How not to chase storms

The art to a successful storm chasing session for storm trackers of all calibres all comes to planning and a large element of luck. You may see there’s a storm forecast and think it would be a cool idea to get some photographs of it hurling a monsoon amount of rain over the countryside or that epic shot of lighting hitting a tree with some flames thrown in for good measure.

How to start storm chasing

  • Weather forecasts are the first obvious solution, study many and look for any places where they all agree there will be some ‘weather’
  • Get an app which will give you up to date radar information, keep in mind that most of the free ones tend to have a 15 minute delay on them
  • Use websites like wxcharts.com to get a basic understanding of what the weather may do
  • Use Twitter, there’s a lot of weather forecasters out there, some are better than others, I personally follow Dav @londonSnowWatch for the South East of England, he gives an accurate and non sensationalised forecast of coming events. I would NOT recommend believing everything you read in the papers, their forecasts are for selling papers
  • Another useful and interesting source are live storm trackers such as severestudios or livestormchasing

So you’ve figured out the time and the place a storm may occur and you’re hyped up ready to go on the hunt. Tighten that bandanna, buckle up your belt and tighten those shoe laces, take a deep breath and now sit down, you’re not ready to be a storm chaser yet.

There’s a few things you need to check first

  • Are the batteries charged for all your electronic gizmos
  • Do you have memory cards and are they formatted
  • Tripod, you’ll likely be shooting in low light conditions and will need to use a slow shutter speed
  • Have you got a lens cloth to wipe water from your lens
  • A rain cover for your camera is a useful addition, although cumbersome, for the sake of a few pounds they can save your camera from the elements
  • Dry clothes, there is a high probability that you’re going to get wet
  • Food and water, you could be waiting around for a long time
  • A buddy, someone who will track the storm whilst you’re driving (or vise versa) and plan your final location

The goal is to be on the outside of the storm system looking in so you’re not getting pelted with rain and hail, you’ll then hopefully also see the structure of the storm rather than seeing it from underneath.

So why did I call this article How Not to chase storms?

Because today I completely ignored almost all of the advice I’ve given above and it didn’t end well. I knew there was a strong possibility of multicell thunderstorms today and that they would likely be further inland and not on the far East coast of Norfolk where I’m based. Dav had suggested the area around Cambridge and it certainly looked like a strong contender.

Looking at www.lightningmaps.org in the morning the storms started inland a further away than I would have liked so I decided to stay put for the time being. After a further 3 hours of convincing myself it wasn’t worth the travel, another look at the radar and lighting maps changed my mind for me. A line of lightning was starting to form from Bury St Edmunds up to Kings Lynn. I decided to head to Swaffham and once there I’d fine tune my plan depending on what I could see. Although I know the route there I am unfamiliar with the lay of the land so had no shot in mind for when I arrived.

Gear thrown in the back of the car and just the clothes I was wearing, I headed out for my destination alone. Social distancing has meant that I didn’t have my buddy with me and was acting alone. This made it impossible to track the storm as I was driving and when I got close to Swaffham I could see that the storm was a few miles further West.

I pulled of the main road at the first country lane I came too and as I drove along it I could see there was a bit of a rise through some woodland to my right which I figured would give a high vantage point. A little further along I came across a little carpark which was obviously for walkers to use use for their woodland walks. I got my stuff out and started a walk up a lane with no idea where I was going since I had no mobile signal.

I reached the top of the lane to discover there was no vantage point to be had, I was literally surrounded by trees and no view except up. To make matters worse, the storm was almost on top of me now, I didn’t have time to find a new location so could only hope a shot down tree lined lane with a bolt of lightning above would work.

This proved to not be an issue, by driving blind I had managed to put myself in the direct firing line of the storm, it was overhead and the heavens opened.

I was getting wet but I thought to my self, one bonus was that my hiking boots were keeping my feet dry. This didn’t last though, the rest of my clothes had become so wet (I’d have been dryer if I had jumped in a swimming pool) that water was now running down the inside of my trousers, down my legs and into my boots.

Visibility was rubbish, my lightning trigger kept firing everytime there was a flash but there was no way of seeing anything. My lens cloth was sodden, my glasses were steamed up and my t-shirt was clinging to my body tighter than a child clings to it’s mother on the first day of school.

The storm passed, I packed my gear and headed back wet and fed up. Sitting in the car topless with the heating on full blast, my t-shirt draped over the air vents, steamed up windows and me worrying if they’ll be a knock on the window from the police asking what I’ve been upto, I realised that I’d completely thrown out my own rule book and paid the price.

The turbine image above was shot on the way home, I could hardly return completely empty handed and I spotted this on the way and thought it could look pretty good against a menacing sky.

What did I learn from today? I need to go back and read my own advice on how to start storm chasing.

Have you ever ignored your own advice and suffered for it?

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how to start storm chasing
A very rare selfie, never ignore your own rules

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