I had been eagerly anticipating this for months. Now, a dream conference had become reality. The Weather Channel (TWC) had expected 100 chasers, perhaps, to show; when the dust settled, 2.5 times that had signed up for the two day (March 10-11) conference at the Holiday Inn in Norman, OK. Great weather greeted the chasers with temperatures well into the 60's.
The conference started right at 7 PM Friday with a packed house. Hours before, many chasers had already arrived and were chatting outside the conference room and elsewhere. Finally, the doors were opened and the show began. Friday night was "video night", IE, chasers showed some of their best chase video. I can't even remember who had what anymore, since there were so many good videos. Great shots of the Andover, KS tornado, Red Rock, etc...just great stuff. Had to have been there to appreciate it! Dennis Smith introduced each chaser, and names were drawn randomly to who presented when.
After it ended at 10 PM, many mingled for hours afterwards. Matt Crowther from TWC, myself and others, went up to his room to get some weather maps; rumors were flying Sunday was a chase day. Hotel phone problems (what else?) kept us from doing so. I think he and others did eventually get through, as the conference doors became an impromptu "map room" by Sunday morning. As well as being a conference on storm chasing, it was just as equally a "networking" and "meeting" conference as well.
After a relatively sleepless night for most, it was time for the big event on Saturday. Joe Conboy from TWC gave the welcome speech, and Dennis Smith moderated from the podium for the entire day.
At 9 AM, Chuck Doswell from the National Severe Storms Laboratory gave a presentation about chaser safety. Those who had never watched Chuck speak were in for a surprise. Let's just say that Chuck is a great thinker...and he's BLUNT in how he speaks. And rightly so. Chuck gave a fantastic presentation on storm chase safety: the dangers of core punching, the most dangerous aspects of storm chasing (lightning, auto accidents, the storm itself), and the individual hazards of each. He also talked briefly about giving back to the chaser community in various ways, and warning chasers that if reckless behavior continued, there may be serious ramifications to all chasers down the road.
Storm chaser Carson Eads was next. He had a presentation on chaser equipment that he finds useful during storm chases. He presented a video of his "chasemobile"...an incredible van converted into a chaser's dream machine, and where to get the various components. His van includes a TV, a computer and two monitors, several ham radios, VCR, and weather data in real time, and more. Quite an electrician, the van carries more than 3 miles of additional cable and a 100 amp fuse to handle it all. He also carries a DSS satellite dish with a protective dome in a trailer in back of the van, to pick up The Weather Channel while he is pulled off the side of the road, or driving on a straight road (while the passengers watch, of course--he and others made a point that watching TV while driving is highly illegal and dangerous!). My impression: overkill, but if I could get it for free...
After a break, Chuck Doswell, Dave Hoadley and Jon Davies each gave excellent presentations on forecasting for the chase. I won't go into details, since there are too many. Afterwards, I gave a brief, impromptu presentation on where to get the data on the Internet, on the Storm Chaser Homepage (SCH), as well as what the SCH is about.
After lunch, Tom Grazulis, tornado historian and leader of The Tornado Project presented the "top 27 tornado videos of all time", and then launched into a presentation about tornado video history.
Next, camera techniques for chasers was presented by Tim Marshall and Randy Frostig, a videographer from TWC. Both were good...and if there's one word that you needed to get out of it if nothing else...it's TRIPOD!!!!!!
Next, Lisa Morrow and others spoke about how you can get your chase video to The Weather Channel for airing.
Alan Moller gave a presentation about Skywarn and showed some excellent slides from previous tornadoes that showed how spotters saved lives in various individual cases; his talk then focused on importance of spotting as a part of a storm chaser's responsibilities.
Martin Lisius was next from TESSA, the Texas Severe Storms Association. He presented the introduction of the new, soon to be completed "StormWatch" video, which will be an updated version of the spotter training video used by the NWS. It looked great! He also presented a "low-budget"--but very well done--video called "Beneath Stormy Skies", and he and another member of TESSA talked about the organization and how to become a member.
Next, Chuck Herring, TWC Manager of Meteorology, and Joe Conboy, TWC Vice President of Production, and Matt Crowther had a lively "Everything you wanted to ask TWC" session, from products, to radar.
Then, over the next two hours or so, the group broke up so that dinner tables could be set up in the conference room. While that was going on, a "Storm Chaser Marketplace" was ongoing; you could buy anything and everything from videos, t-shirts, etc. from various chasers and groups.
It was those two hours that was "networking time". I got tremendous feedback about my chaser page, and made great contacts and got some great ideas from other chasers. Meeting old friends and new, I was in heaven. I probably learned more in this session than most others. It was truly an enlightening experience!
Finally, dinner was served in the conference room. Afterwards, Eric Rasmussen from the National Severe Storms Laboratory and field commander of VORTEX gave a presentation on their mission, the success and failures of last season's operations, and what they learned. He showed some very dramatic images showing new things they have seen, and data they managed to get under some very dangerous conditions. A short Q&A session followed, and Dennis Smith closed the main part of the conference, to which he and TWC staff got a thunderous standing ovation!
From 9:30 to 11PM, a second video showing was made to accomodate those who couldn't get in the first time around. Then, the conference concluded.
I couldn't help but believe we'll have another one, maybe not every year, but I must give a tip of the hat to TWC for putting together one hell of a chaser conference. This was done incredibly well, at "chasers prices" (IE, cheap rooms!), and a tremendous learning experience. Chasers who missed this...no matter how experienced...truly missed out on what I believe was a very informative and educational experience they could have. If not from the presented material, then from the people you met and learned new information from. I tip my hat to Matt Crowther and TWC for making this conference a truly fantastic educational opportunity. Thanks to all involved for making that weekend a great one for myself, and no doubt...everyone else there!
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