Well, another season is upon us. So far this year is looking ominously like 1997: I waited until the bottom half of May and spectacular storms (like the EF-5 tornado that flattened Greensburg, KS) happened in the top half of May. In 1997, the atmospheric pattern fell apart, so there was nothing to chase. What’s worse is that the tour operator I signed up with neither offered to travel anyhow, nor refund my $500 deposit. I even went as far as sending the attorney general of Oklahoma after him (to no avail), as did another prospective storm tourist from New York (who was also cheated).Frown

It seems a trade-off for my rewarding job in downtown Chicago is a loss of flexibility in vacation scheduling, a definite handicap for the storm enthusiast. If I had the ability to trade vacation weeks on about a week’s notice, I would probably have more opportunities to look for the big storms. C’est la vie! If I had a job with that kind of flexibility, I might not be able to afford to chase often either. Like so much in life, we are both victors and victims of our compromises.

This year my planned chase vacation was to be a 10-day expedition with Scott Weberpal and three other chasers he invited to join us. I provide the van (and technology in the van) in exchange for a price break. I have also committed to do he lion’s share of the driving, allowing Scott to relax a bit and concentrate on forecasting and watching the sky. (I’ll watch, too, as well as form my own forecast, but Scott wll be the tie-breaker when our predictions disagree. His experience certainly justufies this approach.)

I have spent nearly every waking hour of non-work time working on getting the van and its technology in top shape. Over a hundred hours later, after much blood, sweat and tears, the van is ready to chase, and so am I. Tongue out

The communications gear is nestled in a new console, the new weather instruments are ready for the road, the broadband internet connection and laptop are working admirably, and the van had new brakes and tires ready for the open road.

Saturday (26 May 2007) looks like a day with a marginal chance to produce storms in eastern Iowa, and Scott is willing to meet me along the way, if conditions look favorable for good storms by late morning or early afternoon.

12 July 2003 – Comms/Navigation/WX Systems Cleanup

cleanup involved getting rid of unnecessary wires, rerouting the
existing wires and adding cable ties and/or Velcro to tidy things up. Everything
was torn out and set on the passenger’s seat or the dashboard. The end result looks
like the picture at thr right:

  1. Magellan Meridian Gold GPS unit
  2. Panasonic PV-DV402 digital camcorder
  3. Kenwood TH-D7 2 m/440MHz ham radio
  4. Sylvania SSC090 13 in. television
  5. Davis Weather Monitor II
  6. three-outlet, 15 amp multiplug adapter
    (a second one is not shown in the photo)
  7. RadioShack 500 channel scanner
  8. RadioShack citizens band/weather band radio (8A: radio, 8B: microphone)
  9. (not shown) Nokia 6162i cell phone

a difference! Prior to the cleanup their wires everything
is in neat bundles, and I could move the console as a whole given about 10
minutes.the two main things are:

  • I can turn everything on it once now.
  • I am not tripping over a bunch of wires and neither is anyone else.

Now I just have to clean the rest of the van!


The key technical challenge in redoing the electrical system was to properly
balanced the load between the left-hand power outlet (20 amps) and the right
hand power outlet (15 amps) in the front of a van.on several occasions ,
the onboard television was turned on and the fuse on the 15 amp circuit was
blown after about the third time this happened . I took a closer look at
the circuit diagram for the van and realized I had a 20 amp circuit right
next door.  Now the 20 amp circuit has on its the following: the onboard
television, the camcorder, and a two  outlet. adapter that powers ,
both the GPS  unit and the ham radio.the 15 amp circuit runs everything
that is mounted in the lower console: the Davis Weather Monitor to display,
the CB radio, and the 500 channel scanner.

As a matter of documenting the electrical demand in the van and also establishing
a good load balance . I diagrammed out , where everything needs to go in a separate document.

COST I  spent $22 on an assortment of fuses,though
I only replaced a single 3 amp fuse, since I managed to lose one when
one of the adapters broke open.  That little glass fuse may be somewhere
under the seats, but I’ll be darned if I can find it. This is a good general
maintenance investment, as I have no spare fuses for the van at all.  The
$22 also included four single use tubes of superglue.

TIME SPENT I spent pretty much every moment from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. (when
I lost the light of day) cleaning things up. About six hours total,
including a brief dinner break.

next challenge is figuring out how to get the laptop computer into comfortable
spot in the van and integrate the APRS software and the output of the Weather
Monitor.  The idea is to be able to take moving weather measurements
and relay those out to the Internet using the ham radio.I have not decided
whether to use the modified hospital tray(that I picked up at a garage sale)
or improvise some sort of pedestal to let the laptop . swing over the passenger
seat or over the existing center console that holds the radios and the weather

CHASE VAN SHAKEDOWN – TRIP 1 – July 3-7, 2001

CHASE VAN SHAKEDOWN – TRIP 1 – July 3-7, 2001
400+ miles, varied road conditions and terrain


From :   Bolingbrook, IL
Via:     South Bend, IN; US 33
To:      Fort Wayne, IN
Mileage: 203.3 mi
Time:    Approximately 4:28
Weather: 80-90 degrees, rain for the middle 60 miles


From :   Bolingbrook, IL
Via:     US 30; Warsaw, IN
To:      Fort Wayne, IN
Mileage: 184.8 mi
Time:    Approximately 4:35
Weather: 80-90 degrees, sunny


Major problems


Minor problems

  1. Transmission shifts a little roughly (“jumps”) around 18-22 mph during acceleration
  2. Transmission shifts a little roughly (“jumps”) around 53 mph during acceleration
  3. Engine makes a “trucklike” roar when running over 60 mph for sustained periods; fuel economy is around 27 MPG anyhow
  4. Driver’s seat slightly loose; seat rocks slightly during starting and stopping of vehicle
  5. Driver’s seat belt sticks during retraction
  6. Small ‘cats-eye’ knick near edge of windshield on passenger’s side

Other Observations

    • Observed as mileage rating exceeds EPA ratings (18/25) slightly: 18.8 city, 27.4 highway; overall for trip: 26.1 MPG
    • Approximate cost of fuel is 5.7 cents/mile (at $1.50 per gallon for 87 octane unleaded gasoline)
    • Calculated vehicle range is 528 miles, per the onboard engine/fuel computer. This is consistent with manual calculations.
    • Tire walls look very round compared to other tires I’ve driven, but this may be normal for this vehicle.
    • On previous trips, the steadiness of the weather instrument cluster has been tested up to 50 MPH.  The mounting system for the cluster is still under revision, and it will likely evolve from its current T-shape to an “H” for sturdiness at higher speeds. Both the T- and H-shaped base for the cluster strap onto the luggage rack cross members.
    • The metal pipe caps ans tees show significant rust after less than two weeks. (I thought these were galvanized!). Looks like a clean/prime/paint job will be required to fix his [cosmetic] problem.
    • I still need to find/buy/make software to tie the wind cluster and GPS together for somewhat accurate wind measurements while the van is in motion.


Provided the minor rough shifting does not indicate future transmission failure, this vehicle is ready for the open road.