You know, I really thought this would be one year when I wouldn’t have to cut my storm-chase trip to Tornado Alley short because of my schedule and miss some big event. I thought I’d be chasing by the first week of May and could even go a couple of weeks into June if the pattern remained stupendous. Only it’s stupendous in a totally different way. After really early season events that I couldn’t chase because of other commitments, the pattern has afforded very few storms this month, and I’m still in Florida, playing the waiting game. Chances are, the action could pick up again at the end of this month, or in June, but I have to be back in Florida mid-June for, yes, obligations. Because I just can’t block off two or three months for chasing storms at this point in my life.
What’s giving me the mopes? Long-range computer models. There’s an old saying in chasing: Live by the models, die by the models. You can’t rely on them too much. But they’re the next best thing to a crystal ball, so models, along with a feel for climate fluctuations and recurring patterns, and instinct are about all we have to go on. I’ve been obsessing over the GFS and the European models, which still haven’t figured out the end of the month but have been trending toward a ridge, or at least an extreme northern path for the business end of the jet stream in a possibly zonal pattern, with embedded short-wave troughs that may produce weather. Occasionally a GFS run will pull a trough (desirable for storms) out of its goodie bag, but it’s all fiction past a few days. No matter what I say now, this outlook may change in five minutes.
May 12 is what my chaser friends call “the anniversary.” For a small group of us, it marks the anniversary of two big events – the May 12, 2004, Attica, Kansas, tornadoes, one of which destroyed a house less than a half-mile away from us, and the May 12, 2005, tornado and hail barrage near South Plains, Texas. I’ve been pulling choice video from my archive and posting it to my YouTube channel. Today, I’m posting a 10-minute, raw-video cut of the Attica, Kansas, tornadoes. Dave Lewison was in my car, and Pete Ventre was driving Scott McPartland in Scott’s car. The video is amusing for its stressed-out dialogue as we try to avoid baseball-size hail, maintain position without getting too close, and narrowly miss two satellite tornadoes that briefly blocked our escape route. There’s also a sighting of the early TIV, Sean Casey’s Tornado Intercept Vehicle.
Meanwhile … it’s pretty quiet. I’ve done almost all the tinkering my chase gear requires. I’m working on the sequel to my novel “Funnel Vision,” which at least affords the excitement of fictional storm chasing. But it’s May. We should be experiencing the real thing.