Storm Chasing in Australia.
It is a popular notion that Tornadoes do not occur in Australia or if they do that they are merely willy willy's. This not helped by the media who often describe them in reports as " a freak storm " or " mini Tornado " when in fact it was a fully-fledged Tornado. Although evidence shows that numbers in the US are higher then in Australia this numbers theory is debatable, as some of our most Tornado prone areas are sparsely populated. Tornado research in Australia is really only in it's early stages and several Storm-chaser's are now in touch with each other around Australia. I recently spoke with Barry Hanstrum of the Severe Weather branch of the WA Weather Bureau and he told me that Tornado occurrences had trebled since they started looking for them. Previously they only recorded a Tornado if someone phoned them up and reported one down. Similarly in England only 60 Tornadoes had been recorded up until 1950. But since the forming of TORRO ( a British Tornado research program ) in 1974, 400 new Tornadoes have been documented.
Most people think that they are at a greater risk of being in an earthquake in Australia then a Tornado. However only 12 people have been killed by earthquake's in Australia. While this is 12 too many the number of deaths that Tornadoes have accounted for is approx. 55 since 1918. With 15 people dying in the Sydney airport Tornado of November 30 1961. The time has arrived to take the Australian Tornado seriously.
So why chase storms?
The Tornado is arguably the most violent of all weather systems. Wind speeds inside them can reach up to 550 kph. A Tornado of this strength will not only destroy a house but it will carry all the debris away. One of these babies will pull up bitumen from a road. Cyclones are considered more destructive but this is because they do their damage over a larger area of land. However wind speeds inside them never reach those of Tornadoes. One reason I chase is because the sight of Mother Nature's most awesome force at work must be a truly incredible experience. However chasing and reporting data to the Bureau will prove to be very important in the years to come as our population grows and the risk of Tornadoes increase's in our country. On most storm chasing pages you'll see on the web you'll probably read some kind of disclaimer telling you not to chase. While I will suggest that you read and learn as much about it as possible and to chase with someone who has experience, I would encourage people to chase or at least be storm spotters in their local community.
So how do I get into storm chasing?
Well there are two ways to get involved. One is to phone your local Weather Bureau and tell them that you'd like to register as a storm spotter. They will send you some stuff on chasing, what to look for and that, plus you'll get a report every six months on all the severe weather occurrences in your state. It's worth registering with them just to find out what's happening in your state. The other way is to get out and chase yourself. But I do suggest you go to my Storm chasing links page and read up and learn all you can. If you're from WA feel free to mail us, as we are always keen to hear from people interested in severe weather. I know of some guys who chase in NSW and they can be reached through STORM NEWS. If you know what you're doing storm chasing is fairly safe, I say fairly, loosely as Tornadoes are not selective as to whom they kill. The biggest risk you run in chasing storms is being in an accident on the highway. Always take extra care on the roads when driving in or around a storm.
How realistic was Twister the movie?
Well if you've seen twister and you think that this is what chasing is like I'm sorry but it couldn't be further from the truth. Hey it's a nice movie but it's just not realistic. Most chases go for many many hours with absolutely nothing happening and you must be prepared to drive plenty of kay's. It's not uncommon for my chases to have covered over 600 km's. However this is why we chase because of the rare chance of seeing some action.
When and where is the best time to see a Tornado?
Well this depends on which state you live. The most common season is in the summer months as this when most "super cells" form. One in every two "super cells" will form a Tornado. However cold front Tornadoes are common and for example they account for most Tornadoes in the Perth and Mandurah region. Tornadoes usually occur on days of atmospheric instability. Look for large rising cumulus clouds and the presence of a high level jet stream or cirrus clouds above it. If you see a storm with an anvil top ( this looks like a flattening out of the cloud at the top of the storm ) be certain that unstable weather is about. This is a brief description and if your keen to know more check out our storm chasing links page or drops us a mail.
What should I do if I see a Tornado?
If you see a Tornado phone the local authorities first to warn them of the coming danger if property is at risk, then phone the weather bureau and let them know. If you are ever caught near a Tornado and cannot get away from it do not under any circumstances stay in your car. You have a far better chance of survival outside. In Sandon Victoria on the 13th of November 1976 a couple pulled their car off the road to avoid a Tornado. They paid the ultimate price as the car was carried 100 meters and slammed into a ditch. Both occupants were thrown from the car and the male occupant's body was found naked. Click here to see a photo of the car, compliments of the Australian Weather Bureau. The safest place is on the ground in a ditch. If you can't find a ditch get in any small depression and stay away from trees or anything else that could be a lethal projectile. If a Tornado is approaching your house, the best place is somewhere near the center of the house in a room with walls close around. Like a pantry, toilet or cupboard. If the house is totally destroyed and you can make it to the bath get in there. If you're unlucky or lucky enough ( depending on your point of view ) to be in an F-4 / F-5 Tornado pretty much wherever you are is not going to be safe.