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News Chat

Jeff Gammons, storm chaser

A chat about chasing hurricanes

September 16, 1999
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- The following is an edited transcript of our Hurricane Chat with Jeff Gammons, storm chaser with the Weathervine Storm Intercept Team. He joined us on Thursday, September 16th. CNN.com provided a typist for him.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Jeff Gammons.

Jeff Gammons: Good afternoon, everyone.

Chat Moderator: Tell us about your background.

Jeff Gammons: I am a storm chaser living in West Palm Beach, Florida. Currently, I am on my ninth year of storm chasing and intercepting hurricanes. My fascination with severe weather started after Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which was in the Caribbean. My fascination grew after I educated myself through books and met people who were involved in meteorology and severe weather.

Currently, I chase every spring in the Great Plains. During the summer months, I intercept hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the U.S.

Question from Candyce: What do you mean by intercept?

Jeff Gammons: We determine where the eye is likely to come ashore or we skirt the coast. Once we have determined a target area, we move our team into the area and survey it. Usually the target area will shift as the storm shifts. You usually need to be well ahead of the storm to set up. For instance, with Dennis two weeks ago, our first target area was the Charleston area. Then our target area shifted north to Moorehead where we thought that Dennis' eyewall would be closest to the coast. Our target area turned out to be perfect because we actually received the highest velocity winds at Moorehead City.

Question from Pace: Is there anything that can compare with being in the eye of a hurricane? I'm certain there is nothing that can match the adrenaline rush...

Jeff Gammons: So far, no. I really can't think of anything that would compare. The sound and the atmosphere is really, how do I word this, it is really unique.

Question from Larry: Are you involved with the Weather Information Network?

Jeff Gammons: Yes, I am. On the Weather Information Network, we do updates on the Internet during our chases. We do audio updates for people who follow us while we are on our chases.

Question from Candyce: Have you ever been scared? Or gone too far?

Jeff Gammons: Yes, I have. I would have to say that going to the coastline –- actually, to the beach -- would have to be one of my scariest moments. As the eyewall comes onshore, there is a large storm surge that comes with it.

I would also have to say that another scary moment happened this past year in Texas. A supercell thunderstorm was producing small funnel clouds very close to where we were taking pictures. This put us in severe danger because there was only one road leading away from the storm. The storm was traveling northeast and the road traveled northeast, so it put us in a big dilemma.

Question from mbro: What kind of machine do you use to get in there?

Jeff Gammons: My partner and I have a Chevy Blazer equipped with ham radio equipment, GPS unit, and a laptop computer. Also, we have DSS (satellite TV), citizen band radio, and also a large selection of weather instruments to track data.

Question from Nick: How does one become a storm chaser?

Jeff Gammons: Usually, to become a storm chaser you have to be devoted to learning the atmosphere. You also need to be able to withstand the traveling time; there is a lot of traveling time involved.

The best advice I would give is to study as much as you can about meteorology before intercepting any type of storm. You must educate yourself in the field, work with experienced people, and you can find experienced people on the Internet.

Question from Pace: Are there ever incidents where amateur storm chasers either get in your way or get themselves hurt chasing storms?

Jeff Gammons: Yes. There are several times that I have been followed traveling through a town. It turns out some of these people will follow you very close, which endangers you as well as them. When that happens, it is very hard to pay attention to the road and the storm while trying to pay attention to who is on your tail or who is behind you.

Question from Gavin: Do you remember Belle in '76?

Jeff Gammons: I do not. I was only two years old then. I am 25-and-a-half, so that was a bit before my time chasing storms.

Question from Pace: How accurate was the movie ‘Twister,’ as far as the behavior of tornadoes?

Jeff Gammons: I would say it was Hollywood.

Question from Maeve: When trying to intercept a hurricane, do you study the major computer models yourself or depend on the official forecast?

Jeff Gammons: No. A lot of personal forecasting is involved. I take into consideration official forecasts, my own, and other people's opinions.

I use many of the major models. Satellite interpretation is a very important tool. Also, I would have to say that every chase involves many days of forecasting and planning.

Question from Cathyy: Any path projections for Gert? Will cooler weather fronts keep it out of the Gulf?

Jeff Gammons: I believe that Gert is going to be an open-sea storm. There is an upper level low that is centered off Bermuda. This will influence a drift to the north. Also, the ridge that is to the north of Gert has a weakness, which will allow Gert to take a more northerly track in the next day or two.

Question from Pace: Do you receive government funding to chase storms?

Jeff Gammons: We wish. All of our chases are personally funded. Everyone on my team works a regular nine-to-five job.

Question from Racer_X: Do you think we'll be seeing more category-four hurricanes than ever with current ocean conditions?

Jeff Gammons: I am not sure. I have not done any long-term past climatology studies to determine or study the current ocean conditions. That is rather out of my area of expertise

Question from Pace: Is there any way to predict where a hurricane will form?

Jeff Gammons: There are many signs. Usually, it takes place between June and November. You will have thunderstorms that wrap around low-pressure systems in the tropical zones of the Atlantic and Caribbean. A lot of tropical systems can be identified in the early stages by satellite interpretation.

Question from Gavin: Do you think there will still be an eye when Floyd reaches NYC?

Jeff Gammons: I do not. I believe the eyewall will be closed.

Question from Cathyy: Do you submit your private storm data for public use, and vice versa? Does NOAA, etc., provide access to you for their data? Is it mutual cooperation or one way?

Jeff Gammons: I have submitted it in the past. The data would be video data. That is used to determine certain structures in the wind. Also, everyone involved with our team is a skywarn spotter. We do record surface observations during the storm.

Question from Gator: Don't we need a different way to measure hurricanes rather than only wind speed?

Jeff Gammons: Before they can actually fly recon planes into a hurricane they estimate minimal pressure, wind speed, and forward movement by satellite. Storms have a certain characteristic look to them on satellite.

Question from Cathyy: Are you considered a rogue amateur by the established weather experts or do they welcome your input? I am wondering how productive it is for weather study to be strictly in the hands of the Fed ...competition is healthy.

Jeff Gammons: I am considered an amateur, but I do have people ask me for data. I would still say that I am an amateur forecaster and professional storm chaser. Professional forecasters do welcome my input.

Chat Moderator: What has been your best experience storm chasing?

Jeff Gammons: I would have to say my best experience is meeting all the people as I go through the little towns while storm chasing.

Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts?

Jeff Gammons:: If anyone is seriously interested in becoming a storm chaser or severe weather spotter, it is very important to educate yourself about severe weather. And always remember that safety comes first.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today!

Jeff Gammons:: Thank you to everyone who asked questions and joined. You are welcome to visit my site for the latest images throughout the year. The site is http://www.weathervine.com/


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