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Son of a Chaser Man  By Kyle

 “Your father chases tornadoes!  That’s insane!”  It is a famous phrase.  It is a phrase I have heard three hundred and forty two times.  It is interesting to me that people assume anyone who chases tornados belongs in a mental institution.  Clearing the phrase finish line in a close second place is, “That’s insane, can I go?”  The real question is, “Would you like to?”  Let me explain.

 Allow me to verify myself.   I am Kyle, son of Tornado Tim.  I am the son of a chaser man.  I was born and raised in the lore and tradition of chasing.  Since I have seen and witnessed actual tornado chases, both successful and unsuccessful, I would like to curb some of the everyday myths of tornado chasing.   It seems people actually believe Hollywood movies are only pure reality.  Hollywood does a marvelous job in the entertainment business, but only because they leave out some of the finer details.  Chasing isn’t always what it appears to be.

 “So you just wait for a tornado report on the radio and then chase it?”  Every chaser has been asked this infamous question.  If only life were this easy.  If we were to wait for a tornado report to start the chase, the chase would already be over.  You have to understand that I lived in the presence of a true tornado chaser.  If I were to awake on any given morning within three months of tornado season, I would – without fail – wake to the sound of the Weather Channel.  You might ask how researching weather three months before tornado season would do any good.  Matter of fact, this seems irrelevant to filming a tornado, but in reality, tornado chasing starts long before the tornado touches down.  This may come as a shock to you, but read on, what you learn may shock you. 

Preseason

                  Tornado season has not yet begun.  What is necessary to ready oneself for the chase?  The list is long, but allow me to give some of the basic preparations. 

          Analyzing Data

                  I can’t even begin to understand how my father can do this.  He has more weather information than a weather balloon.  Beginning sometimes sooner than three months before the first chase, my father is trying to discover when tornado outbreaks are going to occur.  This is not easy business.  He has bookmarks to every Internet site on the universe related to weather.  He begins by studying data from previous years.  Judging by the current weather, he tries to match the current year to any previous year that is most similar. 

He is also probably the reason companies advertise on the Weather Channel.  The television beside my father’s computer has a Weather Channel emblem literally burned into the corner of the television set.  Data analyzing is a long and tedious process, but it determines the difference between chaser-wannabees and the real chaser.  If you want to chase, find some weather books, go to college, or call your local weatherman, because you are going to need weather knowledge to succeed in the business. 

          Preparing the Vehicle

                  People seem to laugh at this.  But your car will either be the worst place to die or the quickest escape.   If you can run faster than your vehicle, you shouldn’t be chasing.  Your car is going to need oil.  You don’t want to burn up your engine when you need it most.  Pack the trunk with an extra blanket, a change of clothes, a flashlight, and an emergency aid kit.  Although you hope for the best, you should prepare for the worst. 

You need to check your tires.  If they are old and bald, change them!  Chasing means that you will be in some rough weather.  Rain can cause you to hydroplane, and unless you have some nice tread, you aren’t going to be able to stay on the road.  Speaking of rain, you might also get some high quality windshield wipers.  Now that you have new wipers, you should be able see that chasing is an investment, both of time and money.  In order to be safe, you can’t skip the basics, not even if you want to save money.  Skipping vital preparations could put you and your team at undue risk.  It would be like a swat team without bulletproof vests, and that brings us to the next step. 

          Practice Shooting

                  I am not speaking of using a handgun here.  If you want people to believe that you actually saw a tornado, you better get good film.  My father shoots with high quality digital cameras.  It is some amazing equipment, but you don’t have to start out with high dollar digital.   Just make sure you know how to use what you bring. 

         Regular Season

                  As you can see, tornado chasing has already been an investment, and you haven’t even seen a tornado yet!  Does this work ever pay off?  Well, not for everyone.  Many chaser-wannabees never even see the tornado they set out for.  Tornado chasing takes time and practice.  So what is next? 

          Days Prior

                  A few days to a week before your chase you will know that there may be a potential outbreak of severe weather.  You won’t know if anything will produce a tornado, but you will know if there us a chance when you do your homework.  You won’t know exactly when you will be able to leave, but you can start planning to make a trip.           

         Chase Day

                  The chase is about to begin.  You are pumped and ready.  You hop into your prepared car and start heading for the interstates.  But wait!  There isn’t any severe weather yet!  Why are we driving without any tornado reports?  Well, I’m afraid that you have the mythological view of tornado chasing.  Tornados don’t always come to you.  Notice that you are “chasing” the tornados.  If you want success, you better plan for it.  On chase day you will need all of the fresh weather data.   You can obtain this best by internet, so you may want to stop by a library or use your mobile satellite uplink.  After you check for the latest data, you can head to the most promising severe weather locations.  This is where even professional chasers such as my father begin to disagree.  It is all in predictions, and you can’t always be right.

                  So why can’t you just look at the data and go to the nearest storm location?  I’m afraid this isn’t your local supermarket.  If you study weather, you will find that cold and warm fronts control where storms are going to be.  The whole process is stringent on a whole lot of moisture.  By looking at the days weather data, you come up with maybe a three hundred square mile section of where the storms might form, and get this, that’s if you are on a good day.   The section could be much larger.  As a chaser, you have to predict where the storms are going to build.  If they build three hundred miles away from you, you may never be able to catch them.  If you lose the lotto, you can either prepare for another chase day, or if the severe weather is done, head home and get a hot dog. 

        Conclusion

                  After the chase you will know if you were right or wrong.   Very often you were right on track, but no tornados set down.  You may be disappointed, but if you look at it like my father does, it will have been a practice run.   Sometimes you will leave days earlier to position yourself in a different state, just to find out a tornado set down 200 miles north of you, missing the eye of your camera completely.  Tornados are found by persistence.  Sometimes four or five chases will go by where we haven’t seen a tornado.  This isn’t failure.  Every time a chase such as this is finished, we know we are one chase closer to filming this majestic mystery of the sky.

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