Monday, December 31, 2012

Another Chase Season Gone

Its finally that time of year. The last day of the year is ere and looking back on the 2012 season I can honestly say it was not that bad. Comparatively speaking, 2012 was one of the worst seasons for tornadoes and supercells in recent history. After setting the second highest number of tornadoes recorded in a year in 2011, we went to the fewest recorded in recent years in 2012. The two biggest outbreaks of the season: March 2nd and April 14th, proved to be extremely difficult to chase if you didn't make every decision perfectly. I was lucky enough to be in a good spot for viewing a tornado on March 2nd, that I think only Adam Lucio and co. saw as well. Following that, as my graduation gift I got five days during the final week of May out on the Great Plains. Although the first chase of that trip (May 24th) proved to be an enormous bust and something which nearly cost us good positioning for the next day, May 25th made up for it completely. What started out as a sleeper "See Text" day turned into a typical late spring setup in Central Kansas. I saw my first Kansas tornadoes and some of the best storm structure I have ever witnessed. After a day's rest in Omaha the next day, we went on to York, Nebraska and ended up catching some of the high-based stuff that came out of northern Kansas. Overall it was a great experience and something I won't soon forget considering it was my first time on the Plains. Between May and October not much happened. It was the quietest June I have ever seen and besides a bust on June 29th (the day of the mega derecho), not much was going on chase-wise. The season looked to be over early but thankfully a day popped up on the GFS in late September, progged for sometime between October 11-13. So on October 12, I was able to, thanks to the huge kindness of Stephen Jones, go out to the Texas Panhandle and see my first Texas/October tornadoes. The season wrapped up for me on November 10th after a fun bust in south-central Kansas with Zach Elliot, Andrew Lyons and CJ Sayre as well as a whole group of other awesome people at a bar in Pratt (which I would not recommend if you want fast service). I can't complain about one of the best seasons I've had in five years of chasing, especially with all the new people I was able to meet and hang out with. So goodbye to 2012, its been great.

Friday, December 14, 2012


As I sit here typing this out, we're currently stuck in what I consider the second worst part of the off-season barring February. The pattern, while becoming more active recently as opposed to the stagnant zonal flow we were stuck in for much of late November/early December, is still depressing as hell. A rather deep trough brought an arctic blast with it about a week ago and we've just begun to thaw out a bit in Oklahoma. Heading into a month long break from school with about 76 days left to go in the off-season, I can only imagine how bad the doldrums will get. This winter so far has served as quite the conundrum. Bursts of extremely cold air mixed with almost spring-like temperatures haven't made it very reassuring for what's to come next season. Although no amount of climate prediction/black magic voodoo can predict what the upcoming tornado season will be like, I am not particularly impressed so far with what the pattern looks like in the foreseeable future. Periods of zonal/split flow followed by extremely amplified longwave patterns over the mid-section of the country make this out to be a wonky winter. I pray this doesn't lead to another 2009-type season, with the best setups scattered all over creation. But it's still extremely early and making predictions/assumptions right now is beyond stupid. So here's hoping for a quick end to the off-season so we can finally see what 2013 will hold.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Breaking the Misconceptions: What Storm Chasing is Really Like

Storm chasing is perhaps unlike any other hobby in the United States. No other hobby requires such intricate knowledge of not only severe thunderstorms, but the forecast processes behind them, photography, and navigation. Since more light was shed on the hobby in the mid-late 90 there have been more and more folks entering the hobby with preconceived notions. This post is simply to expose three of the misconceptions people have coming in to help them determine if they really want to make the financial and physical commitment to chasing storms.

1. Storm chasing is a thrilling, action packed adventure. This is probably the biggest fallacy people come in hearing. About 85% of storm chasing is driving to get to a target for storms. An average chase will usually only have about 1-2 hours of excitement on a storm (note that's an average). Compare this with the 5-10 hours of driving both ways just to get there and you sometimes have a very dull experience, especially when the setup ends up busting and you're sitting in Great Bend, Kansas with 90/65 spread looking at clear blue skies. This is why having chase partners who you get along well with and who you can have fun with even on busts is extremely important. Storms are only part of the equation to having fun on a chase.

2. I will see lots of tornadoes my first season. Coming in with this mindset will most likely lead you to serious frustration in your inaugural season. Very few chasers see even one tornado their first season, let alone a lot of them. For example, it took me four seasons to see my first tornado. When most people start out, they tend not to have a wide enough knowledge base in forecasting and storm evolution to bag a tornado. This is why coming in with lower expectations and just learning from your first season is so critical. Even if you don't see a tornado, there's a good chance for learning important things that will aid you in later seasons.

3. Being a meteorology major gives me an edge. I hate to say it, but I see a lot of this at OU. Some of the freshman seem to suffer from the delusion that being OU meteorology students gives them some special status. This ties in directly to the second point: No matter how much you think you know, there will be vast amounts you still need to learn. Other chasers don't care if you're a meteorology student so don't wear it on your arm.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Brief Look at Instability on Soundings

So recently I've noticed people have been having problems understanding how to "see" instability/buoyancy on an observed sounding so I though I'd shed a little light on the subject. The amount of instability (CAPE) on a sounding can be eyeballed by looking at the parcel path relative to the temperature line. The parcel path of a sounding is the theoretical path any given parcel (imagine a box) of air would take in the environment. The temperature line is simply displaying the temperature on an X/Y axis throughout the atmosphere (millibars on the Y-axis and temperature values on the X-axis). Below is an example of a sounding with very high ML/SBCAPE values from June 29, 2012, a day that would produce a derecho that caused extensive damage from Ohio to Maryland:
The parcel path is represented with the dashed brown line and the temperature line is the red line. There is a large area in between the two indicating an extremely unstable environment and positively buoyant parcels (tendency to rise). The larger the area in between the parcel path and temperature line indicates high instability. Be wary though, there was also a thermal inversion at 850 mb which can put a damper on rising parcels due to the parcels not being warmer than the surrounding air at 850 mb (i.e. not having positive buoyancy).

While the thermodynamics for this sounding are very favorable for severe thunderstorms, the shear environment isn't favorable for discrete severe thunderstorms i.e. supercells. This sounding however does show a favorable environment for linear thunderstorms, especially organized bows/derechos.

So when looking at soundings in the future, you can always eyeball it if the nice CAPE values below aren't available!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Official End of the Season

Well after a series of false posts, I can now say that the 2012 chase season is over. After a fun bust in south-central Kanas yesterday it looks like the pattern should go zonal with the gulf closing for the foreseeable future. Had a great season with roughly 5100 miles, 6 tornadoes and a lot of new friends. Looking forward to chase season 2013, roughly 108 days left until March 1st!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 Stats Update

Well folks I experienced a bit of Panhandle magic yesterday and ended up coming back to Norman with three tornadoes and an extra 1000 miles under my belt. I updated the chase stats on the post below and needless to say, I feel awesome. None of the tornadoes were long-lived or fully condensed but they still showed up rather nicely in some of my photos. I'll have a full account up in a few days. Night!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chase Season 2012 Stats

Just a brief recap of stuff that wasn't covered back in my June posts. Here are all the stats for my 2012 season:

Chases: 9
Miles Driven: 5118
Tornadoes: 6
Largest Hail: Ping-pong (1 1/2 inches)
Highest Winds: 71 MPH (RFD March 2nd supercell)
States Chased In: Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska
Busts: 4
Best Chase: May 25
Funniest Experience: Driving under a supercell's base on March 2nd and having Ryan say "oh look its spinning" right over our heads
Scariest Moment: See above
Worst Experience: Deciding to chase the May 24th bustola in northeastern Iowa/southeastern Minnesota that wasted valuable time for the next day
Creepy Country Folk Encountered: 3 (March 2nd)
Strongest Tornado: EF2 (March 2nd)
Best Structure: Rush County Supercell (May 25)
Moderate Risk Fails: 2 (May 24, June 29)

For all intensive purposes, 2012 was not that bad of a season for me even though it was sorely lacking in tornadic setups sans two major outbreaks early in the season and a few sleeper days in May. I chased farther and longer than I ever have before (extended 3 days of nonstop chasing and over 3000 miles covered in 5 days). I also got my first tornado and possibly one of my favorite all time structure shots. I'm greatly anticipating spring 2013 in Tornado Alley and am hoping for an even better season. Until then, I'm gonna be re-living the memories:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Life in Chase Mecca & the Fall Season

Well folks I've been in Norman for almost a full month now. So far its been amazing, I went to my first Sooner home game yesterday night where they opened a can of whoop ass on Florida A&M (thank god, no UTEP repeats). I also have been exploring the National Weather Center for the first time since I've been here. It really is an amazing place.

But moving back to the point of this, its looking like the upper air pattern over the CONUS is not gonna be conducive for any real severe weather opportunities in the next week and a half/two weeks. A high pressure dome is basically going to be sitting squarely over the Central Plains for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile back home in Cincinnati a huge squall line came roaring through Friday night and put down an EF0 just across the county line in Clermont County. I know I sound like a broken record, but I somehow figured something like that'd happen. All in all I'm not expecting anything special like November 7th from last year, but I really am hoping I get a nice surprise in the next few months.

Friday, June 22, 2012

2012: Year of Fallen Expectations

Its that time of year folks, where the bitching and whining begins about how mediocre this chase season was. After one of the quietest Junes I've ever seen there doesn't look to be any good setups in the next week. Technically this was one of my better seasons since I got my first two tornadoes this year, my plains trip in, as well as some of the best structure I've seen whilst chasing but the year lacked a lot in terms of overall good setups. It basically hinged on two days: March 2nd and April 14th. I chased the 2nd and got a  tornado in Kentucky but never have I seen a year with only two outbreaks even after May and most of June. Of course there were other big days, May 19th in south-central Kansas, May 25th in western Kansas, May 30th in central Texas, June 5th  in Montana and so on. But the biggest issue was the number of big bust days. Even with all the ingredients in place (strong shear, moderate-high instability, great moisture and modest lift) days still busted like its 1988. We had the fewest confirmed tornadoes in May in history. We have yet to hit 1000 tornadoes even (we're currently at 841 reported) and its the end of June almost. The cap won over on a lot of setups along with moisture being mixed out early. This year almost reminds me of 2009, but I've been hearing a lot of comparisons to 2006 (I wouldn't know considering I didn't get into chasing until roughly 2-3 years later). The only good thing to be considered is this:
-I got tornadoes for the first time this season
-Big seasons "usually" come after weaker seasons and I'll be out on the Plains for school next year

All in all, I can't complain about it too much but a far more active season would have been appreciated. This season also saw another uptick in anti-chaser articles and other such bullshit, but hopefully it'll blow over now that the season has taken such a downward spiral. Below are some of the best images from the season:
                          Southern supercell near Long Ridge, KY. March 2

                         Rope tornado near Long Ridge, KY. March 2

                        Rope tornado near Long Ridge, KY. March 2

                         Supercell 1 south of Russell, KS. May 25

                        Supercell 1 south of Russell, KS. May 25

                         Supercell 2 with tornado east of LaCrosse, KS. May 25

                        Contrast shot showing tornado east of LaCrosse. May 25

                         Contrast shot of tornado east of LaCrosse. May 25

                         Multicell rain shaft/microburst S. NE. May 27

                         Multicell rain shaft/microburst S. NE. May 27

                         Closeup of dust being kicked up. S. NE. May 27

                       Rain shaft north of Wilber, NE. May 27

                       Rain shaft/elevated updraft base. Lincoln, NE. May 27

                       Updraft towers. Lincoln, NE. May 27

                        Mammatus. Hays, KS. May 25

                        Mammatus. Hays, KS. May 25

                         Mammatus. Hays, KS. May 25

Sunday, March 4, 2012

First Tornado of 2012!

Hey all! As the title states I just got my first tornado! I was out chasing with Brandon and Ryan on Friday in northern Kentucky as tornadic supercells were ravaging southern Indiana. We caught the storm near Owenton that produced some strong tornadoes across the river. This tornado did damage to Martin Stables up the road on 127 and stayed on the ground for 5 miles after it became rain-wrapped. The NWS in Wilmington rated it as an EF2.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Site

Hey all, been awhile since my last blog post but I just opened up a new site with Nate Curtis. If you're interested here's the link: Tornado Handoff

Also I got my first "chase" of the season on Thursday night. Brandon, Ryan and I all ventured down to Kentucky on the ill-fated, over hyped setup that was February 23rd. We didn't get into Kentucky well after sunset but ended up catching one of two severe thunderstorms that night south of Owenton. It was a rough chase because of poorly gridded roads and lots of trees but we got some awesome lightning and thunder out of the storm before it passed. All in all, not a bad start to the season!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chase Season 2012: Countdown

As the countdown clock noted, we have roughly 18 days or so until the meteorological spring and chase season 2012 begin. Its kind of hard to believe how close we are considering its cold and windy enough to rip the stubble right off my face. If the GFS stays true to itself from the past couple of 12/00Z runs then the Midwest/Plains will be in the freezer box for another few weeks at least. But relief is on the way. This chase season is shaping up to be my best yet, considering I'll have a car and a some better technology at my disposal. I've been piddling around in terms of looking for a job, but I am starting to buckle down in an attempt to at least get $3000 put away for the first half of chase season. I re-did the costs this year and it comes out to this:

Gas per chase: $100-$150
Internet from April-August: $250
Registration for Indiana Svr Symposium: $35
New site domain: $77.95
Food/Drinks per chase: $50

So if I chased 15 times this year, that'd come out to roughly $3250 just for chasing expenses. But this is all hypothetical and assumes that I'll be doing a lot of long distance chasing. I'd guess the actual expenses for just chasing will be in the $2750 ballpark but thats just me. The registration for the severe symposium and new site domain run about $112. So if I kept a minimum wage job from the second to last week of February to May 1st and worked 20 hours a week I'd only make it to $1305 and I'd prolly spend at least half so $652. If I upped that to 30 hours a week and worked from the second to last week of February to say...the end of the school year/third week of May I'd get $2827 which would definitely fund my chasing. I could swap certain chase days with people at work and that'd get me the money I needed to at least get 10 chases.

So my plan is basically set, work at least 13 weeks/rest of the school year and gain enough money to fund myself from April through the summer hopefully.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Heartbreak and High Pressure

Yeah I know, the title of this one is pretty lame but I don't have the spirit to be witty with anything after this past playoff game. The Bengals took on the Houston Texans in the first round of playoff games earlier today and got their asses handed to them on a platter 31-10. I have now seen the Bengals go to the playoffs three times and they still have yet to ever win a first round game. Although 2005 and 2009 were bad enough, this year really hurt considering we were playing the HOUSTON TEXANS. For christ sake, we were playing a team that won the worst division in the AFC with a third-string quarterback. But as people have been saying, its a young team and expecting a playoff win out of them was a tall order (still just as pissed about this though).

But moving on to actual weather stuff, its been a really quiet week going into today with almost no snow or rain or anything across the US. The next system won't start swinging in until Tuesday and it doesn't look at all impressive until it meets a second low in the northeastern states late in the week. People were hinting at a severe threat for the deep south on Tuesday, but the 12Z run of the NAM basically shot that right in the foot with the center of the low being to far north. On the plus side, its been in the upper to mid 50s the past couple of days which has made January a lot more bearable than usual. We only have 52 days until the chase season starts on March 1st and hopefully this nice weather will help speed things up.