Storm chasing can be a fun but dangerous undertaking. It can also be a job. Either way, having the right storm chaser equipment can make or break your storm-chasing adventures. Since “breaking” can involve catastrophic injury or death to any storm chaser, you want to make sure you have the best storm chaser equipment to “make” it every time.
Buying Storm Chaser Equipment
Since storm chasing and spotting focus largely on getting footage of the storm in question, perhaps the most important piece of equipment is a camera. Whether you’re after video or stills, snapping photos with your smartphone will work in a pinch, but for seriously great shots, you’ll need a camera that doesn’t double as a method for your mom to check in on your whereabouts.
Best Camera for Storm Chasing
There’s no way to say that one specific camera is the best for storm chasing since storm chasing involves so many variables. The best camera for capturing a tornado isn’t the best choice for those after stunning shots of lightning.
That said if you’ve yet to choose a specialty in your storm-chasing life, finding a solid, all-around camera isn’t difficult, especially in this, what many consider the Golden Age of Digital Photography.
And you’ll also develop your own preferences for focal length and specific lenses you prefer, so as your life as a storm chaser progresses, you may find yourself choosing different cameras for different outings.
Nikon’s D3500 DSLR Camera is a solid piece of photography equipment. The link is for a bundled kit, but if you’re not interested in lots of extras, you can find the camera a la carte.
Either way, the camera is built to need a minimum amount of fiddling before you snap a photo. That’s important because there’s not a storm chaser out there who hasn’t missed at least one shot or video because the camera needed attention before it could capture an image.
The D3500 boasts a 24.2-megapixel resolution, so if you find yourself in a storm like the one in “Twister,” you’ll be able to snag crisp, clean images of cows flying through the air. This camera is also available from: nikonusa.com.
On the pricier side is Sony’s α7R IV Full-frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera. It shoots 4K video in addition to its 61-megapixel resolution on stills. It’s seemingly infinitely configurable and might be a camera that works in all situations, provided you swap out lenses to best capture the weather event in question given the available light and weather conditions. This camera is also available from: sony.
A dash mounted video camera such as a Sony CX900 is another key piece of storm spotting equipment to capture fast moving weather events. You can mount it to your windshield using a Filmtools In-Car Windshield Camera Mount so you don’t miss any of the action while driving.
Other Storm Spotting Equipment
The other storm chaser equipment you’ll need includes tools for monitoring the weather, navigating, and communicating. You’ll need a laptop with them that’s tethered to a smartphone hotspot or similar. The ability to access live weather apps and radar maps means a better chance of being in the right place at the right time. It also means getting away from the wrong place.
That same laptop can provide access to road maps, but if you’re using it for weather maps, you’ll be better served by adding a GPS navigation unit to your gear. An active, hands-free map on the dashboard can help you find the right turnoff to chase that suddenly swerving tornado or twister.
You’ll also want some sort of radio, whether it’s a CB or a two-way communication device, especially if you’re part of a storm-chasing team. Cell phones aren’t fail-proof, and we’ve all had reception issues during storms. You may also find yourself chasing a storm right out of your coverage area.
What Is Storm Chasing?
While most people’s awareness of storm chasing stems from local news and weather coverage of severe storms, storm chasing is not limited to people in the media. Storm chasing — the act of purposely going toward the storm or working to get closer to it — is a hobby for many people, and the majority of them don’t do it on TV.
Many storm chasers do it for the adrenaline rush of getting up close and personal with the massive power of nature, while others love to see the cloud formations and how they shift (sometimes violently) during weather events.
It can be dangerous, it can be tedious (while waiting on that elusive storm to coalesce), and it can be exhilarating.
There are storm chasers who long to get into just about any type of inclement weather.
How To Become a Storm Chaser
Like nearly any pursuit, in one sense, you can become a storm chaser just by doing it. However, since inherent danger exists in the activity, some training can make for safer outings.
During the 1970s, the National Weather Service (NWS) implemented SKYWARN, a network of volunteers that observe and record weather in their area and report it periodically to the NWS.
The NWS offers training sessions for potential spotters during which they learn about how thunderstorms develop, what information they should report, and the basic safety skills needed during weather events.
Training to become a spotter is an excellent start for learning the ins and outs of storm chasing.
Since storm chasing for the media is largely a freelance gig, it’s not the kind of job that requires a degree in meteorology or anything else. That said, knowledge of meteorological phenomena and terms is crucial to chasing storms as safely as possible.
Having studied meteorology in college or even simply on your own will help you in your quest to chase storms.
You’ll also need either thorough knowledge of the roads and terrain where you plan to chase storms or be very competent when it comes to map-reading skills. Since storms rarely move along paved thoroughfares, to get close to them, you’ll have to know your way around the roads.
Finally, go on a ride-along with established chasers, especially if your only experience chasing is your desire to do it. Going along with seasoned chasers will give you an idea of what the chase is like. You’ll also likely pick up some tips and tricks, and you’d be wise to figure out if you enjoy storm chasing before you start dropping money on equipment.
Is Storm Chasing Dangerous?
The answer to this question is an unqualified yes. Storm chasing can be deadly. Torrential rains and flooding can quickly sweep away cars, trucks, and SUVs, and high winds can send debris, projectile-style, hurtling through the air. And tornadoes are notoriously murderous things.
The storm chaser is the person who actively pursues these dangerous things, and while others take cover, storm chasers take pains to get closer. The unpredictability of weather, storms, tornadoes, and lightning all pose direct threats to life and limb.
Making a go as a storm chaser isn’t something to take lightly. We all thought ourselves invincible as teenagers, but nature will disabuse anyone of that nature. There’s a saying in the skydiving world that if you’re not at least a little bit afraid before you jump out of the plane— no matter how many times you’ve jumped before— you have no business jumping because skydiving is dangerous.
The same can be said for storm chasing. If you assume everything will always work out for you on your adventure, you’re probably too complacent to chase storms safely.
Storm chasing can be a pulse-pounding adventure, it can provide knowledge and information to the public that can contribute to safety during a weather event, and it can be deadly if undertaken too lightly or without proper knowledge and training.
Going into it with the right storm chaser equipment can make you much more likely to succeed and survive.