What equipment should I take with on a chase?

The list of what you take with you on a storm chase day is personal preference. It also depends on what type of equipment you own. This list is just an example of one that you should prepare. This list is the one that I use on my storm chases. It can be broken down into a few categories.

Stuff you need while on the road

  • Full tank of gas.

  • Oil, windshield washer fluid, jumper cables, and something to quickly fix a flat tire.

  • Road Map with markers to plot your path.

  • Cellular Phone, Car Adapter, splitter for cigarette lighter, and phone number list.

  • A car that has recently had a checkup. (tune-up, belts changed, etc...)

  • Chase manuals

  • First Aid kit

All of these things are very important while on the road. Keeping the gas tank full while on a chase is the most important. When you reach your destination and are waiting for the storms to pop, make sure you fill up your tank of gas. There is nothing worse or more dangerous than chasing and either running out of gas, having to abandon a chase to get gas, or having to try and quickly get gas before the storm hits the town you are in.

On some chase days, it is possible to travel over 1,000 miles in a day. That is why it is important to take some basic stuff like oil with you.

Some of the newer road maps have plastic covers that can be laid over the map so you can write on them. It is helpful to keep track of where you have been and where you currently are. Overhead projector markers work well on this type of map.

I realize that not everyone owns a cellular phone. This is not a necessity but is something very nice to have with you. Because a person can travel over 1,000 miles in 24 hours it increases the possibility that your car might break down while on a chase. Especially down south you can go many miles without seeing any sign of civilization. If you have had a checkup on your car, the cellular phone probably won't be as important. The cellular phone will be important if you own a laptop computer and can afford to do a cellular connection to the Internet. Since I don't own a laptop computer and therefore don't have much experience with cellular connections, I will not attempt to comment on them.

Finally, a First Aid kit is always a good idea to bring along. It can be helpful to have in case any member of the chase team gets injured, or if one runs across someone else injured by the storm.

Chase Equipment

  • Portable Weather Radio

  • Camera with extra film, and plunger for taking lightning shots at night

  • Tripod

  • Camcorder with extra batteries and tapes

  • Compass

  • Tape Recorder

  • Anemomete

  • Hygrometer

  • Portable TV

  • Power inverter

This is just my personal list of chase equipment that I take with me on a chase. Some of these things are extremely helpful. A way to listen in on the National Weather Service (NWS) weather radio network is one of those things. This is a network of small radio transmitters that not only transmit forecasts and current weather conditions but also warnings. This is a way that you can quickly hear about the latest on the storm system you are chasing. This way when you are in the general area and trying to decide which storm to chase you could use the weather radio network to find out which storm is tornadic. To access the weather radio network you need either a weather radio or you can access it by way of a scanner. There are seven different frequencies across the country. They range from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz.

A camcorder and a still camera with their tripods is something that I can't imagine chasing without. A person can get by with one or the other though. I can't imagine travelling over 1,000 miles and not wanting to try and catch it on film so you can remember the storm or show it off. Each camera needs a tripod though. If you do get video, you want people to actually see what you are recording and not be distracted by having the picture move all over the screen due to shaky hands or the strong winds around thunderstorms. Still photo's usually come out more crisp when using the tripod. A tripod is a necessity when trying to take lightning shots. When trying to take lightning shots you need to hold the shutter open without moving the camera. This is where the plunger comes in handy. This is a way that you can hold the shutter open and yet not worry about moving the camera. You hold the shutter open and hope lightning strikes in front of the camera. More will be explained about taking good video and photos in another section that I hope to have completed fairly soon.

The compass is a nice piece of equipment to take with you on a chase. This helps you to determine where you are in relationship to the storm. By knowing where you are in relationship to the storm it can help you find the tornado and also stay out of the storm's path. The compass also helps while trying to locate where you are currently at on a map.

Finally you get to the equipment that is needed the least. I usually take with me a tape recorder so I can document what I am seeing, what I am feeling, and other thoughts or observations that I may have at the time. This way after a chase I can write up a detailed chase report so I can remember the event. The anemometer (which measures wind speed) and my hygrometer (which measures moisture) can be helpful in documenting the storm. It also helps while you are driving toward where you feel the storms will blow up. You can then determine the direction and speed of the wind moving into a certain area. This will tell you if moisture is flowing into an area. The hygrometer will tell you how much moisture is moving into the area.

Personal Equipment

  • Sunglasses

  • Wallet with money, credit cards, and a telephone card

  • Jacket

  • Food

  • CD Player and CD's (or cassettes if you don't have a CD player)

To get big storms you need clear skies so the earth can heat. With clear skies come sunny conditions. Sunglasses make your drive more comfortable

It is a good idea to carry some cash with you for food and emergencies. On a chase I have found it best to try and charge gas, and any other expenses that occur. They are also helpful if you chase farther away from home then you thought and need to stay the night at a motel. The telephone card comes in handy so you can call people that are expecting you back to let them know you are OK. Telephone cards usually give you cheaper rates than the hotels do. The prepaid phone cards usually are the best for chases.

While near a severe thunderstorms the temperatures can change very rapidly. You can be standing in 90 degree weather and the next minute it is 60 degrees out. This is due to the Rear Flank Downdraft (RFD) which will be explained in another section.

Finally since it will be a long trip, it never hurts to have food to snack on or music to listen to. You have to remember that most of your trip won't be in weather that is interesting to watch for hours at a time so it is important to take something to occupy yourself and your chase partners.

Back to the How to Chase Storms Safely index

DISCLAIMER: Remember storm chasing exposes chasers to many hazardous and potentially deadly weather conditions such as lightning, dangerous roads, damaging winds, hail, and flying debris which puts the chaser's life at risk, particularly those who
have little or no experience and/or storm structure education. Learning to deal with these is best done by understanding supercells and thunderstorms, and riding with an experienced chaser before attempting to chase on their own. The author of these pages does not encourage storm chasing and is therefore not responsible for any actions as a result of what is seen here!

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Created by Adam Frederick, webmaster@severewx.com
Content and Images (unless otherwise noted) Copyright 1999 Adam Frederick

Last updated 07/1/99 09:01 PM