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Security rules that apply for the Thunderstorms Chases

 
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Christophe Suarez
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Inscrit le: 18 Jan 2006
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Localisation - Location: Annecy

MessagePosté le: Mer Sep 20, 2006 20:40    Sujet du message: Security rules that apply for the Thunderstorms Chases Répondre en citant

This message is to be read and understood by all members and visitors of the thunderstorms chaser community.

Please take the time to read carefully!

The thunderstorm chaser community encounters a growing success and we really appreciate it. If some of us have quite a noticeable experience in storm chasing, several have just started this hobby. As this activity is quite unusual and dangerous, we consider vital to underline all risks encountered by storm chasers. Storm chasers and visitors must understand that thunderstorm chasing is potentially fatal, therefore we really recommend a very careful reading of the following advises and warnings. They are the result of years of experience from the best storm chasers of our community, and should be considered as the basic security rules for a safe storm chasing.

The community and the site will not be held responsible for any damage to your equipment or yourself in the case of an incident during a chase. You are considered as responsible for your own acts.


1/ How to get ready for a thunderstorm chase

Before departure
- Chasing storms is a tiring activity as it requires concentration, mind focus, you will get some adrenalin kicks, and be under a great stress: If you are tired, don’t put yourself in danger; postpone the chase and stay home.
- Inform you friends or family about your chase: when you expect to leave and be back, what is your planned route, indicate the “secret” spots where you are to potentially stay. If you are not back in time, organising and guiding the emergency team will be easier and faster.


Group Chasing
Whenever possible, chase at least with someone else. It is always more fun and reasonable to chase in pairs. Your friend will act as a co-pilot and help you watch the sky, and give you the best directions and advises. Your driving will be safer, as you will spend more time focusing on the dangers of the roads, rather than watching the sky while driving.


The minimum of items and gear you should always carry with you during a thunderstorm chase:

We recommend that you always have a bag ready to be dropped in your car, or even a safety box that you keep in your car all time (could be helpful in any extraordinary situation as snowfall to mechanical failure in remote places):

Ø Water and food for several days,

Ø Warm clothes, waterproof coat, change,

Ø Sleeping bag or blanket,

Ø Survival Blanket,

Ø Torch with extra bulb and extra battery,

Ø Mobile phone,

Ø Maps of the area and/or GPS (be aware that GPS systems may not work properly under thick clouds),

Ø Some cash, and Visa Card,

Ø Id’s, driving licence,

Ø And… most important, your video/camera gears…

Your vehicle:
You vehicle will be the most important tool in your chase. As you don’t want it to fail, it has to be perfectly maintained. You should perform on a regular basis the following checks, and especially before storms are forecasted. We insist on advising you to maintain your car in a perfect condition as you don’t want to worry about your car when chasing a storm and you will not appreciate your car to fail under heavy rain… So check the following points:

Ø Brakes,

Ø Tyres (look for pattern, scratch, and check pressure!)… Don’t forget the spare wheel!

Ø Wipers,

Ø Emergency triangle and coat (fluorescent and reflective),

Ø Ropes and recovery ladders in case you get stuck (contact an off-road accessory dealer),

Ø Some tools for regular maintenance,

Ø Check all levels (oil, washer, brakes, coolant),

Ø The tank should be topped up,

Ø It is also wise to have an additional can for fuel in the trunk.



2/ The first danger: driving the road

Always respect driving rules and signs
Even during the hardest thunderstorms, the roads are open to all drivers. It is unforgivable, illegal and highly dangerous to drive over the speed limits to reach a storm, especially since driving conditions could worsen (wet roads, low lights, strong winds, …).

We recommend you to study weather forecast, and real time lightning maps to evaluate your chances to reach a storm. It’s always better to drive safely rather than having an accident which could cause fatalities. You’ll always encounter many storms in your life, but you only have one chance to live.

Never ever forget to use the blinkers to indicate the others drivers where you intend to turn. It’s better to turn around further on the road, rather than abruptly changing direction which could cause accidents.


Keep informed.
Listen to the radio to be informed of potential roads closing, accidents, and latest weather forecasting. Never forget that radio antennas are likely to be hit by lightning. Always lower the antenna when in an active zone (lower it a maximum so that you can still hear the radio).


The rain and it’s consequences on driving
Be very cautious on wet roads, especially after a long period without rain. The first showers mix with the greasy residues on the road which becomes very slippery. The phenomenon, well know by motorcyclists is often called “summer ice” by road safety specialists. Always adapt you speed to the driving conditions.

When a road is completely submerged by water, always drive at walking speed. Never attempt to cross a ford or drive on a road with water above hubs. Never hesitate to turn around to avoid crossing too deep water; your engine could be completely ruined if it runs under water.

Ø Special notes for off road driving: 4x4 are more capable in difficult condition. Read your car manual and even take off road courses so that you know your car limits and improve your driving in severe conditions.

In a general way:

Ø Avoid Easily flooded roads,

Ø Avoid road along forests and trees (risk of lightning and falling branches due to strong winds),

Ø Keep in mind the risks of mud slides, falling rocks when you stop side hills,

Ø For the first chases, try to avoid low levels roads that could be flooded in a matter of minutes,

Ø Never ever try to cross torrents or running water (a 2” water flow could push your car in a ditch)

Ø Never hesitate to turn around to avoid crossing deep water, your engine could be completely ruined if it runs under water, or worse, your car could float away, and even drawn,

Ø Don’t think that you could manage an obstacle that other cars can cope. Dim Rosel explains : « I already saw a driver kill it’s engine because he followed two other cars that made it safely”,

Ø Some heavy traffic streets could become a trap during rush hours. Try to avoid those.

Ø Don’t drive on dirt tracks even if they look easy to drive when dry. Some dirt tracks can be challenging and even impassable even for heavy equipped 4x4 after being washed by rain storms. Krys explains: « I have seen friends and myself get stuck in tracks (that we passed dozens of time before without even noticing an obstacle) after a week of heavy rain, they became real swamps. We spent hours winching ourselves out! Never think that a track cannot change and will be the same today than it was yesterday»


Being alone: the clouds chase
Be aware that it is even more dangerous to chase alone. Any experimented chaser has lived at least one emergency steering to avoid a ditch or other cars while paying attention to the clouds instead of the road. Keep that in mind. When being alone, in order to pay attention to details or to watch the sky, stop on a parking or resting area. You’ll probably save you from a costly accident if not worse.

Stay even more focused at night, as heavy rain decrease visibility and prevent you from seeing the dangers on the road (flooded roads, branches obstacles). It is unfortunately very fast to hit a 15” deep flooded road and stall the engine. This is due to the reflection on the surface of the water by the rain, worsen by the strong lights produced by storm.

Some other dangers could occur in remote land, or in mountains, as heavy fog in summer season, running wild animals, falling objects, mud slides, falling trees or branches.

Once again, if you are a beginner, we advise you to watch the storm from a safe distance. Lightning’s are easier to watch rather on the side of the storm than in the storm it self where visibility sometimes don’t exceed 50m.


Stopping on the side of the road
You could have to stop on the side of the road. Remember that visibility is very bad during storm. Don’t park in curves or where visibility is not sufficient for other drivers. Eventually use your emergency signs to signal your presence (warnings, emergency triangle and coat).


Being tired
We will never insist enough on this point. If you are tired and not completely wealthy, cancel your storm chase. And after the chase, when the adrenaline kick disappears, don’t fight against sleepiness. A 15 mns nap in your car will allow you to safely drive the 200kms home.


3/ The LW radio: A very cheap but useful tool for thunderstorm chasing.

A lot of you may know that radios can do more than receiving the latest news and weather forecasts. A portable radio receiving long waves could be a very precious striking prevention system. You all know that lightning’s generate electromagnetic and electrostatics perturbations during the cracking of the dielectrics that is humid air. Those can be heard as cracking noises on a long wave radio receiver (tuned between 150 and 300 khz). These noises can be heard sometimes at several hundred kms from their source. Of course this is hardly usable, except maybe to inform us about the strength of remote storms.

Less known is the ability of our small radio to inform us about a close and imminent striking.

Thinking about the physical principles of the several sequences of a lightning, we can highlight:

When tracers occur, trying to find the best path to rebalance the electric charges between clouds and ground using back flash, air is ionised due to the extreme electric potential difference that exist between the negative and positive poles (clouds and/or ground).

This ionisation produces a real electromagnetic chaos resulting in a kind of very strong and intense crackling in the radio. These crackling as they get louder and louder are the signs of an imminent impact in the zone you are: this implies of course that you have to get away immediately from the zone.

What to do:
Use preferably a radio without antenna, use the car radio to listen to local FM radios, which is anyway not sensitive enough to listen to lightning’s. Tune your radio between two radio frequencies, so that you only hear white noise. During a storm you will hear the distant cracks due to lightnings. But if the noise becomes a constant crackle getting louder and louder, move away from the place you are: because you are in a real danger.

Always carry a small radio, so that you can enjoy the electromagnetic sounds of thunder storms, but it is also a good alert if you walk away from your vehicle, you will know when it’s time to run back to your car and move away.

Of course, don’t only trust this tool, consider it as an additional tool in your chasing toolbox. We would like you to firstly understand the principles of a storms, it’s potential dangers, and to take into account the physical damages that could result in being hit by a lightning therefore place yourself in a safe place at first.


4/ Hail Storm

Thunder storms often lead to hail storms. Hail can turn a normal road into a two inch thick ice layer. Moreover, the speed and size of hail could cause very serious damages to roofing, glass, windshield, and could hurt you badly. It is possible to see hail from a far distance as it creates heavy curtains under storm clouds. Hail is a danger in itself for the thunderstorm chasers.


5/ Lightning

Lightning causes various very serious accidents, and is unfortunately hardly predictable. Some advises could help you stay safe during a chase:

Ø Stay close to your vehicle. It is the safest place to stay in during a chase. Be aware that a car is not the absolute protection. Some have witnessed vehicles hit by lightning. This could result in serious damage to your vehicle, but worse, you could be seriously harmed (some sequels are irreversible). Remember that in some cases (especially during flooding), cars could become a deadly trap.

Ø Try to avoid being the highest element or near to the highest element of an area. Avoid staying close to trees, power lines, …

Ø It is considered that the risk zone around an active storm is 10 kms. This means that if thunder is be heard less than 30 seconds after lightning, you are potentially in the risk zone, and lightning could strike anytime.

Ø A lightning should strike in a short period of time, several signs can sometimes be felt, like raised hair, or when seeing plasmatic glow in the air. An experimented thunderstorm chaser will never wait for these signs to put himself under cover.

Ø The raining front line of a thunderstorm is often the more active (talking about lightning) part of the storm. When the first showers occur, don’t wait to go back to your vehicle.

Ø Some positive lightnings may occur not only during summer. They are very dangerous as there are no signs before striking, as summer storms that can be heard 10kms from the place you will stand. Moreover, cumulonimbus clouds can hide in the other shapes clouds making it very difficult to anticipate a lightning that can be very powerful.

Ø During a chase, try to foresee the storm direction and speed, to know if it will reach you. If this case, don’t wait for the last moments to move away from the storm and stay safe.

Ø Even if it has not been officially proved for now, several witnessed major burnings and injuries when using cell phone during a thunderstorm. In a matter to reduce risks, shut your telephone down if you are in an active area, or at least don’t use your telephone outside of your car.


6/ Wind

Squall fronts (microburst) should not be underestimated. Strong winds can lift any object and make it a deadly missile. When the front gets closer try to find a safe place where you can shelter from flying objects.

An air mass looking like a whirl could become a tornado, don’t wait for the last minute to shelter.


7/ Particular thunderstorms : V-Notch thunderstorms

Not to be too technical, all you have to know is that those huge thunderstorms are characterized by a “V” shape, an extreme violence, mass of rains, and very often tornadoes and heavy hail. They are often to be seen in the south of France, an area witch is very likely to be flooded. In a matter of minutes, mud slices and flash floods occur, destroying everything on their way. It is always very dangerous to be trapped under this type of thunderstorm.

Therefore, chasing them is not recommended to the beginners. Only experimented chasers have enough experience about the geography of the area, and the nature of the storm to drive you safely. Why don’t you join one of our team?

Jean Sebastien Blanc, one of the most experienced V-Notch thunderstorms chaser explains it’s own secrets:
" One of the key to safety during the chase of those storms, which are shaped in « V » is to try to remain at a sufficient distance of it, especially trying to stay at the South of the V shape ; of course, anyone would like to stay as close as possible for the best observation. Trying to get closer to the storm requires a very good knowledge about the place where you lead to. I personally avoid roads and places that could potentially be flooded. Keep in mind that flash flood can hit your car very quickly, and the latter could be taken away in the river bed in less than a minute. Moreover, once I am in the storm it self, I try to reach a high point so that I get the best view without putting my car and myself in danger (remember that I always carry something to drink and eat with me). Sometimes, heavy rain pouring on dry roads or dirt tracks worries me, and I always analyse if the place will be safe enough for me to drive back home. I often rather drive away from rain and move along the east/south-east side of the storm staying dry (always better for the pictures).

Talking about taking pictures, depending on the storms, the V-Notch thunderstorms front can vary a lot (as my approach technique). Sometimes the front is very accurate and very active, making it very easy to chase if not too fast. In contrast, some other storms are more like several sub-storms that follow the same route and hit the same area regularly. It makes it more difficult to really spot the limits of the storm, increasing the risk to be trapped under it. I rather take my time to approach the V-Notch thunderstorms rather than taking too many risks. My advise to you is to always try to stay a bit away from the active area giving you a better angle of view on the storm, and don’t hesitate to often drive back in a south east direction as soon as the core of the storm reaches the place you are (if the storm moves, of course!)


Dim Rosel adds:
"The best position to watch V-Notch thunderstorms is the point of the V, but, never try to cross the storm itself to reach the point of it, especially if storms have been active for several hours, you are sure to be stuck in traffic jams, or worse get stuck in flooded areas without the possibility to make a U-turn (that happened to me in 2002).

Never ever underestimate lightning! Even if you are in the core of the storm, keep in mind that the storms of this area (south of France) are not storms like the others, and that they require a good experience to approach them safely, especially if you are not comfortable with the area (roads, ways, altitudes, …). It always better to take the time to evaluate risks than put yourself in danger. Keep in mind that it is not possible to take any pictures under a storm due to heavy rain, fog, traffic, blocked roads etc. Is it worth getting so close to it? And all this is what we have to endure being thunderstorm chasers. In two words : STAY SAFE !”


As a conclusion, we would like once again that you understand that violence of thunderstorm should never be underestimated. Especially if you are a beginner, contact experienced chasers on the site (we are all over Europe). Don’t take too many risks too fast. We would like you to enjoy this hobby, and not turn an adventure into a catastrophe. Then take your time to get experience step by step, and always respect safety rules.


We hope you’ll enjoy your chases,



For the community, Christophe Suarez and Daniel Verschueren, with the help of JS Blanc, Dean Gil, Philippe Talleu and Dimitri Rosel. Translation from French by Krys.
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