Not many car dealerships host
But New Way Ford in Coon Rapids just
offered its second, featuring former KCCI TV chief meteorologist John
McLaughlin, who grew up in the area and whose family owns the
dealership, and two storm chasers.
“Severe Storm Saturday” covered
phone apps that anyone can use to follow storms in real time, as well
as the work of storm chasers who provide live storm updates “under
In addition to McLaughlin, the
presentation featured professional storm chasers Ben McMillan, a
Pella native who helped found the Iowa Storm Chasing Network and
worked as the primary storm chaser for KCCI, and Nathan Moore, who is
based in Kearney, Nebraska, and owns StormViewLive.com, which offers
live storm broadcasts.
McLaughlin discussed two phone apps,
RadarScope for iPhone, which costs $9.99, and PYKL3 Radar for
Android, which costs $11.99. They allow users to select a location
and see storms on the radar as they are happening.
A variety of information — wind
speed, velocity, debris, storm location and more — available
through the radar apps allows anyone with a smartphone to keep an eye
on weather in their area — so when they hear “thunderstorm
warning,” they can get more information about what that means for
“All this data is available on your
telephone now so you can look at it in real time,” McLaughlin said.
Typically on a weather radar, areas
that are green, or cool colors, indicate conditions that are coming
toward the radar, while areas that are red, or warm colors, indicate
conditions moving away from the radar.
The point at which the two colors meet
is where air begins to rotate — sometimes causing a tornado.
“In school talks, we say, ‘When
green meets red, get under the bed,’” McLaughlin said. “That’s
the rule of thumb.”
Radar programs also can indicate debris
that has been moved by a storm — small buildings, for instance.
“In Iowa, it could be corn, beans,
hay that’s been picked up and is spinning,” McLaughlin said.
“That’s a helpful tool, because it tells people that this is
serious. It’s not just rotation, but it’s moving debris around.
“It’s not just, ‘You’re
interrupting my show.’ It’s, ‘We’re interrupting your show
because someone’s roof is up in the air.’”
To practice with the weather apps,
McLaughlin suggested, watch radar data for active storms throughout
the country and compare what you see on your radar with warnings from
the National Weather Service. And don’t chase a storm without
plenty of information and a plan.
Iowa weather can be unpredictable,
“Our storms tend to be wrapped in
rain,” he said — and brief tornadoes or those lower to the ground
can be missed by radar. “It’s a little harder here in Iowa to
pick out storms, compared to Oklahoma or Texas.”
And radar, for all the information it
does offer, isn’t on the ground.
“That’s why we need the storm
spotters and the storm chasers, to see what’s happening when we’re
live, on the ground,” McLaughlin said. “Instead of just saying,
‘We see a tornado on the radar,’ we can say, ‘Storm spotters
have confirmed what we saw on the radar.’”
McMillan and Moore both have
professionally “chased storms” for years, passing on live film
and updates to meteorologists who include the information in live
coverage of storms.
That live coverage is unedited and can
be raw and messy.
“When a disaster hits, ratings don’t
matter anymore,” McMillan said.
Typically, professional storm chasers
have — or should have — some sort of first-aid or search
“A lot of times, we’re the first
ones on a scene,” Moore said.
That training also helps when storm
chasers are the first ones calling in emergency responders — they
can note that although a tornado hit a house, no one was in it and
there isn’t a need for 50 firetrucks, as opposed to a more serious
situation such as hospital being hit.
“Minutes count in these situations,”
If you’re just in it for the thrill
and aren’t necessarily contributing anything, reconsider — or at
least stay out of the way, McMillan said.
And when you’re on the road quite a
bit, a milkshake is a great source of quick energy, he added.
As dangerous as tornadoes can be, storm
chasers typically can avoid them, McMillan said. Other factors —
flooding in the road, other drivers, lightning — are more
unpredictable and dangerous.
And there always needs to be a backup
“It’s like a chess board,”
McMillan said. “The storm’s gonna go where it’s gonna go, and
we have to adapt. The hardest part of what I do is to know when to
stop what I do.”
Attendees at the event Saturday
received a free rain gauge. They’re welcome to set them up and
share results on the New Way Ford Facebook page, McLaughlin said.
“Just don’t make up an amount or
add your number to someone else’s to win,” he joked. “We see
that a lot in the TV business — our hail is bigger than your hail.”
He added that New
Way Ford likely will host similar weather events in the future.