The First Storm Chaser

There were a few notable storm chasers in the 1950s and '60s, like Roger Jensen. The very first storm chaser, however, may have been the person who took a famous photograph of a tornado in South Dakota. The photo shows a massive storm cloud with a thick tornado descending to the ground, kicking up a huge debris cloud. Two smaller tornadoes extend out from the cloud to either side, like devil's horns. The date was Aug. 28, 1884, and the image is the first known photo of a tornado [source: Rosenfeld].

Basic Storm Chaser Gear

Equipment used by storm chasers can range from basic (digital camera, cell phone) to amazing custom-built machines and research devices (TIV2, Doppler On Wheels). Let's strip it down to a storm chaser's bare essentials:

  • Video camera - Documentary crews are equipped with the latest HD cameras (or even IMAX), often with multiple camera operators to capture additional angles. But every storm chaser wants to record the storms he or she spots, so even the most budget-conscious chaser has a video camera along for the ride.
  • Digital camera - A still camera can capture details of a storm that videos often miss. Digital photos can also be uploaded quickly and easily to the Internet for other storm enthusiasts to see.
  • Laptop computer - With a cell phone, a laptop can maintain a continuous Internet connection, allowing for constantly updated weather data, including weather maps and other details that a weather radio can't provide.
  • Radios - If the storm chasers are riding in multiple vehicles, they can use walkie-talkies to stay in contact. SkyWarn members often use ham radios to communicate their observations, so chasers will need one to listen in. CB radios can bring in info from truckers who may have experienced nearby storms. A police scanner is useful for hearing the radio traffic of emergency crews who may be preparing for or heading to the aftermath of a tornado.
  • Food and drink - A day of storm chasing means lots of time in a car. A sandwich and some coffee are pretty crucial to any chaser team's success.

On the next page, let's dive into the high-tech, expensive stuff.