How to become a storm chaser is a question that I get asked quite often. What qualifications do I require to do such a job? Do I need to know everything about weather to be able to chase storms? Is storm chasing just about looking at the radar and driving towards the storm I want to see?
In 2001 I ventured off for my first storm chase in my old beat up Hilux Ute to intercept a storm with my trusty underwater disposable camera. I took a photo of a developing shelf cloud on a storm near the town of Beaudesert in South Eastern Queensland. I remember being awestruck at its beauty and to this day it is still one of my favourite photos, despite the basic gear I was using!
While my first chase was memorable and encouraging, it was my second ever storm chase a few weeks later that taught me one of my biggest lessons and put me on the correct path to become a decent chaser. I set out for the small town of Boonah in the Scenic Rim region of South Eastern Queensland, parked at the lookout and waited, waited... and waited. My second storm chase was what we call "a blue sky bust". All of the storms this day were well north of me up around the Sunshine Coast region. For all of my luck on my first chase I had run out of it on my second outing. I had to ask myself, why and how did I get this so wrong?
As I am not a meteorologist and at the time, had a limited self taught knowledge of weather systems, I decided not only did I need to do more research on weather patterns, but that I needed to get out there and chase longer distances and more potential storm days in order to gain the experience that was needed if was going to need to know when things are about to explode, or when things are looking like a bust, or if it is time to move to the next target area. Over the years I honed my skills and became better at forecasting and picking target areas and better at positioning myself on the correct side of the storm. One of the best ways to become a storm chaser is to get out there and give it a try, see if you can team up with a more experienced storm chaser and learn about how these weather systems work and the dynamics behind them. I have gained so much experience both in Australia and the USA that I can now see if the sky looks healthy for thunderstorm development, or it is looks to be struggling due to dry air or a large capping inversion. Don't be fooled though, no matter how good of a chaser you may become you WILL bust. The best storm chasers in the world will still bust a few times a year, even if you pick the best target area mother nature may just not want to play ball today.
A great avenue to begin your storm chasing adventures is through the Australian Severe Weather Association, that is where I began along with so many like minded people from around the country. This organisation is full weather nuts, meteorologist and forecasters and I highly recommend becoming a member and attending local meetings.
However you decide to learn, do so safely - do not take unnecessary risks. Lightning is a killer and is very unpredictable, it is a facet of storm chasing that scares me. I can show you and tell you where hail and rain will fall, where a tornado will develop, but trying to predict where lightning will strike is like trying to find a needle in a hay stack.
I hope your storm chasing dreams become a reality, chase hard and chase safe ;)