Tornado Chasing How to become a storm spotter

Tornado Chasing

How to become a storm spotter?

Local National Weather Service offices offer spotter training sessions each year. Contact the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the office which serves you for info on when and where they conduct these sessions, and how to become a spotter for them. How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

There is also a national spotters’ organization, SKYWARN, which can help you learn about storm spotting and get you in contact with spotting experts. It also helps to have a historical perspective on the storm spotting program.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

What’s the difference between a spotter and a chaser?

The differences are in method and motivation. Chasers are more mobile than spotters, and unlike most spotters, travel hundreds of miles and across state lines to observe storms. Spotters’ primary function is to report critical weather information, on a live basis, to the National Weather Service through some kind of local spotter coordinator. Chasers, on the other hand, may be doing it for any number of reasons, including scientific field programs, storm photography, self-education, commercial video opportunity, or news media coverage. Some storm spotters also do occasional chasing outside their home area; and some chasers are certified and equipped to do real-time spotting.

How do I learn more about storm chasing? How do I become a tornado chaser?

The term “tornado chasing” is not very accurate since tornadoes are such a small fraction of the storm chasing experience. Storm chasing can be very dangerous and is not something to be taken frivolously. The National Weather Service does not endorse storm chasing because of the risk, but welcomes storm reports from those who do chase. One way to learn more about storm chasing is to is to become a storm spotter in your local area, learning about the character of storms while contributing to public safety through the warning process.After gaining experience observing storms as a spotter, you can then decide if chasing is for you.

Who were the first storm chasers?

The late Roger Jensen is believed to be the first person who actively hunted for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes – in the upper Midwest in the late 1940s. David Hoadley of Falls Church, VA, has been doing so annually since 1956, and is widely considered the “pioneer” Page36 storm chaser.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

The late Neil Ward of NSSL was the first storm-chasing scientist, using insights gained from his field observations of tornadoes to build more complex and accurate tornado simulations in his laboratory. The first federally funded, scientific storm intercept teams fanned out from NSSL across the Oklahoma plains in 1972; but their greatest early success came a year later with their intensive documentation of the Union City, OK, tornado of 24 May 1973.

This was also the first time a tornado was measured intensively by both storm intercept teams and Doppler radar–the forerunning event to the nationwide network of Doppler radars now used for early warning. Are there films or videos I can get which tell the real story of storm chasers? Hundreds of storm chasing videos and several TV documentaries have been made, most since the mid-1990s.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

Unfortunately, most of them available online or in stores and catalogs (even from “educational” outlets) are very misleading–featuring non-stop tornadoes or heavily emphasizing thrillseeking and danger. They typically have little or no mention of safety, forecasting skill, learning, extensive “down time” and the long days and weeks of travel which often yield no tornadoes. Videos can be found via many storm-chasing related web sites. I saw a low-hanging cloud in a thunderstorm.

Was it a tornado?

Without being there or seeing good video of it, I can’t say. Many low-hanging clouds are not tornadoes, but sometimes are wrongly reported as tornadoes anyway. The most important things to look for when you see a suspicious cloud feature are: Rapid cloud-base rotation, if you are close enough to make out cloud movement, and A concentrated, whirling debris or dust cloud at ground level under the thunderstorm base. [Imagine this spinning rapidly.]

It is common to have one without the other. Many thunderstorms produce dust plumes in their outflow; these tend to move in one direction and not rotate. In gustnadoes, there is spinning motion at ground level but not at cloud base (therefore, not a tornado). If the ground is wet enough, or the circulation weak enough, there may not be any debris under a rotating cloud base. But persistent rotation in the cloud base is potentially very dangerous and should be reported.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

At night, also look for persistent cloud lowering to ground, especially if accompanied by a power flash. Page37 What’s the difference between a funnel cloud and a tornado? What is a funnel cloud? In a tornado, a damaging circulation is on the ground–whether or not the cloud is. The phrase, “tornado on the ground,” is redundant! A tornado, by definition, is “on the ground.” A true funnel cloud rotates, but has no ground contact or debris, and is not doing damage.

If it is a low-hanging cloud with no rotation, it is not a funnel cloud. Caution: tornadoes can happen without a funnel; and what looks like “only” a funnel cloud may be doing damage which can’t be seen from a distance. Some funnels are high-based and may never reach the surface. Still, since a funnel cloud might quickly become a tornado (remember rotation!), it should be reported by spotters.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

Why are some tornadoes white, and others black or grey or even red?

Tornadoes tend to look darkest when looking southwest through northwest in the afternoon. In those cases, they are often silhouetted in front of a light source, such as brighter skies west of the thunderstorm. If there is heavy precipitation behind the tornado, it may be dark gray, blue or even white, depending on where most of the daylight is coming from. This happens often when the spotter is looking north or east at a tornado, and part of the forward-flank and/or rear-flank cores.

Tornadoes wrapped in rain may exhibit varieties of gray shades on gray, if they are visible at all. Lower parts of tornadoes also can assume the color of the dust and debris they are generating; for example, a tornado passing across dry fields in western or central Oklahoma may take on the hue of the red soil so prevalent there.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

What is a gustnado?

A gustnado is a small and usually weak whirlwind which forms as an eddy in thunderstorm outflows. They do not connect with any cloud-base rotation and are not tornadoes. But because gustnadoes often have a spinning dust cloud at ground level, they are sometimes wrongly reported as tornadoes.

Gustnadoes can do minor damage (e.g., break windows and tree limbs, overturn trash cans and toss lawn furniture), and should be avoided. What is a “wedge” tornado? A “rope” tornado? These are slang terms often used by storm observers to describe tornado shape and appearance.

Remember, the size or shape of a tornado does not say anything certain about its strength! “Wedge” tornadoes simply appear to be at least as wide as they are tall (from ground to ambient cloud base). “Rope” tornadoes are very narrow, often sinuous or snake-like in form. Tornadoes often (but not always!) assume the “rope” shape in their last Page38 stage of life; and the cloud rope may even break up into segments.

Again, tornado shape and size does not signal strength! Some rope tornadoes can still do violent damage of EF4 or EF5. What is a “satellite” tornado? Is it a kind of multivortex tornado? No. There are important distinctions between satellite and multiple-vortex tornadoes. A satellite tornado develops independently from the primary tornado, not inside it as does a suction vortex.

The tornadoes are separate and distinct as the satellite tornado orbits its much larger companion within the same mesocyclone. Their cause is unknown; but they seem to form most often in the vicinity of exceptionally large and intense tornadoes.How to become a storm spotter tornado chasing .

What is a landspout?

This is storm-chaser slang for a non-supercell tornado. So-called “landspouts” resemble waterspouts in that way, and also in their typically small size and weakness compared to the most intense tornadoes. But “landspouts” are tornadoes by definition; and they are capable of doing significant damage and killing people.

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