Meanwhile, here’s a quick look at a photo from Sunday. I stopped for several minutes outside Jeanette, Arkansas, and took some lightning photos. I’ll post more later. This is always the problem with all the driving while storm chasing – it’s hard to squeeze in the Internet updates!
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.
I’ve chased storms every year, to some degree, since 1997. By chasing storms, I mean I’ve headed to Tornado Alley to chase the big storms, the grand, rotating supercells that draw me out there year after year. But I’ve always come from the East Coast, and that’s where the challenge lies when scheduling a storm chase.
A few people have the freedom and money to fly out to chase whenever a system looks really good. Or they already live in Tornado Alley; several years ago, I looked into moving to Oklahoma from Maryland, but I never really found the perfect job and ended up moving to Florida’s Lightning Alley instead. At least we have some picturesque storms here, and some spectacular lightning, albeit not as frequent as a photographer would like.
So I’m still having to plan my chasecations, as we outlanders call them. At least I don’t have a strict job-regimented schedule now, but I am working as a freelancer, so I still have to schedule work and think about the long-term costs of a chase trip. And that meant I couldn’t go to the Plains for the April 14 outbreak. What all these dreary details boil down to is that I set May aside for my chasecation, but now, the pattern stinks for storms.
Oh, yes, there will be storms. There might even be a few astounding ones, and a few tornadoes, in these first couple of weeks of May. But the outlook for the next couple of weeks doesn’t promise a great deal of severe weather, especially not in the Southern Plains, which is ideal chasing territory. So I’ve put off my chasecation until the pattern improves, in hopes that the jet stream will dip down to where it’s supposed to be in spring.
Waiting is actually a horrible gamble, because some years, the pattern shuts off storms completely. You get the summer “death ridge” or equivalent, and you might as well just stay home. So I’m hoping my gamble pays off as I sit at home, watching storms develop here and there, and watching the computer models evolve. I’m ready for the chase, but the atmosphere isn’t ready for me.
I made this film in one day, or over several years, depending on your perspective. I used some of my archival footage of storms and tornadoes, but I also interviewed a group of friends and chasers during a typical marginal chase day that took us from Kansas into southern Nebraska. I wanted to show how much driving, bad food and waiting around were involved in getting those few seconds of amazing footage – and that not every chase is awesome or extreme. But I still think every chase is awe-inspiring, in its way, because I love the freedom of following the weather and exploring the beautiful Great Plains.
Here’s the movie. It’s just over 14 minutes. Don’t forget to check the quality setting – the gear symbol in the lower right of the movie window – and choose 720p HD if your connection allows it.
I’m getting ready to go storm chasing in May … and will be going a bit mad over the next few days during an expected outbreak of severe weather in Tornado Alley. (Do you have your weather radio yet?) So as therapy – and as part of a flurry of updates of my storm-chasing-focused sister site SkyDiary.com – I’ve put together a little video from an interesting chase on May 18, 2010, in the Texas Panhandle. Near Dumas, I saw one tornado. I also saw a huge, rotating wall cloud that was dragging its butt on the ground, but from my perspective, I couldn’t confirm a tornado. This storm was a perfect example of one that can inspire all kinds of specious tornado reports, thanks to all the dangling scud clouds, yet definitely warranted tornado warnings.