But there are some necessities you need to pack before you head out, and some safety advice too.
FIRST-TIME CHASER GEAR:
MAPS: Even if you have a GPS system, make sure you carry as many detailed maps as you think you'll need depending on where you plan to chase. MAPSCO publishes detailed atlases like "The Roads of Oklahoma" for several states in Tornado Alley. These books detail every backroad, even the unpaved ones, even in the most rural areas. One of the cardinal rules for chasing is to always know where you can escape if a storm gets too close. A good map is your best friend when you have to move fast.
A note about GPS: Not all GPS systems are created equal, and not all GPS maps are updated or 100% accurate. While a GPS system is a handy tool for most chasing situations, it's best not to rely solely on a GPS for territory you're not already familiar with.
THE RIGHT CLOTHING: You're going to get wet, so bring rain jackets. Storms are often associated with boundaries of air masses with very different temperatures, so you may experience 80 degrees one hour, and then 50 degrees the next. Dress in layers. If you think your chases will lead you far from home, pack a change of clothing and some toiletries in case you need to find a hotel on the road.
FOOD AND MEDICINE: One thing about chasing - you never know how far you'll go, or where you'll wind up. And you can't predict in advance how long you'll be on the road. Pack your favorite snacks and bottled water, and don't forget any necessary medicine.
CAMERAS: If you're going to chase storms, you might as well pack along gear to capture your memories. Don't forget film, batteries, tape, memory cards - whatever you need to support your camera gear.
RADIO / COMMUNICATIONS: If you've got a laptop with a wireless data card, and if you've got a navigator who's not driving, you can use that gear to track storms and check updated data and forecasts as you go. If you don't have that, you're going to want to invest in radio and TV technology. A radio that can pick up the NOAA Weather Radio frequencies will allow you to hear severe weather warnings. And it should allow you to keep connected with critical weather information no matter how far off the main roads you travel - something that's not always a sure thing with cell phone connections. You can carry a portable television, with two caveats: 1) remember that the conversion to digital-television will make older analog portable TVs obsolete in 2009, and 2) remember that many states do not allow the driver of a moving vehicle to see a video screen. Also, many storm spotters and chasers use amateur (ham) radio. You'll need an Amateur Operator license from the FCC in order to talk on amateur-radio frequencies, but you don't need a license to listen.
BEFORE YOU HEAD OUT:
CHECK YOUR VEHICLE: Is your car ready for the chase? Check tire treads and pressure. Make sure your engine is in good working order. (When was the last time you had your oil changed?) Does your AC and heater work?
BE PREPARED FOR SMALL EMERGENCIES: Tire flat fixer, road flares, jumper cables.
MORE ITEMS HERE: This list of reminders from the chaser-world's pre-eminent website is a must-read before hitting the road. Disregard some of the references to 1990's technology that has long since been retired, but most of the items on this list are as necessary today as they were back then.
Copyright 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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