Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to Pack for a Hurricane Chase

(NOTE: If you're not a trained chaser or meteorologist, do not think you can start chasing hurricanes--even if you're an amateur tornado chaser. Hurricanes are incredibly dangerous and bring a whole slew of risk factors that are often not present with twisters--from insane flooding to crazy police officers in dump trucks. This post is meant for fun and education, not to inspire a bunch of newbies to get themselves injured or killed.)

It's official. We're in the peak of hurricane season for 2011, which means my brother Simon (known as "Crazy Uncle Simon" to my kids) has been monitoring the National Hurricane Center website (among others) and analyzing models over the Atlantic and Gulf. As some of you may know, he's one of the main chasers on The Weather Channel's Storm Riders show.

Because of the track Hurricane Irene took recently, I got to spend a little time with my little brother as his crew used Atlanta, Georgia, as their meeting spot. If you'll remember, Irene was originally tracking to hit anywhere from southern Florida to completely missing the East Coast. They ended up catching the hurricane, which Simon said was more like a tropical storm, when it hit North Carolina.

Anyway, while he was here, he educated me on the gear he uses to chase hurricanes. He's developed his gear list over several years of chasing and many lessons learned in the process.

First, you need something to transport everyone and everything. Like an SUV.

Quick lesson learned: Simon and fellow famous chaser Reed Timmer were locked up in a jail in Slidell, LA, during Hurricane Katrina after being mistaken as looters. The experience nearly cost Simon and Jim their lives in a couple different ways. Ever since, Simon attaches emergency lights to his vehicles during hurricanes.

These are weather vane/anemometers. They measure the direction and speed of the wind and are essential to understanding what the hurricane is doing on the ground.

Storm chasers have to carry a big ax (or two)...

...and a chainsaw. Another lesson learned: In previous storms, Simon has had chases stalled or ended by debris, such as fallen trees, blocking the road. Axes and chainsaws help cut and remove the obstacles.

When you're dealing with hurricanes, you have to be prepared for high winds and projectiles. Goggles are an essential for protecting your eyes.

Similarly, helmets protect the noggin. And now, Simon (and fellow chaser Juston Drake) have camera mounts to provide a more personal view of the chase while they are out in the elements.

Also, bug spray. Believe it or not, storm chasers are not immune to bug bites!

The chasers are not the only ones who need protection. As you might've noticed, a lot of the gear is kept in plastic containers. Also, here are some camera casings for the storm footage that's caught.

No big project is possible without duct tape.

Or a lot of string!

Flashlights are an essential for any kind of trip. However, they can be life saver during storms which can make it pitch black even in the middle of the day.

And in Simon's line of work, he doesn't want to be caught without power for his flashlights or video cameras. So they pack extra batteries.

Maybe one of the most important "extras" they pack is a lot of water. The possibility of being stranded in a hurricane is higher than in most other situations. So having plenty of fresh water can be a life saver.

There are a few items of gear that a storm chaser doesn't want to break out. As in the movie Jaws, a storm chaser hopes to never have to resort to using a life jacket. But it pays to have one for a worst case scenario.

One more worst case scenario: The inflatable life raft. When Simon and Reed were stranded in Slidell, they had to wait for a boat to collect them well after the storm had passed. Lesson learned for any future possible stranded situations.

Finally, towels aren't going to save your life; but after dealing with a heck of a lot of water and wind, they'll help you feel more comfortable after the chasing is over.


Want to learn more about Simon?
Check out his Stormgasm site, which has been around about as long as he's been chasing (with the rest of the Stormgasm crew). Besides that, be sure to keep an eye on The Weather Channel dial to catch the next Storm Riders episode!


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And while you're at it, check out this blog post in which I use my brother Simon's passion for weather as an example of how writers should pursue their writing dreams.


Julia Munroe Martin said...

This is very cool! I always wondered how these guys get ready for their jobs and now I know. I always thought it would be exciting to track a storm (but I'm too big a wimp). So thanks for sharing just a few of his stories -- he must have so many!

Robert Lee Brewer said...

I would totally not recommend chasing without a professional, Julia. They know what they're looking at, and they still get into some tight/dangerous situations. It's much safer to hear the tales and watch the video footage. :)