Update 18 May 2014

As part of our efforts to improve linkages between storm chasers and scientists, our project team is pleased to present our Recommendations for Optimizing Storm Chase Data Collection to Serve Scientific Research.  The detailed chase accounts provided by El Reno Survey participants has provided the basis for many of the items listed.  We may update this list periodically, incorporating feedback received from both chasers and researchers, as well as new findings as our analysis of project data proceeds. We thank our large list of contributors for sharing their El Reno chase experiences and data resources. We are also grateful to Roger Edwards, Rich Thompson, Dr. Robin Tanamachi and Jon Davies — colleagues with deep experience  as both chasers and researchers — who kindly reviewed the document for us and provided valuable feedback and suggestions.

Meanwhile, involvement in the project continues to grow. As the one year anniversary of the El Reno Storm approaches, our participant count is now up to 77, as shown on our updated list of contributors.  We continue to accept new survey participants, so hope that those who have been intending to do so follow through by submitting our online registration form

Wishing all chasers a safe and enjoyable spring season out on the plains,
Anton, John, Elke David and Tracie

Data Collection Recommendations

Recommendations for Optimizing Storm Chase Data Collection to Serve Scientific Research

Past scientific efforts to research tornadoes have benefited significantly from data contributions by storm chasers. The El Reno Survey project team has developed the following set of guidelines for storm chasers on data collection and documentation practices, based on what has been learned from analysis of imagery and data collected by chasers during the 31 May 2013 El Reno tornado. The purpose of these recommendations is to offer advice to motivated storm chasers on how to optimize data collection to support scientific studies. Chasers can contribute to academic research on future storms by incorporating as many of these measures as possible into their field activities. Doing so may also yield a more complete and organized archive of materials from each of your chases, and it doesn’t require much extra time. The basis for these recommendations comes from the El Reno team’s collective experience as chaser-researchers, and many lessons learned during our analysis of materials provided to our project by dozens of El Reno chasers. We have also polled several expert chaser-researchers for their inputs and suggestions.

BEFORE the chase:

  1. Set accurate time (to the nearest second, if possible) on clocks and all electronics with time-tagged recording. This includes dashboard clocks, video and still cameras, weather instrumentation on your vehicles and laptop computers.  Check that cell phones and tablets are properly synchronized as well. Bookmark this page to ensure you can get accurate time whenever you are online.
  2. Clean both interior and exterior sides of all windows on your vehicle, and check that windshield wipers wipe cleanly without leaving streaks. Apply Rain-X to minimize the need for wipers.
  3. Free up memory on computers, cards and camera hard drives.
  4. For chasers using video: We found that the best visual documentation came from chasers running mounted cameras continuously (rooftop and dash-mounted GoPro cameras give excellent results) supplemented by footage from a second camera used for zoomed sequences and panning.
  5. If possible, turn off the autofocus function on your video camera and set to infinity as your default.
  6. Pack a tripod and/or other mounts for your camera(s), and use them as much as possible for steadiness and sharpness of imagery.
  7. Ensure you have a means of recording your driving route. If using GPS, turn on the logging function. Another method is to make voice recordings, documenting road navigation while running video. Notes written on paper maps, post-it notes or a scrap pad can also suffice – the aim is to record location and time together.
  8. If running weather instruments, try to have a means of logging observations electronically at a frequency of once per second, if possible, or at least once per minute.
  9. Create a folder on your computer, named by the date and chase location, for consolidating all of your materials; many chasers already have their own systems for archiving materials.

DURING the chase:

  1. While filming a storm, re-check that focus is set on infinity and autofocus is OFF.
  2. Use tripods and camera mounts whenever possible, especially for video. If no mount is available, make efforts to minimize camera motion. Resting the camera on a fencepost or roof of your vehicle can be fairly stable; however, keep aware of lightning hazards. (i.e., don’t be the highest point around, or near a tall lightning attractor; and don’t place that aluminum-legged tripod on the wet ground with cloud-to-ground flashes nearby.)
  3. If possible, geo-tag all images and video with GPS coordinates.
  4. If possible, set your camera on a moderate wide-angle or normal focal length, rather than zoomed-in, unless the storm/mesocyclone is at some distance, or if there is a feature of particular interest.
    • When filming mesocyclones, moderate wide-angle views from mounted cameras generally give the best results, and are most useful for creating time-lapses.
    • Ultra-wide angle views (a popular option with GoPro cameras) have reduced utility for research purposes, due to their severe distortion creating a fish-bowl perspective.
    • For reference, on the GoPro Hero 3 camera, the focal length equivalent for the field of view (FOV) options are as follows: Wide FOV – 14mm; Medium FOV – 21mm; Narrow FOV – 28mm.
  5. While running sequences of zoomed-in video, pan out to wide angle occasionally to capture the broader storm structure.
  6. Incline your camera upward, so that only the lower 20% of the field of view is at ground level. Keeping some ground features in the foreground is important for fixing filming locations.
  7. Whenever possible, make oral notes at the start of each video sequence, giving time, estimated location and view direction. Example: “6:12 pm, we are parked a quarter mile south of the intersection of Smith Street and Road 15, looking southwest at a developing mesocyclone.” Do this for all video cameras used during your chase.
  8. If running mounted video while driving, or if a passenger is performing hand-held filming, make notes on the audio track to document driving route changes. Example: “It’s 6:23, we are turning right from Route 62 onto Osborn Rd.
  9. If you have sufficient camera memory available, when in a storm situation run video as continuously as possible, even if you place it on the car seat while repositioning to a new location. Setting the camera in a dash-cam mount is preferable. Even with a limited sky view, a running camera may record your in-car conversations, the time of lightning flashes and thunder, and provide inference on driving speed and stops at intersections – all of which could be valuable in post-analysis.
  10. Remember to use windshield wipers only when necessary, and to lower the volume on car radios, etc., to improve audio quality recorded on video.
  11. Whenever you observe a cloud-to-ground lightning flash, call out “CG” for the audio track on video and give the estimated direction relative to your location. We have found that CG flashes are an optimal means of synchronizing videos that lack time calibration. Usually, only a fraction of the CG flashes you note visually will be captured within your camera’s field of view, so the oral notations offer additional confirmation.
  12. Make similar oral notes for hail occurrences, noting the hailstone size. When possible, take photographs of large hailstones alongside objects of known size; carry coins, a golf ball, baseball, softball and a short ruler in your chase kit for this purpose.
  13. GoPro and similar fixed-zoom sports/action cameras give results superior to many conventional video cameras and are excellent sources of scientific-quality imagery.  As stated above, however, the widest field of view diminishes scientific utility due to high distortion.

AFTER the chase:

  1. Document as much as possible, as soon as possible. Memories fade fast!
  2. Same day:
  • If you have not done so already: create a folder on your computer, named by the date and chase location, for consolidating all of your materials.
  • Copy all video files, still images, GPS logs, screen grabs of radar, meteorological observations recorded, etc. to the folder.

Example of a logical file name for convenient indexing: “20130531_El Reno_Oklahoma”

  • Back up your chase folder by burning a DVD, copying to an external drive and/or uploading to your preferred cloud data storage resource. Doing so will allow you to clear memory cards for your next chase.
  1. As soon as possible, post-chase:
  • Type up notes to document the chase route, including rural roads and locations of stops, storm evolution and events witnessed, persons encountered, and so on.
  • There are many fine examples of what can be considered to be “good” chase documentation on personal blogs.  See here (Bill Reid), here (John Allen) and here (Dave Lewison) for examples of thorough chase documentation from some of our El Reno Survey participants.

Our team would like to thank Roger Edwards, Robin Tanamachi, Rich Thompson, and Jon Davies  for their reviews and inputs.

We plan to update these recommendations periodically based upon feedback received and new lessons learned. We will also prepare similar recommendations for researchers interested in working with crowd-sourced data.

Your chase data may turn out to be valuable to the scientific community!  We appreciate your help!

68 and counting!

Update 9 April 2014 — 68 and counting!

The El Reno Survey has doubled the number of participants since our December update and now counts 68 registered contributors. This outstanding level of participation has yielded our project a huge and still growing trove of informational resources. We are pleased to recognize our contributors on a new page on this website showing the current list of survey participants shown in alphabetical order. We have included links for those participants with their own El Reno Storm websites and/or video and photo sites. This list will be updated periodically as new participants come forth and contribute to the survey.
Our team spent much of the winter compiling and analyzing the participants’ materials for our building project database while also increasing outreach efforts to both the chaser and academic research communities. We remotely presented a short Powerpoint show to the Texas Severe Storms Association annual meeting in early February. The following week, at ChaserCon in Denver, David Hoadley was the sole representative for our team while John Allen and Anton Seimon were snowed-in back in New York, unfortunately. However, thanks to the generous assistance of survey contributor Chris Novy, we were able to share a 12-minute narrated slide show to the ChaserCon audience and others far afield via a live stream (the live stream had some drop-outs, so we will post a better version online here on the project website.)   Finally, in the first of several academic talks and conference appearances we expect to make this year, in early March Anton gave an invited presentation to the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the State University of New York at Albany .
Up until now, the emphasis of project activities has been on data collection and compilation. We will continue efforts to gain the participation of other El Reno chasers and make our database as complete as possible.  As we move ahead into the new spring season, we will begin focusing attention on product generation. The coming months should see many results come forth from these efforts, with results posted here and announced periodically on social media.  Two new web pages to be posted soon are a Frequently Asked Questions page, and Recommendations for improving storm chase documentation to serve scientific purposes.  This is part of our vision to broaden the existing community of chasers informing science, and to encourage the adoption of a handful of easy-to-apply procedures that could improve the scientific value that can be derived by visual materials collected by chasers.
We thank our contributors for their respective contributions to this exciting project, and wish the storm chase community a safe and successful season out on the plains this spring.
Anton, John, Elke, David & Tracie

Update 15 Dec 13

We have survey responses now from 34 El Reno chasers, containing a good mix of chaser types that falls along the lines of the following general categories:

  •  Scientists and NOAA personnel (6);
  •  Veteran chasers (6);
  •  Mainstream chasers & photographers (13);
  •  Chase tour operators and participants (5);
  •  Chasers from abroad (3), and
  •  Newcomers to chasing (1).

Of course, some individuals fit multiple categories.  From internet searches and word of mouth references, we have compiled a list of 250 individual chasers or chase groups, who observed the El Reno storm. We have begun reaching out to many of these persons, inviting them to participate in our survey and contribute to the growing database. Want to know if your name is already on our list? Just send us an email and we’ll let you know.

The El Reno Survey will be featured on the WeatherBrains  webcast with James Spann and his panel of experts on Monday night, December 16th. The broadcast will begin at 9:30 pm EST, and Anton Seimon will be a guest panelist. Eric Fisher will go until 9:50 EST, then Anton will go on at 10:30. The direct link for following the show live is www.live.bigbrainsmedia.com   The show should be available thereafter as podcast 412 on the WeatherBrains channel on YouTube (will add link when available).  Our invitation for this interview is largely thanks to the strong support for the project expressed by SPC senior forecaster Roger Edwards, who was a WeatherBrains guest himself back on December 2nd.

Our website now features profiles of our team members and a donation page for those wishing to support the project work.

We warmly thank all who have responded to the survey and many others who have expressed support for the project.

Update 24 Nov 13

Here is an update on the El Reno Survey project. We have had a modest but highly supportive response so far to our initial solicitation. Twenty individual chasers or chase groups have now submitted survey forms while several others have promised to send theirs in soon. Notably, all respondents have offered to make their video and/or still imagery available to the project database. We thought we might offer an overview of our methods for using storm imagery taken with often-unknown time and location characteristics, and placing it in a framework suitable for research applications. [Read more…]