Had I stuck with it, I may today be know as one of the pioneers of storm chasing...okay, that is a little extreme, but I did go after a tremendous bank of cumulonimbus clouds to photograph their development in the mid-1960s. The concept of storm-chasing, particularly to find tornadoes, was not yet well developed at that time, even among scientists. I was then very interested in studying severe thunderstorms and their offspring as a career, but during my undergraduate years at Michigan, I became sidetracked into micrometeorology and away from storm research.
I still have a deep interest in tornadoes and severe thunderstorms though I rarely ever see a lightning stroke here on Vancouver Island but it is more a bookish interest than back in my younger days. And, to be truthful, I hate driving and riding in cars for more than an hour so I am not a strong candidate for being a storm chaser.
If I had chosen my original path, the appearance of the Storm Chasing Handbook by Tim Vasquez would have been celebrated in the Weather Doctor's lair. Given the career path I did take, Storm Chasing Handbook will still earn a prominent place on my weather bookshelf next to Vasquez's other useful title Weather Forecasting Handbook.
Going into this review, I must admit that I am not as conversant on the technical aspects of tornadoes and severe convective storms as I would like to be, and thus base my review on the timeliness and usefulness of the book.
Storm Chasing Handbook is aimed particularly at the person interested in beginning the hobby of storm chasing rather than the veteran chaser, although I am sure the material in the second half of this book will make it into the kit of experienced storm chasers. Such a book is long-overdue. Vasquez provides a very good overview of what one should know and have before embarking on storm chasing. The author does not shirk from trying to discourage potential chasers, if only by stating clearly that it is not as glamorous as portrayed in the media or the movie Twister and can entail long, perhaps boring hours, for those looking for instant thrills and gratification.
In fact, the long hours spent on the road by serious chasers give rise to the second half of this book: a travel guide to the American (and a bit of Canada) Plains. I originally thought the material therein would be a section I would skim through, but Vasquez' accounts of the highways and byways of the Plains made very interesting reading. I am sure it will be invaluable to those embarking on chasing, if only to help while away the time spent on the road.
It is the first half of the book that is the most important: the set up and chase itself. Here, the Storm Chasing Handbook outlines the history and objectives of storm chasing and the pros and cons of various equipment, both needed or over-hyped. Vasquez continually reminds the reader of the ethical and safety aspects of participating in the chase, material I heartily applaud. And, Vasquez always finds time to give you a taste of the enjoyment of the chase by peppering the text with sidebars containing humorous cartoons and the author's and other skilled chasers' wisdom and experiences in the form of anecdotes, tales, and funny stories.
The core of the book deals with the science and chase strategy of convective storms. This section makes the book interesting to the sedentary "chaser" like me who might just stay at home and watch local conditions for the best opportunity to see some wild and beautiful aspects of weather. The author uses the key findings from the past four decades of scientific research and severe storm forecasting to provide the reader with a good grounding in severe weather conditions and their causes.
Like his Weather Forecasting Handbook, the Storm Chasing Handbook will likely evolve as the author receives feedback on it. He has been very good at correcting errors in the former work, and this should continue in this book. The book contains several typographical errors, though none I found was serious. The book has a website (http://www.weathergraphics.com/chasing/) where errata are to be listed.If severe convective storms are in your realm of interest, then I highly recommend the Storm Chasing Handbook, whether you intend to chase or not. The pages on severe thunderstorms and their forecasting are well worth the book's modest price.
(For excerpts from the book, go to its web page: http://www.weathergraphics.com/chasing/)
Weather Doctor's Book Review: Storm Chasing Handbook ©2003, Keith C. Heidorn, PhD. All Rights Reserved.
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