Equipment

Chase Equipment:

CURRENT VEHICLE: 2014 Ford Police Interceptor Utility

Note: I am extremely disappointed in the Jeep (see more below) It gets GREAT gas mileage, but has suffered major engine problems (cracked cylinder head), COMPLETE transmission failure (requiring a new transmission, thank goodness under warranty) and a failed coil pack ($400) before it even saw 85,000 miles. Never again, Jeep. Never again.

So I bought a 2014 Ford Police Interceptor Utility. It was a former Sheriff’s vehicle, and had just short of 100,000 miles. 
So Whyyyyyy buy a beat up former police SUV? Lemme educate ya 🙂

To begin with, the dealer I bought the lease return from was the dealer who bought the original vehicle and leased it to the Sioux County sheriff’s department, and they did all the maintenance for county vehicles. When I asked when the brake pads were last replaced, they said “brakes were at 35 percent so we replaced them for you, and put on 4 new tires”. 

So about that Police Interceptor Utility:
1. High output alternator capable of charging a LOT of stuff, even at idle.
2. Rear impact braces, intended to protect the vehicle from rear impact at up to 70mph.
3. Tow hook in rear.
4. Gear shifter is on the steering column, freeing up console space.
5. Rear-view camera appears in the rear-view mirror, rather than on the console.
6. Full-sized spare tire
7. Full-time 4WD
8. Auxiliary transmission cooler
9. Heavy-duty service cooling system

I am not going to sugar coat this. This vehicle gets SUCKY gas mileage – somewhere between 18-21mpg.

So far it’s been an AWESOME vehicle, with outstanding snow/ice/winter performance.

More to come as we move into storm season.

VEHICLE: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Latitude (KL)

At 190,000 miles and impending transmission failure, it was time to retire my former vehicle, a 2007 Ford Freestyle. Nicknames for this vehicle included: Rolling Armpit, Tornado Repellent, Fart Wagon, Hail Magnet, T-Rex Mobile, Prairie Rocket, and the CIV (Convective Inhibition Vehicle). It served me well for many years. Rest in peace, fartwagon.

I am looking forward to the 2015 season with the Jeep; it seems to have the right combination of power and agility while still being economical (I can get 30mpg on the highway if I am careful). While the numerous airbags are great for safety, it was a chore running wiring and mounting tablets in a way that wouldn’t interfere with them. A large central touchscreen console made for a similar problem mounting tablets. It’s a little smaller than the Freestyle, but all my gear fits so I can’t complain. Stay tuned for updates.

UPDATE: Well, it’s now May 2016 and I have had my Jeep for about 15 months. In this time I have put 60,000 miles on it, received hail damage, and have a cracked windshield. She has held up well to the abuse.

UPDATE NOV 2016: Fuuuuuuu….
At about 82,000 miles I was driving down the freeway and my engine started running rough. Shortly after, the “check Engine” light came on. I barely limped it the short distance home. I had it towed to the shop. Diagnosis: Cracked cylinder head. Okay, that’s covered under warranty. But wait! There’s more! While in the shop, the transmission was throwing off error codes. Apparently a seal was leaking, and de-pressurized a closed, pressurized system. According to the technicians, the ONLY fix for this was TOTAL TRANSMISSION REPLACEMENT. Okay, this was covered under warranty too, but REALLY? A major engine problem and a complete transmission failure at 82k miles? Extremely disappointing, whether covered under warranty or not. I sometimes depend on my LIFE with this vehicle. Okay, it’s been in the shop for 10 days and everything is covered under warranty. I can’t complain, right?

I pick up my car, drive ONE MILE and it starts running rough. I figured “Hey, there is probably some air in the gas lines or something and it will even out after a few miles”. Nope. I took it back to the dealer, and it was a bad coil pack. $400. Covered under warranty, but REALLY? REALLY JEEP?

I need reliability and I am extremely disappointed in this vehicle right now. I canceled a late November trip to northern Canada to film aurora because I didn’t trust my “recently-rebuilt” car to be 200 miles away from the nearest city. Vehicle failure in northern Manitoba in sub-freezing weather can be deadly.

COMMUNICATIONS: Yaesu FTM-400DR dual band.
On a chase, I generally scan local fire and EMS frequencies and keep a home channel of 146.550 simplex, which is a well-known (but not FCC assigned) chase frequency. I have a relatively low gain dual band antenna, which is intentional. I don’t want a large, attention-grabbing lightning rod antenna, nor do I have a desire to pick up Kansas City area traffic when I am chasing south of Wichita.

MOBILE INTERNET: Verizon MHS291L “jetpack” with a 9db gain external antenna.
I absolutely love this unit. I can literally turn it on at 8am and chase until darkness 12+ hours ALL ON INTERNAL BATTERY. I plug it in at night to recharge, but there is no need to keep it connected to 12vdc all day. One less thing drawing current from the lighter plugs during a chase! In real-world situations, when my phone is getting a 1 or 2-bar 3G signal, the jetpack with external antenna will still be getting 4-bars 4G LTE. Great throughput, and allows up to 8 or 10 simultaneous wifi connections – enough to share with friends when sitting in a parking lot in North Platte staring at the latest HRRR.

Added bonus: Take it to your hotel room and use it for internet, rather than pay their crazy $12+ internet fees. Seriously, this thing pays for itself.

HARDWARE:

  • Microsoft Surface Pro tablet
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
  • GlobalSat BU-353-S4 USB “puck”

For GPS, I use a GlobalSat BU-353-S4 USB “puck” mounted on my dashboard. It has performed flawlessly under most any field conditions I have found myself in, but I recently had issues in downtown Minneapolis. I don’t know if it was the GPS puck or Delorme Street Atlas software, but when I stopped at red lights the map display would spin as if it didn’t know my direction of travel. As soon as I started moving again it was fine. Odd.

SOFTWARE:
For the Microsoft Tablet, I typically have the GPS puck plugged into it, and use DeLorme Street Atlas or Microsoft Streets and Trips for navigation. Both had advantages and disadvantages, but my overall fav is DeLorme. I use Gibson Ridge “GR Level 3” radar software, which overlays nicely on Google Earth when it’s time to get close on a chase, although I frequently switch back to DeLorme for navigation assistance. For the Galaxy Note, I use either PYKL3 Radar or RADARSCOPE. I use the internal GPS and squawk my location to Spotternetwork.org as well as keep track of where other chasers are (both radar applications support importing spotternetwork location data). When I am up close on an active chase, I usually have GR3 running in regular “tilt 1” mode, and RADARSCOPE running in “Storm Relative Velocity” view. GR3 can actually do these two modes simultaneously in separate panels, but my screen real-estate is limited so I don’t use this feature.

CAMERA: Nikon D750
Although all of my 2014 chase season was shot with a Nikon D5300 with an 18-140mm kit lens, I have recently moved up to a full-frame Nikon D750 with a 28-300mm utility lens and a Tamron 16-28mm f/2.8 for wide angle.
I use a Slik U-212 tripod with an Induro BHL ball head and Arca/Swiss release system.
I have a NERO lightning trigger but also make use of time exposures for lightning shots.

For the record, I have no problem whatsoever with Canon, I just chose to go the Nikon route.

VIDEO: Sony FDR-AX53
I decided I would start doing some video work for chase season 2106, and after quite a bit of research I ended up with a Sony FDR-AX53. It’s been a great video camera so far – I literally sold video footage of a building fire to a local news station the day after the videocam arrived. I have heard from multiple sources that our livestream video quality is outstanding (we livestream to a local TV station on all of our local chases) so this video camera is a definite #win and well worth the money.

VIDEO: Panasonic AG-UX90
I needed something more professional than the dash cam when doing damage reporting, and the Panasonic was perfect for the task. It has all the great features I need, a huge sensor for great low-light sensitivity, and Optical Image Stabilization that is superior to anything I have ever used before. I can HAND HOLD telephoto shots and they look like it was on a tripod. I am seriously impressed with the professional features on this moderately priced camera.

AERIAL: Mavic Pro Drone
Trying to stay ahead of the competition with a unique view of storm damage, I bought a Mavic Pro drone. It has done an outstanding job and gives a fresh perspective to damage surveys. Local news crews all have the same shots from the ground, but the Mavic Pro gives us the overhead views nobody else is able to get. It’s been a solid addition to our photographic arsenal.