offline category. This can include editing software, GPS services, among other useful applications. Again, be sure to have this insured in case of emergencies along the way.
Be sure to also have internet access on the go, whether this be a hotspot or mobile data, being connected is very important on the job so that you will have access to news and weather updates as well as to your crew mates.
Software and Apps
As for the types of software and apps for your laptop or other mobile devices, you will want to consider also having specific applications for tracking your storm, such as GPS, forecasting apps, and meteorology software.
I have a full list of some apps you can try in this article.
Since most of the time you will be driving, you will want to have your phone and laptop accessible to you without being distracted on the road.
This means having a mount for your devices that will also keep them in place while you’re on the road.
For laptop mounts, check out Ram Mounts. These no-drill mounts that attach to the track your passenger seat sits on are super sturdy and handle the rough driving you’ll often do as a storm chaser while keeping your expensive gear safe.
Something like the WeatherTech CupFone will work for your cell.
Storm chasers should be praised for going out and capturing photos and videos of storms when most of us would rather be at home safe. Having the right camera equipment is a matter of quality and durability.
Most storm chasers will need more than one. At the minimum it’s advised to have at least two: one dashboard camera to record your journey and a professional camera like this Canon for all the shots and videos you plan to take once the storm is in front of you. Cameras that can withstand high impact are recommended.
If you are not a photographer, be sure to look into the best lenses for capturing storms. Wide lenses and telephoto lenses are the most helpful.
With all the excitement around storm chasing, it can be easy to forget about personal belongings and materials along the way.
Extra Clothing: Layers on Layers
Storm chasers spend a good amount of the time on the road before actually getting to the eye of the storm. This may also mean traveling across different states. Having different layers is a good idea, the more versatile, the better.
Along the lines of adequate clothing, you will also want to have the right protective gear. Storms are very unpredictable and bring a variety of equally unpredictable weather conditions along with them. Some heavy duty goggles, protective helmets, and even a poncho, are handy things to have in the event of a hail, snow, or rain storm.
Food and Water
Like any road trip, you will want to be stocked up on snacks and keep yourself well hydrated. It’s a good idea to steer clear from goods that expire or rot quickly, especially in instances where you would have to evacuate your vehicle.
Extra Storm Chasing Equipment (sweat the small stuff)
In addition to the essentials listed above, there are a few things you may want to consider having on your storm chasing journey. While these are not exactly necessities, they are definitely helpful.
Lots of them. Or anything that has a grip or suction that can hold onto your vehicle. The last thing you want on a storm chase is for all your belongings to be flying everywhere.
Prominent storm chasers also like to live stream their adventures. There are a variety of live streaming sites where you can make a free account to stream and connect with other passionate storm chasers. This is also a great idea as a safety precaution so that all your whereabouts during your storm chasing journey are recorded.
Equipping Your Storm Chasing Car
In the end, everyone has their own hobbies. While storm chasing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is an admirable group of passionate storm chasers who take on these storms for us. Their efforts provide data for research purposes or deliver video & photographs to observe and enjoy.
The most important thing to keep in mind about storm chasing is your safety. This is best safeguarded through proper preparations and the right storm chaser equipment. With this guide, you are one step closer to having everything you need to help you chase your perfect storm.