By Jacquelyn Lewis
This year, storm season in the United States was a particularly active one, with more than 1,000 twisters and countless storms that churned, crashed and flashed across the country. But not everyone in Tornado Alley—roughly defined as the vast landscape between the Rockies and Appalachian Mountains—was running away. Some weather-crazy storm chasers actually rushed toward Mother Nature's worst, clamoring to get an up close and personal look at the pulse-pounding action.
“There are a lot of adrenaline junkies out there,” says Roger Hill, a Denver-based storm chaser of more than 22 years. “A lot of people are just fascinated by severe weather.” He should know—for more than 11 years, he has been leading groups of them on storm-chasing vacations organized by Silver Lining Tours, a company he co-owns with fellow chaser David Gold.
Silver Lining is one of several companies that, for a few thousand dollars, will take you on the ride of your life, tailing twisters and tempests through Tornado Alley in a vehicle equipped with high-tech equipment. You'll get closer to the action than you ever could—or should—on your own.
Hill has seen interest in storm-chasing vacations explode over the past few years, with weather junkies from all walks of life—and from all over the world—signing on. In fact, if you want to join a 2009 tour, you’ll need to sign up now, as most companies’ offerings are filling up fast. If you’re new to the experience, prepare to be awed, especially the moment you see a tornado from less than a mile or two away.
“You can hear the roar, you can feel some of the wind, and you can see the debris flying,” Hill says. “The first time you see a big, violent tornado up close, it’s a life-changing experience. The power is amazing.”
Though it sounds scary, it's clearly not enough to scare away customers. Gregg Potter, lead meteorologist and president of F5! Storm Chasing Safaris, says at least half of that company’s business comes from repeat customers. “Some people come back for a sixth, even a seventh or eighth time.”
Tours range from a few days to a few weeks, and cater to a variety of interests. If you’re really curious about how wild weather forms, for example, you can take an educational storm vacation, such as Silver Lining’s Northlands Lecture Tour or Tempest Tours’ F5 Classroom Tour. Almost all storm tours include a little education on weather and chasing storms, but these go more in-depth, with detailed lessons and workbooks in addition to actual storm chasing.
What's the fun of seeing a tornado if you can't prove you were there? Shutterbug storm chasers should sign up for a photo tour that focuses on photography and includes expert instruction from professional weather photographers. If comfort is your main concern, F5! Storm Chasing Safaris offers luxury storm tours with smaller groups and cushy Suburban SUVs. And if your schedule is flexible and you like to fly by the seat of your pants, several companies have an on-call option, where customers sign up to be notified of last-minute mini-chases via email, just a few days before a storm is set to hit. In addition, some companies can arrange private, custom excursions upon request. The price tag for any tour usually covers the vehicle, guide and hotels, but not airfare or food.
While increasingly sophisticated technology such as mobile broadband internet and satellite radio has heightened tour guides’ ability to find the best storms, not all groups get to see a tornado. Roughly speaking, you have a 50 to 70 percent chance of encountering a twister, say the tour operators. “You might have one tour that sees 10 and the next might not see any,” Potter says.
Increase your odds by booking your trip during prime tornado time (May and June), taking longer expeditions and researching potential tour companies beforehand. You can also head to Canada and even Australia, where storm-chasing vacations are also on the rise. But there’s no guarantee—after all, unpredictability is one of the things that makes the tours exciting in the first place.
What you can count on is meeting new people, taking in gorgeous landscapes and experiencing some killer weather systems up-close. Virtually all witness some kind of severe weather, and most get to see the biggest, baddest supercell thunderstorms—the kind that can produce baseball-sized hail and 80-mile-an-hour winds.
“Everyone wants to see a tornado,” Hill says. “It’s the ultimate prize, but it should be the icing on the cake.”
New services include a severe weather alert product, ZIP code-specific weather information during the popular "Local on the 8s" segments, a "Local on Demand" TV service available while watching TWC and through the newly designed DIRECTV ACTIVE(TM) portal. The new interactive local weather services, which launched earlier this month on DIRECTV, include:-- Alert Ticker - For certain severe weather conditions, TWC viewers will see the Alert Ticker appear at the bottom of their screen. This ticker will give them information on the current weather alert(s) and provide a link to the "Local On Demand" application to get more information.
-- "Local on the 8s" Application - DIRECTV viewers of The Weather Channel can now view the popular "Local on the 8s" segments for their specific locale. Presented six times each hour at :08, :18, :28, :38, :48 and :58 minutes past the top of the hour on The Weather Channel (not yet available on TWC HD), viewers can see current conditions, radar maps, details for the day's forecast and the seven-day forecast automatically for their local area. This content is presented with the iconic "Local on the 8s" jazz soundtrack.
-- "Local On Demand" Application - While watching TWC, DIRECTV viewers can access a menu of interactive weather features for their ZIP code including current conditions, the five-day forecast, regional radar maps, weather alerts and weather for up to five other cities they can 'save' as favorites - all while continuing to watch live TWC programming on the same screen. Additionally, DIRECTV customers will be able to access localized weather information for more than 40,000 ZIP code locations across the United States.
-- DIRECTV ACTIVE(TM) Application - The Weather Channel is now the featured provider of weather content on the newly designed DIRECTV ACTIVE portal providing similar weather information detailed in the "Local On Demand" application. Viewers can access this application by pressing the ACTIVE button on the remote.
"Working with partners to provide up to the minute localized weather content through new technologies has been a hallmark of The Weather Channel," said Becky Powhatan, executive vice president of distribution and business affairs and general counsel for The Weather Channel. "DIRECTV and its cutting edge applications are a natural fit for TWC, and DIRECTV viewers will reap the benefit, gaining access to the relevant weather information - including severe weather alerts -- on TWC during 'Local on the 8s,' 'Local On Demand,' or through the DIRECTV ACTIVE portal."
"DIRECTV has made a commitment to our customers to help them be better prepared for a weather emergency," said Eric Shanks, executive vice president, DIRECTV Entertainment. "Providing this new alert product plus the ability to pull up a variety of local on demand weather information from The Weather Channel are ways we hope to deliver on that commitment."
About The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel, a 24-hour weather network, is seen in more than 98 million U.S. households. The Weather Channel reaches more than 38 million unique users online per month through weather.com and products including The Weather Channel Desktop making it the most popular source of online weather, news and information according to Nielsen//Net Ratings. The Weather Channel also operates The Weather Channel HD; Weatherscan, a 24-hour, all-local weather network; The Weather Channel Radio Network, The Weather Channel Newspaper Services, and is the leading weather information provider for emerging technologies. This includes broadband and interactive television applications and wireless weather products including the most popular content site on the Mobile Web. In September 2008, The Weather Channel Companies were purchased by a consortium made up of NBC Universal and the private equity firms The Blackstone Group and Bain Capital. For more information, visit www.weather.com/press.MARITIME NOTE
3 Brits saved by RNLI's new satellite system
|The lives of three UK fishermen have been saved thanks to the RNLI's new and unique MOB Guardian man overboard and vessel locater alert system. This is the first time that the system has demonstrated its full effectiveness in helping to save lives in a real emergency situation.|
The RNLI Operations Room in Poole, Dorset received a vessel overdue alert off Sark at 18:00, 24 June. After verification the alert was transferred to the agencies responsible for coordinating maritime search and rescue - first to Falmouth Coastguard, who then passed it to the Channel Islands Search and Rescue authority. The RNLI St Peter Port lifeboat from Guernsey was then tasked to search for the missing fishing vessel, Guyona.
Using the last MOB Guardian verified position and taking into account weather and tides, the RNLI lifeboat worked out the likely position of the fishing vessel. At the time the lifeboat was on exercise only 12 miles away from the predicted position and the fishermen were located in a liferaft at 18:50, 25 minutes after the lifeboat was alerted.
The MOB Guardian system, which has been developed by the RNLI gives an early alert to an emergency, helps reduce search time and provides the rescuers with an up to date position for the vessel or man overboard by satellite. It means search and rescue agencies including RNLI volunteer crews on lifeboats don't have to start a search with little or no information about the location of the casualty. If a single-handed fisherman falls over the side of their vessel the system will automatically alert search and rescue agencies and can also shut down the boats engine remotely.
A fob can also be worn incorporating a panic button, so should a crewmember become ill or caught in machinery, they can easily request help. The system is confidential so location information about a particular vessel is not available publicly.