Brand new to Ham Radio, so new I'm not even licensed yet (I have broadcast turned off so I can't even drop the radio and PTT by accident ) but I'm working on that!

Right now I'm interested in receiving 2 meter from as far away as I can because I'm interested in monitoring SkyWarn repeaters from distant counties.

National Weather Service Fort Worth can monitor and broadcast to a 42 county area in North Texas from Tarrant County (Beach and 820 for those wanting to look it up on a map) so I know it is possible to go a distance (although I know I probably won't be able to go that far because I don't have as many resources as the government).

I am in Plano (SW Collin county) and I have an N9TAX antenna that I've mounted on a PVC pipe 20' in the air. I don't plan on this being a permanent setup - I'm just trying to test different scenarios. With this I've been able to receive at most the next county over (approx 30 miles).

My current goal is to get from Plano to Decatur (Wise county) about 65 miles away, or Weatherford (Parker county) about 80 miles away.

From my limited research, it seems I have 3 general variables to play with: antenna height, antenna gain(or quality), or an antenna pre-amp.

My least favorite of these is height - due to city permits and cost. I did, however, read about someone that put a magnetic mobile antenna on one of their roof vents which would get me up to almost 30'... but what would the extra 10' buy me? Also, I have an aversion to getting up on the roof (and ladders in general).

Antenna quality I would be willing to spend up to about $100... but how low can I realistically keep it?

Antenna pre-amp is the biggest unknown to me right now... would a pre-amp help on the *receive* side (such as a Radio Shack HTA-20 2M preamp)? If a preamp is a viable option, what is the best value out there (cost vs. performance)?

Thanks for the help!
I'll post my callsign once I have one