Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Back at home

I drove home over two days Monday and Tuesday- I did briefly go up into southern OK on Monday afternoon to view a junky looking severe squall line, but it did not even present any good photographic opportunities.

It was a great season overall, the only really disappointing day was June 9, since we missed the multiple tornadic event near Hill City, but we did see one tube that day anyhow. I got a ton of great photos, some pretty good video, and met a lot of chase friends along the way. Looking forward to hurricane season, and next Plains chase season. Next it's off to Chicago and Wisconsin Dells for the ACE Coaster Convention- I was going to watch to see if there would be any chase opportunities this coming week as well, but the models are showing a "death ridge" which should confine chasing to the far northern and NW Plains, so this is likely it for me for supercell chasing this year.

For pics of June 10 and 11 in the Texas panhandle, go here

Mike Umscheid wrote good summaries of those two days, along with June 12- just visit his blog link at the right side of this page.


Monday, June 13, 2005

June 11-12

Not a real log- will do that later. Short version, we missed the weak tornadoes near Wayside, TX on the 11th, we were on the tornado warned storm near Amarillo.

The next day we saw 8 tornadoes SE of Lubbock, TX near Claremont and Jayton.

Photos here


Saturday, June 11, 2005

June 9 log

We started the day in North Platte, NE. We decided that the best storms would be to the south in far SW Nebraska or NW Kansas. So we went to McCook, NE and looked at data while having lunch. Then we saw that storms were developing very near us and also in KS. Then we made the decision to see what the storms near us were doing- we went east and saw a supercell to the west near Indianola, but it did not look all that great, despite having a tornado warning. So we dropped south to near Norton, KS, and saw a flat base to the west, which was also tornado warned, and supposedly had a tornado sighted. So we went west to view it, but again were not overly impressed. By now we were hearing the reports of the tornadoes with the storm to the south, so we bagged the Norton storm and blasted south to HLC- but by now we were missing the REALLY big shoe to our east, so we made the decision to not try and get around the beast, and drop south to a newly tornado warned storm in Trego county. When we got to the Interstate, we immediately viewed great structure just to the west, with one rotating wall cloud a couple of miles due west. We stopped (but Jim L kept going- I would have also if we had not been on the interstate, I was afraid of getting trapped and nor being able to turn around). Right after we halted, a small nub funnel developed to the left of the wall cloud and soon after an elephant trunk tornado formed. The contrast was only fair, but I did get tripoded video of its entire life cycle- and we did see a debris cloud. After about 9 minutes the tornado wrapped in rain and weakened, but it did cross the interstate, knocking semis off the road- OF Jim Leonard actually drove right through the F0 vortex getting great video. In hindsight I wish I had gotten up the road a piece, the contrast was much better a mile or two down the road, and there was no hail as I had feared.

Next we played hopscotch with the rotating wall cloud to the NE of the old meso, but it never produced anything more that a few dusty weak spin ups, and we blew it off after about another half an hour, We then headed south towards DDC, stopping to get a few nice sunset/mammatus pics.

I am disappointed we missed probably the show of the year, but at least we were not completely skunked, and this is now officially the only time I have seen good tornadoes three out of four days.

Photos here


Friday, June 10, 2005

June 3-8 log

After dropping Betsy off at the airport, I decided to go to LIC and see if some storms would fire again in eastern CO- but after sitting in the library for a few hours, it became evident that any convection would not be supercellular, due to the lack of moisture. So I made the decision to blast east to stay with Ken Dewey at his house in Lincoln, since the next day looked to be good in that general vicinity. As it turned out, I should have paid more attention to the situation close to the vort max and surface low in the area from the northern TX Panhandle to SW Kansas, as there were several mini-supercells that produced tornadoes near Ness City, KS and Perryton, TX.

The next day, it became fairly obvious that Kansas was going to ground zero for any tornadic action- and SPC came out with a high risk over a large area. Ken took his equipment and piled into my CRV. and we headed SW. Upon getting into the Junction City, KS area on the interstate, we ran into a horde of chasers, including the Minnesota Twister Sisters, with National Geographic film crews in tow. We looked at data for an hour or so- storms began to fire along an old outflow boundary from NE to SW. We made (as it turned out) the fateful decision to not go after the first echoes to our immediate NE, and head south to the area NE of Wichita. After sitting east of McPherson for a spell, we could see on Ken's ThreatNet that there was explosive development about 30 miles due west of us, so we blasted in that direction. When we approached the storm we could see that it had a flat flared base, it had that "tornado look" to it, but it was at that point that the day started in a downward spiral. A small storm immediately to the east was evidently interfering with our cell, so despite a few wall clouds and attempts at tornadogenesis, the whole thing congealed into a messy blob, so we than decided to blow off this area and try and intercept new storms east and NE of Wichita. We drove to Emporia. where we could see on the radar a broken line of many small supercells off to the SW, but visually none of them looked that impressive as we headed south ahead of the line. At a point about 30-40 miles south of Emporia, we decided to stop and look at a cell with a decent base off to the west. When I got to a place where I could view through the trees, I immediately saw a distant long elephant trunk funnel. pointed sideways then halfway to the ground, The contrast was horrendous, and the storm was at least 20 miles away, so i got basically no video and I could not confirm if this was actually a tornado. It vanished from view after another few seconds.

That basically ended our chase- and then we heard about the large tornado some folks caught with that initial cell we blew off in NE Kansas- oh well. Then began the long trek back to Lincoln, got in about 1 AM.

This day began with one of my famous brain farts. I had been in contact with my partners for the rest of the season, Jay Antle and Mike Umscheid. We saw that York was a good place to rendezvous, as this was going to be a set-up day for the Monday target of SE Montana. However, when I pulled into the truck stop in York, I made the nasty discovery that I had left my laptop in Lincoln...doh! I called Ken, and sure enough, my computer bag was in his hallway. I decided it was too difficult to go back too pick it up, I would rely on using Mike's computer for a few days, and I could go back to Lincoln later and pick it up, or meet Ken on the road and get it. So we started the long journey to our hotel north of Rapid City.

The next morning it still looked like SE Montana was the play, Mike picked out the small town of Ekalaka as the target. We went NW and stopped in Alzada, MT for a while, then decided to go north towards Ekalaka on a gravel but fairly decent road. After about 50 miles, we began to see two storms off to the west and north, the southern cell began to look interesting. and after following it for a few more miles, we saw that it had become a raging beast of a storm with awesome tiered structure and a menacing wall cloud. We were just south of Ekalaka at that juncture, and set up the tripods to record this monster. Then we decided to head north into the town, and of course the minute we started out, a small elephant trunk tornado formed off to the west. I frantically tried to stop and get a view, and did video the ending stages of this approx 1 minute duration tube. After it dissippated, we noticed a high spot near some propane tanks, and noticed a car of chasers there already- it turned out to be the Verkaiks from Canada. After setting up the cameras, the old occluded meso back to the west and northwest produced two more tornadoes- another elephant trunk and a longer lived truncated cone with condensation halfway to the ground, but there was no doubt that there was circulation to the ground. We then decided to leave, as the tornado appeared to be dissipating, and rain was obscuring it besides. This may have been a error, as later I saw a rope out funnel back to the SW in the rain.

The next few hours was spent staying out in front of a picturesque shelf cloud and raging squall line as we went north to Baker, MT (where we saw Roger Hill, who else), then east to SW North Dakota, then back south to the same hotel in Spearfish . A very good day, the first Montana tornado for all of us.

Tuesday dawned with hope for another great day, and as it turned out it was. The data showed a strong signal for supercells in the SW part of South Dakota, so off we headed to the area SE and E of Rapid City. A on the road glance at the satellite and surface showed a convergent area near Pine Ridge, so we planned out a route to that area, and as we pulled into Cactus Flat, we ran into a huge mass of chasers we knew, including Bobby Prentice and gang, Charles Edwards and Alnado. The consensus was to head south into Badlands National Park, to intercept two cells now showing up on radar to the SW. A lot of chasers had to pay the $10 entrance fee (a tornado watching charge?), but I used my handy-dandy NP parks pass.

We (along with Jim L and Bobby P) came upon a great high spot overlooking the fantastic scenery of the Badlands, and spent the next hour there with jaws dropping and cameras rolling as two supercells slowly developed off to the SW and west. the southern cell was from the start the meatiest, and gradually took on more and more of an awesome appearance. We made the decision to get closer to the storm, and drove to the town of Interior and dropped south to get ahead of it. As we got closer, it became quickly evident that this was no ordinary supercell, the huge barrel ahead of was was a truly awe-inspiring sight, easily in my top five structure-wise. It was a cross between the 2000 Brady, NE storm and the photos I have seen of the Spearman, TX storm in 1990.

The problem now was that we had left our Badlands spot about 5 minutes too late, because we had to keep driving south to stay ahead of the storm, as we (rightly) though this beast would be producing gorilla hail. After a few miles, we saw a slender funnel and tornado develop, but since we were driving my video is shaky and I got no stills of the tornado. After hitting the east road, we stopped briefly to video the slender serpentine tornado west of us, then got to a point out of the rain and hail to take a few more pics as the tornado roped out. Then we followed the storm for the next few hours up to the interstate, it had great structure all the way, went through many occlusions, but produced no more tornadoes. We barely got ahead of the cell on I-90, just before the derecho from hell blasted east.

At that point I broke off from the rest of the group, as I was attempting to meet up with Ken, to get my laptop which he had brought along while he chased. However, a comedy of errors involving bad cell phone coverage prevented this from happening until 1 AM in ONeill, NE. Ken Then proceeded to hit a deer as he was driving home- my forgetfulness sure caused a lot of hassle.
June 6 Photos here
June 7 Photos here


Sunday, June 05, 2005

June 1-2 log

On Wednesday, we knew the day was going to be down, so we took our time traveling to the north from our motel in Plainview. We were originally targeting NE Colorado, but we wanted to stay a bit farther south in case the SW Kansas area went up. So we got an early motel room in Garden City, did laundry, and relaxed.

The next day was very confusing. SPC put out a large 15% tornado risk for the entire western KS and eastern CO- but I could see from the data that there was a stout cap forecast in KS, and an 18Z sounding in DDC confirmed it. So we started out towards the west, with the intention of chasing somewhere west of Burlington. However, just in case the cap in the area we were leaving broke, we took a stop for data in Syracuse, in the far western portion of KS. It was at that point that we saw strong cumulus towers about 50 miles to the SE. We waffled a bit, and then made the call to go back SE. A short time later, as we approached Hugoton, KS, we heard a severe thunderstorm warning for a cell just off to the south, then a tornado warning was issued. Great! We thought, in this very unstable environment, if a storm is able to break the cap, then tornadoes are a good possibility. We approached the town, and could see a nice updraft and base. We drove through some 1" hail, and decided we had time for a gas stop. Then we went out of town on an east road to watch the storm. But a nasty surprise awaited us as the storm came into view to the north- the cell had a very small high base, and was shrinking rapidly. I got off a couple of photos, and called DDC NWS to let them know the storm was dying a rapid death. However, they continued the tornado warning for 20 more minutes, I guess they did not believe me. Anyway, in about 15 minutes, the storm was completely gone. And we could see that the cap was really taking hold, possibly because the cirrus from an approaching southern stream disturbance was suppressing the heating.

So we then decided to make a mad dash for Colorado, but knew that sunset was approaching fast. We heard about tornadoes already occurring along the interstate, and we thought we might be able to just catch a cell at dark near Burlington. These hopes were soon dashed, though, as we were stopped for speeding in Kit Carson county, (78 in a 65 zone), but the sheriff was very nice and we got off with a warning. As it turned out the supercells had been undercut with outflow already, and the tornadic show was over, and besides it was getting quite dark. As we stopped to shoot lightning, we ran into Dave Gold and company, and found out that the tornadoes we missed were brief and/or rain wrapped, but there was some awesome HP structure, which would have been nice to witness.

It was then time to get Betsy back to Denver for her flight back to Atlanta the next morning. On the way, though, we were treated to a view of a small nicely sculpted bell shaped supercell, illuminated by frequent lightning. Tried to get photos, but the strong northerly wind prevented setting up the tripod without the camera shaking. I did get a bit of decent video.

Then it was off to the motel near the DEN airport.

Matt (photos later)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

May 31 log

We began the day in Dalhart, and decided the best place to be was somewhere west of Lubbock along an old outflow boundary. When we got to Littlefield, we went into the library, and looked at more data. We still thought we were in a good spot, but did see some storms firing near Amarillo, but since the best mid and upper level winds were more down towards our area, so we hung around the Littlefield area for a while longer. Later, further information showed that the target to the north and northwest looked better, so we blasted north. Upon approaching Hereford, a tornado warning was issued, and we could see a pretty good wall cloud to the north, but it quickly became undercut by cold outflow, and since the road network at that time was not conducive for easily following this storm, we decided to target a new cell near Clovis. When we got to a position east of Muleshoe we could see that the cell was a small but nice classic supercell. We hung out for a while and watched it grow into a pretty respectable storm. We dropped south to keep ahead of the cell, and north of Sudan it began to develop a pretty nice wall cloud, but it had a lot strange motion it, never really good rotation. This portion of the storm began to die as outflow was undercutting it from the north, but we could see a possible new meso off to the east, so we drove down to highway 87. Sure enough a new area of interest was off to the north, but it had that undercut/HP look to it. We then began a long game of tag with the storm, blasting SE down 87, stopping every couple of miles to get out and photograph. Near Amherst, we stopped to look to the north where there was a wall cloud with a very nice tail cloud streaming in from the forward flank. Soon a bowl shaped lowering could be seen about 3 miles or so to the north, with a possible brief white cone back in the notch, and we could see some sort of dust underneath, but it was hard to tell what was really going on back in there. Then cold RFD/outflow hit us, and I commented that if any sort of spin up was occurring, it would not be able to sustain itself. Sure enough, I later heard from Jim Leonard, who was right up in the notch, that he saw a brief weak multi-vortex spin up, but because of the undercutting cold air, it had no real chance of it lasting very long.
We continued our trek southeast ahead of the storm, occasionally stopping for some very nice photos of the HP structure. The chaser caravan along highway 87 was pretty amazing, we saw literally hundreds of chase vehicles.

We decided that this storm was never going to tornado due to the outflow, so instead of going into Lubbock and getting hailed on, we went southwest to near Ropesville, and were treated to a spectacular view of the updraft lit up orange by the setting sun.

After a nice dinner at Hub City Brewing in Lubbock (highly recommended, great beer and good food), we went to Plainview for the night.

Photos here


May 30 log

We started the day in Guymon, and determined that the action would be best beginning on the Raton Mesa of far northeast NM and SE Colorado. Upon reaching Clayton, we went north through Des Moines, NM and towards Branson, CO just north of the border. Upon reaching the junction of US highway 160, we ran into Al Moeller and company, and also Alnado. We watched a storm move off to our north and NE- and worried it might tap cold air north of the front, so decided to hang out where we were. It turned out that if we had gone after that storm, we would have seen a nice supercell and maybe a brief tornado, but that was alright, because after not too long two supercells developed- one was a left split LP to the northwest, and another stronger classic right over the mesa. We dropped south to Branson, and the DOWs showed up, so we figured we were on a good storm. Sure enough, the cell took on a very nice appearance as it slowly moved east towards us, with a barrel shaped updraft, and a small but persistent funnel was seen as well. After a while this storm began to take on less of a pretty look, so we decided to move south back towards Des Moines. When we got to that area, I could not really see the structure of a new cell just to the west, and made what turned out to be a bad error- we decided to keep heading southeast towards Clayton. I did see some kind of a storm continuing out the rear view mirror, but because of the terrain, I did not really get a glimpse of the updraft. We happened to be following Alameda at the time- and about 10 miles west of town, he suddenly stopped and turned around. I wondered why, but continued to go towards Clayton. Mistake # 2. As it turned out, the storm we blew off produced a very slender cone tornado- which Alnado saw right after he turned around, despite it being 30 miles away near Des Moines. Oh well, that's chasing.
Before dark set in we went north out of Clayton, towards Kenton, OK in the far NW panhandle. We did see a brief mesocyclone to the NW that had a bowl-shaped lowering and explosive convection above, but the updraft quickly became more linear.

We then called it a day and headed to our motel in Dalhart, TX

Photos here


May 29 log

On this day, because of weak mid and upper wind flow, we decided not to chase, but to hike in Black Mesa State Park, in the far western Oklahoma panhandle. We got a bit of a late start, and when we got there some thunderstorms were already developing to the south and east. However, the cumulus to the north and west had a relatively stable look to them, so we decided to hike anyway, since I thought any storm would most likely move southeast or south. This turned out to not a wise choice, because when we got about a couple of miles down the trail, we noticed that a storm which had been grumbling a bit well to the south seemed to be getting closer. So to be safe, we turned back. Too late, as the storm began to overtake us- so we took shelter on the lee side of a low juniper bush, as heavy rain and hail up to penny size pelted down. This proved to be scant shelter, and we were soon soaked through. So we decided to head back to the car- luckily the storm had no close lightning and we made it without further incident. Finally we headed back to the motel in Guymon to change our clothes and call it a day.

PS, if you are in Guymon, the Acapulco Mexican restaurant is very good, but avoid Cactus Jack's steakhouse.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

May 26-28 log

On Thursday, we did not chase- we just hung out in the Albuquerque area, had lunch with chaser Scott Fitzgerald, and hiked in Petroglyph National Monument.

Friday was a very eventful day. We saw that there was a pretty good chance of supercells in the Las Vegas area- so we took off at about noon, After getting onto I 25 near Santa Fe, we could see explosive towers to the east and NE. We stopped near Bernal as a HP supercell was just to the north- with a menacing shelf cloud heading right for us. I then made a fateful decision- why not see what kind of hail was in this storm- given what I knew about the situation that day, I figured that we would see stones up to maybe golf ball size- and if we got a couple of dents, no big deal. However, this turned out to be a fatal error- as I was indeed right about the size of the hailstones- but not the number. We soon were sitting in a barrage of golf ball hail- which lasted a good five minutes. Luckily the window glass survived, but the hood and top have dozens of small to medium dents, and the tail lights have many cracks. Oh well, that's chasing- and I did get easily the best hail video I have personally shot.

We then could not really drop south easily to keep up with this storm, so we decided to go north on the interstate. Just north of Las Vegas, we ran into another hailstorm- this time pea to marble sized- but it covered the interstate enough that many people slid off into the ditch.

Then we just basically headed for Clayton, as there were too many storms firing up to have any good supercells- but we did get a few nice pictures of the storms over the high prairies- and we ran into two more hailstorms.

Saturday we had a decision- go to the chase party, or chase in Colorado. After looking at the data, we decided to chase- and in hindsight maybe it was a bad decision, but what the heck. We went to Lamar, saw towers to the north, and went to near Cheyenne Wells- heard of a tornado warning near Goodland, but decided that was not worth going after. A storm was ongoing to the north- it was not really a supercell- but was pretty with a rain free base. We stopped south of Sharon Springs, for a half hour or so- and watched the storm until it died, then headed back t Guymon. Not a total bust, since I got a few nice photos.

Photos here


Thursday, May 26, 2005

May 25 log

A surprisingly good day in eastern NM.

We began in Lamar- got a late start but made it to Clayton, NM by about 2 PM. Stopped briefly in the library, and all of the data showed that the cold frontal push would probably preclude a chase in TX, with the only shot being well back in the higher terrain in the Springer to Roy to Las Vegas area. We then went south from Clayton, and the radar showed cells to the west near Springer, and Las Vegas. We decided to head west to Mosquero- and when we finally reached that area up in a mesa- we could see visually that the Springer storm was small, and being undercut, but the storm to our SW looked very healthy, with multiple inflow bands and a flat updraft base. We wended our way southwest from there- and when we got closer we could see a small bell shaped updraft to our south. This small supercell shrank quickly, but we could see a hard anvil edge to its southwest- and as we continued to approach it, it became evident that this was a honkin' supercell, with an explosive updraft, circular base and very good overturning convection in the anvil. This was close to Trementina- and as we stopped to photograph, we noticed a very distinct mid level funnel up in the area of the anvil knuckles. Next we dropped south and stopped again, to witness a dump of precip and a small wall cloud form. This wall cloud did exhibit weak to moderate rotation, and at one point a small wisp of condensation came rising up off the ground beneath it- but we saw no concrete evidence that this was a tornado- we were too far away to really tell. The structure was very nice still, but it was becoming increasingly evident that this storm was transitioning from dry classic to HP.
The road network then forced us to go east and lose the storm for a while, but picked it up on the interstate. By this time it was beginning to weaken, probably partly due to a new storm to its immediate SE. We considered trying to chase this cell, but the road options were bad. So at that point we basically ended the chase.
Photos here


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

May 24 log

We had a pretty productive day on Tuesday in eastern Colorado. We started the day in Burlington, and after examining the data, we decided that we should be a bit farther to the north and west for initiation. We went to the public library in Yuma and saw on the radar that some strong cells were developing to the northwest near New Raymer. We headed west towards Akron (bad road construction on the stretch of highway between Yuma and Akron). Upon reaching Akron, were greeted with the sight of a menacing shelf cloud to the north and west. We went a bit south of town, and set up the tripods as the storm approached. It did have a tornado warning on it at this time, but was obviously HP and outflow dominated. Still, as we watched, a kink developed on the gust front, and fairly rapid rotation could be seen at cloud base, and a lot of dust underneath. Tornado? Sustained? who knows- but it was an interesting feature nonetheless.

We then had to retreat south and give up on this storm, but we could see on the radar and visually that a new cell with a rock hard updraft was to our southeast. So we booked in south and then east towards Idalia. As we got underneath the updraft, we could see that it was supercellular- and after getting by with only a few clicks of marble hail , we were treated to a nice structure show- for a brief time there was a high based wall cloud with some rotation, and some dust was visible underneath- weak tornado? Perhaps. We dropped south for some structure shots as the storm began to gust out- then blasted to Burlington. At that point, after looking at radar, we decided to go east to Goodland, then drop south to catch some tail-end charlie action, We did see some nice outflow features while approaching Goodland- and several downbursts and a few gustnadoes.

We dropped south from Goodland- and upon reaching Tribune, decided to head west. When we got to near Towner just across the border, we could see that the storm on the south end of the line was an HP beast from hell. Luckily we had a due south option at this point, and the supercell was moving due south- so we were able to keep out of its path, It was getting dark at this point, but we did get a few pics and video. When we got to Holly, the structure at this point was jaw dropping- a many tiered layer cake, but it was so dark it precluded any photography, but I did get some video.

Then we decided to head for Lamar for the night. However, there was a severe squall in the way- but we decided to punch the core, as the hail was only supposed to be about 1 inch. near Grenada we pulled off to the side as the hail and 70 mph winds hit- the hail was intense, but not bigger that marble size. After it passed, we headed to Lamar for dinner, where we met Dave Gold and crew in the restaurant.

I will post a link to pictures later.

Looks like a cold front will shut down chasing for a while- so it is off to my uncle's house in Albuquerque for a few days to wait for the pattern to change.
Photos here


Monday, May 23, 2005

May 23 log

Today we started out in Columbia, MO- we knew we had to get all the way into eastern CO-so we got up at 8 AM and blasted west on I-70. On the way we got some data, and the general target did not really change much, so we continued westbound until we got to Oakley, KS. At that point we had a choice- according to out intrepid nowcaster Mike Umscheid, there were storms firing on the Palmer Divide, but after some consultation we decided to target new storms/towers that were a lot closer to us, west and north of Burlington, CO, Upon arriving in Burlington, we observed a supercell wannabe to our NW- it was pretty much rain filled, but has a little bit of structure. At he same time a hard updraft could be seen due north of us on a storm near Wray, CO- and we decided to target that cell. As we moved north, we could begin to see that this was an HP supercell- and at that time a tornado warning was issued. However, we never saw anything that looked to be tornadic- I did get a few decent photos of the structure, such as it was. We followed the storm east towards St Francis, KS, but heard of a new tornado warning back to the west- so we went back towards Idalia, CO. At that time is when we saw a pretty decent wall cloud, that took on a bowl shaped appearance for a brief time. But soon after that the storm died, and after meeting up with Jim Leonard and John Monteverdi we blew off the chase and headed for Burlington for dinner and a motel room. At a steakhouse in Burlington we met up with Cloud 9 tours as well. We are staying at the Chaparral Motor Inn in Burlington- a very nice AAA rated establishment, with pretty cheap rooms that have W-Fi internet access.

I will post pics at a later date- nothing was all that great anyway (although we were treated to a nice continuous lightning show after dinner off to the south).


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Interstate blogging

As one of my previous entries stated- technology can be a blessing as well as a curse- right now as I type this we are hurtling down the interstate at 70 mph (I 24 near Paducah to be exact), thanks to my Cingular GSM data connection (wireless with Bluetooth). This is the first of what should be daily entries during my chase vacation.
Tomorrow looks like the destination is still Colorado, but looking at the latest models, Nebraska needs to be watched as a target also. We are planning to drive as far as possible tonight- to maybe near Kansas City, reevaluate the situation there, and leave tomorrow morning westbound.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Almost time to go out!

Well, this coming Sunday is when our official chase vacation begins- and despite what looked like a rotten pattern earlier in the week, the upcoming situation now appears to be at least somewhat favorable for supercells in the upslope areas of the High Plains, most likely beginning on Tuesday, and lasting for several days. Luckily it now looks like the "death ridge" in the West will flatten enough to allow westerly flow in the mid and upper levels- and if this is co-located with moist upslope surface flow- then we could see a few productive days.
I did go out chasing this past week- saw the nice supercell in Grand Island on Tuesday, but busted on Wednesday. Still, it was a nice opportunity to test out some new equipment and my new chase vehicle (a 2005 Honda CRV).


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How close is too close?

In case you did not hear, this last Wednesday in the Texas panhandle near South Plains, a fairly large number of chasers had their vehicles battered and in many cases totaled by baseball and larger hail. This type of incident has been increasing over the past several years, where more and more chasers have been finding themselves in pretty hairy situations. This is a result of having that desire to "get up close and personal" in order get that ultimate video of houses blowing apart, or debris swirling around in very close proximity...this hobby has really become a lot more of a pure thrill seeking endeavor than it used to be. The reasons for this are multi-faceted- but I think the main one is just plain old envy. We are all human, and envy is a very natural emotion. So as we all continue see a constant barrage of very spectacular video of up close tornadoes, or baseballs shredding buildings and trees, the natural tendency is for us to want to take whatever risk is necessary to not be left out- somehow I think that our sense of worth as chasers is now tied into how far we can push the envelope, instead of just chasing in order to simply enjoy the beauty and majesty of the overall chase experience.

I am not saying that I am personally not guilty of some of the above tendencies- last May 29 we were on the incredible supercell near Concordia, KS- and saw unbelievable structure and at least 5 tornadoes. However, down to the south at the same time, chasers were getting even more spectacular footage of multiple highly visible tornadoes- and when I found out about this I became angry, despite just having one of my best chase days in my career.
All in all, however, I have always been one of the more cautious chasers out there- since 1990 we have only lost one windshield or window to large hail- and that was in 1991, Contrast this to some who regularly have two or three replaced every season. Also, I have increasingly become more and more interested in the photographic aspect of chasing, as opposed to simply shooting video. To me, capturing a spectacular "mother ship" storm in the setting sun is every bit as exciting as catching just about any tornado. When we failed to get east in time to see the spectacular sunset view of the Grand Island supercell a week ago, to me it was almost as bad as missing a wedge.

So where are all these trends (including the ones discussed in my last post) leading chasing? I am getting more and more afraid that the first non-driving chase fatality is not too far around the corner, as the increasing hordes continue to try and one-up each other.

Does this mean I am telling other chasers what to do? No, it is a free country and everyone has their own goals and ambitions. As long as you are not endangering others through reckless behavior, then go for it, but be aware of the dangers involved. But from a personal standpoint I will continue to be cautious in my approach to chasing- and I will always try and keep perspective and enjoy getting a Plains sunset photo with mammatus and a windmill as much as catching the "big one".


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Is technology chasing's savior or ruination?

Since I am just 3 months from officially gaining OF status (July 13 is when I hit the dreaded five-o), I can feel qualified in making a few observations regarding the evolution of chasing over the 15 year period that I have been involved in this endeavor. Of course I cannot even come close to the experience of chase pioneers such as Gene Moore, Al Moller, Chuck Doswell and Dave Hoadley (among others), but I can say that in 1989 chasing was a vastly different animal than it is today- and it will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Why this nearly exponential change? Of course, the answer is technology (I include the popular media and its evolution in that umbrella).

When I first started chasing, getting data was an interesting challenge, to say the least. The main source was the local NWS office, and also fax charts that we got with a portable fax machine that we brought along. So we dialed up a few NGM, upper air and surface maps, along with the SPC outlooks. Then after we got into the target area we visited the local NWS office (if they would let us in, not all would) and asked politely if we could see the latest surface map. After analyzing that, we took off for wherever, and from that point it was completely visual, except for reports we might hear on local radio or the NOAA WX radio. Since we were brand new at the chasing game, we knew nothing about storm structure, so if we stumbled onto a good storm, it was often complete luck.

After a couple of years of bumbling across the Plains in the above fashion, I got my first laptop and cell phone. This changed things a lot- since we had access to more data in the motel room, and could sometimes get an update from a friend while on the road. We still did go to NWS offices, though, but it was not as crucial as before.

At the same time all of these changes were going on, chasing as a hobby in general was undergoing quite a revolution- mainly in tandem with the explosion of cable TV and 24 hour news/infotainment, which over-publicizes and glamorizes the hobby, and of course the premiere of the movie Twister in 1996. Those two things really changed the public perception of chasing, and led to the explosion in the number of people going out on their own- from folks that chase every year for several weeks, to the local "yahoos" who crowd the roads whenever there is a tornado warning.

Now of course, the technological aspect of the hobby has really taken off. Chasers can get high-speed internet in their vehicles, along with live radar and GPS. This capability will only get more widespread in the very near future- I just read about Wi-Max, which is like Wi-Fi, but can stretch over miles, not feet. Within the next few years, all chasers will have the capability to have every shred of information they need beamed directly into their vehicle no matter where they are, even in the most remote locations.

So is all of this evolution a good or bad thing? Well, like most things in life, there is no simple answer to that question. I have generally been an embracer of the latest technology, but maybe not to the extent that some are (my vehicle will never look like the Carson Eadsmobile). This year I considered getting the Baron XM WXWorx radar that is all the rage, but financial considerations prevented me from doing that yet. I will be chasing with a GSM cell phone connected to my laptop, which provides internet access in many parts of chase alley.
Personally, as far as chase "success" goes, there is no doubt that the new gadgets and gizmos have helped me see more and better storms than in in the old days. But is the overall experience diminished? Well, yes and no. I do lament, like many others, the loss of the experience of viewing a storm by yourself- quite often nowadays there is not even a place to pull off to the side of the road, due to the number of chasers on a particular storm. I will never forget one time in the Texas panhandle when we were approaching a supercell from the east, driving through the canyons of the Caprock- when we emerged up onto the plain we were greeted by a massive "chaser convergence" of at least 30 vehicles- we barely could find a small space to set up our cameras.
And this will only get worse- with all the new technology, even inexperienced chasers with no knowledge of meteorology or storm structure will be able to get the latest SPC tornado probabilities, and when they get to the area, then they will have all the tornado warnings and radar images displayed right in their car. Of course this does not guarantee success, as I still see many chasers out of their cars pointing at an outflow boundary like it is about to produce an F5. So experienced and knowledgeable chasers who can interpret the data properly and visually judge storm structure and morphology will still have the edge. Overall, though, there will continue to be more and more people out every year- lured by the siren song of the latest and greatest chase toys. So through simple dumb luck and sheer force of numbers the good storms will continue to have more and more people on them.

On the positive side, the new technology has really made the chase process a lot easier and sometimes less stressful- and at this point, for me at least, there is no turning back, as I personally cannot do anything about the problems I outlined above. So I will embrace the new chasing realities and take what comes- the good, the bad and the ugly. The storms themselves are still the most awesome and powerful force in nature- and I never get tired of viewing them. That is the bottom line, and it is why I will always chase.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What is a meteorologist?

The recent (now withdrawn) proposed Texas legislation to define a meteorologist got me all riled up again on a subject I feel pretty strongly on- what exactly defines this field I have devoted my life to? The easy answer that a lot of people subscribe to is: BS or higher degree in meteorology= meteorologist. However, it is not nearly so simple, and I am a prime example of that, for you see, despite having the title meteorologist, and having been gainfully employed as a forecaster in that field for almost 30 years, I do not meet the above requirement.

My personal background is necessary to frame where I am coming from:
I have always been a storm nut (hence the title of this blog). I am not sure what the genesis of this was, but I think it is probably related to my childhood being mostly spent in the relative weather dearth of Southern California, where the forecast 80% of the year is the same; night and morning low clouds with hazy afternoon sunshine. However, every summer I was shipped off to see my grandmother in Corning, IA in the SW part of that state- and got to witness the majesty of the Plains thunderstorm firsthand.
So from an early age I did a lot of the things young weather geeks do- I had my homemade rain gauge, kept meticulous weather records etc. I was branded as strange in Corning early on because of my habit of climbing onto the roof of my grandmother's house to observe the clouds. Back in California I spent hours on the phone with my neighbor Walter Milton, another weather geek, talking about what our TV idol, Dr. George Fishbeck, had to say on the local news. Dr George was quite an influence on me- he was not actually a real meteorologist, I believe his degree was in geography or some such. His unbridled enthusiasm for weather, and his penchant for showing things like 500mb charts on the air had me hooked from the start.
In any event, I always knew I wanted to be a meteorologist when I grew up. However, after investigating what this would entail, I was not pleased about all the advanced math and physics required in getting a degree. For you see, from early on I was the kind of student that would try and avoid, at all costs, any subject that I found to be boring- and math and physics fit that category to a tee. Another obstacle was that since I would invariably get bad grades in subjects I did not like (never an F or rarely a D, but many Cs). So my GPA was mediocre at best coming out of high school. Therefore I spent the first two years of school at Santa Monica junior college. Then my grandmother offered to pay my tuition at Iowa State- which had a meteorology program. So back to Iowa I went, but still reluctant to take those darn math and physics classes. I approached the dilemma slowly, first getting all the lesser related classes out of the way- but decision time was fast approaching. But then the Fickle Finger of Fate intervened. From the start of my tenure at ISU, I could see that there was very little emphasis on forecasting (which is what I wanted to do). There was one very math oriented synoptics class, and a half-hearted daily map discussion. However, I was very lucky that Ed Berry, now at NWS DDC, was a grad student at the time, and he and I would be practically the only people in the map room most of the time. I found that I was picking up the rudiments of reading the charts, with Ed's tutelage, very quickly. Before long I was leading the map discussions- and even providing forecasts to some of the professors (who were very research oriented).
At the same two part time jobs opened up in the area- and because of my now almost legendary enthusiasm for forecasting, I landed both at the same time. One was Sunday night at Freese-Notis weather in Des Moines, where I answered the phone and did a few odd forecasts. The other was assistant to Vince Miller at WOI-TV. Both jobs gave me an opportunity to soak up more forecasting knowledge. After a year or so, I was facing the math dilemma square in the face- but was saved by being offered a full-time position at Freese Notis. My thinking was, maybe I could slowly get my degree at ISU while working. However, that never came about, as I spent about 3 years at F-N, then applied to TWC when it launched in 1982, and got that job. I have been working at TWC as a forecaster for 23 years now, the bulk of that time as Senior Forecaster.

OK, what is the upshot of all this? In my personal case, I never took one class in Dynamics, Synoptic, Thermo- and got no college degree of any kind, Despite this handicap I have been gainfully employed as a weather forecaster for coming up on 30 years, and If I may toot my own horn a bit, my employers have been eminently satisfied with my performance as such.

This gets to the heart of the whole controversy- what is required to be a good weather forecaster? The conventional wisdom, ascribed to by the AMS, is that the more math, physics and advanced met classes, the better. However, my experience seems to fly in the face of that.
Here is my admittedly biased take. The proof is in the RESULTS, not the path taken to get there. If someone like myself, with no degree- maybe someone that could not quite pass that last partial differential equations course, or an ex-military type, or whatever- is able to produce good forecast RESULTS, then the other stuff is all secondary. The passion and dedication to the field is a much more important requirement than any degree. Even among the degreed meteorologists, I see this time in and time out- the really good ones are the ones that have that fire in their belly- that is what counts above all else.
After all, how much of that high-level calculus and advanced physics is really applied in day-to-day forecasting? Very little if any. I have heard that blather about "you need to understand the underlying concepts", but I think that I do understand the concepts- I just never had to express that understanding with a calculus equation. Like it or not, forecasting is still at least as much art as science- mainly because the atmosphere is so chaotic and basically unpredictable, all of the equations in the world cannot come close to approximating what actually goes on. I cannot remember how many times over the years I have read a very long-winded NWS forecast discussion filled with a lot of the latest met jargon- q vectors, CSI, potential vorticity etc- and the forecast ends up being dead wrong anyway. I am not saying that a forecaster that uses these methods is doing it wrong per se- just that his/her method is not necessarily going to always work better than a simpler approach.

Now let me get one thing straight here- I am NOT advising any younger people reading this that a degree is not important- in the world we live in now, it is an absolute requirement. What happened with me is very atypical, and is not the path that would probably lead to employment any longer- even back then it was a fluke. I DO advise, however, along with geting that degree, you live and breathe forecasting and try and learn as much as you can on your own, and eventually what you learn by being passionate and dedicated will serve you every bit as much as that degree will.

A pie-in-the-sky theory that might help solve this dilemma is that all meteorologists are not created equal- so why is there only one path to a met degree? it is ludicrous, in my view, to make a future professor or modeler take the exact same courses as someone that simply wants to forecast. In ny perfect world, schools would have something like a BS in Forecasting Science. This degree would require just the basic calc and physics, but have a heavy emphasis on synoptic and tons of hands on forecasting. This would allow many potentially great forecasters to get their degrees, where otherwise the heavier math courses might force them into other professions. (I personally know of at least 2 people that this happened to).
I know that none of this is likely to ever come about, as the AMS and NWS seem to be going in the opposite direction. But I can dream (and blog) can't I?


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Roger Hill strikes again!

Roger Hill, arguably the most succesful storm chaser of the past 5 years, bagged at least two tornadoes north of Sterling, CO earlier this afternoon- it is not surprising that he and Mike Umscheid have been the golden ones so far this early season (Mike and Fritz Kruse of NWS Dodge City got 5 or so in west central Kansas on April 10th).
Looks like Nebraska will be the place to be the next two days as well (western tomorrow, eastern Thursday)- then maybe some interesting storms here in Atlanta on Friday.

After that a strong low will form over the eastern U.S. for Saturday- this is significant in that all of the models and ensembles show a strong system coming out of the Pacific into the Plains next Monday- but with the close proximity in time to the previous front, it is questionable if the Guf moisture can recover in time for a really significant tornado event. Too bad, since my days off are Sunday Monday and Tuesday- so I could drive out to TX for a Monday event. The silver lining for me is that it looks like there could be some good storms closer to home Tuesday in the Tennessee Valley- we shall see. My main chase vacation does not begin until May 23- so I will take all the early week events before then I can get.