Jesse Ferrell

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East Coast Storm Chasing, My Best Photos

April 29, 2010; 11:28 AM ET

We've published a story on Worldwide Storm Chasing. In it, I am quoted about East Coast chasing, which is my expertise (if I have any!). My portion is reprinted below, along with some additional comments, and what I would consider to be my best weather photos (see many more on our Photo Gallery).

AccuWeather.com Community Director and Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell chases storms in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and although he's never seen a tornado, he said there is still plenty of weather to chase. "I will jump in the car to 'chase' anything locally - even rainbows, sunsets, or snow squalls," said Ferrell.

This is an important point. Having only ever seen two funnel clouds, both times on vacation, I can't claim to be a successful storm chaser. But I don't measure success by bagging big tornadoes and ignoring the rest of the beauty of nature. If I get a good thunderstorm with an awesome cloud deck or good lightning shot, I consider my time well spent.

Northeast tornadoes have a different meteorological make up and tend to be less intense than Tornado Alley twisters.

"East Coast storms don't have the clear structure and identifying features of the super storms out West," Ferrell explained. "The terrain can cause storms to quickly flare up or completely disappear."

Ferrell also said the lack of arrangement in the roadway system in the Northeast can make tracking storms and retreating from bad situations more difficult. The mountainous terrain filled with vegetation can also make it challenging to see storms.

Ferrell says research shows that strong storms in Tornado Alley have fewer cloud-to-ground lightning strikes at the location when they unleash the most severe weather, whereas East Coast storms have deadly strikes throughout the storm.

The quote above about the lightning refers to this blog entry about why more (Plains) storm chasers are not struck by lightning.

What I meant about the road system is that it's not a matrix like in the Plains -- here roads go in pretty much random directions which makes the decision tree much harder than "go north / go west". Trees and mountains make it more difficult to photograph storms and can be dangerous because you can't see what you're driving into, and if you go too far east, you have to stop at the shore.

Sometimes I don't think Plains chasers have a healthy respect for what it is like to chase with roads like that and trees blocking the road constantly. As an example, check out this YouTube video from earlier this month where a tornado happens to form inbetween the tall trees at either side of the road. I can tell you from experience that 99% of the time that doesn't happen!

As a result, in this part of the country it's almost better to know where local vistas are ahead of time and try to setup there if you want to get a good view. Tornadoes and large hail are rare here in Central Pennsylvania so I usually have to be satisfied with photographing storm clouds, lightning and wind damage here. That said, I find these all acceptable tradeoffs for being able to chase locally, year-round without leaving the comfort of your home and family.

If you're interested in reading more, I posted an east-coast-centric blog entry last summer called "How To Chase Storms In Your Local Area". The AccuWeather.com story also features my friends Jeff Gammons who chases in Florida, Doug Kiesling who does Canada, and a quote from my friend Alexandre at METSUL in South America. We also linked back to our story featuring Mike Smith, whose book "Warnings" I will be talking more about tomorrow.

NOTE: THE J-CAM TURNS INTO THE LIVE YARDSALE CAM FRIDAY & SATURDAY!

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.