It happens every year. Kevin and I toss weather pattern ideas back and forth prior to the storm chase so far in advance that the numerical models probably border on pure fantasy…or, possibly, do they offer a glimpse of things to come? We can glean hints and play with scenarios in our minds, but only time will tell the real story of what lies in our future. It’s a tradition to play out potential severe weather setups, and complain about the lack of jetstream support or moisture return from the Gulf of Mexico. Now that I think about it, there is a practical side to this for us, as it “conditions” our minds to focus on the upcoming task: negotiating the far away corners of the Great Plains in an effort to forecast and intercept severe thunderstorms, and hopefully, open-country tornadoes.
In many ways the pre-chase routine is something akin to decorating for a holiday: there are practical tasks that must be completed in the way of acquiring vehicles, and setting up the technology, etc.; but a deeper, emotional component accompanies the preparation as well. Our annual window for the trip is modest: two to three weeks, and potentially poor weather patterns occupy my mind in the days before we leave. This year is no exception, as the pattern we are expecting is not one of the typical May set-ups that favor the mother lode of severe storms. We will have to work hard for our storm intercepts again this year (well, it is always hard work, but this year will likely present even more challenging forecasting situations than normal). With favorable weather patterns I know we will see our storms. With the pattern we may face this time, I hope we can successfully forecast and intercept storms worthy of such an extended effort. Both Kevin and I have seen our share of storms and tornadoes over the years, but this trip is not about us, it is about the students and their experiences in forecasting and observation of storms. We don’t need an outbreak. All we need is one supercell, and we need to be on it. We are currently assessing the possibility of a delayed departure if the models continue to insist on strong ridging through the plains. There are some hints that a dip in the jetstream may occur during week 2 of our trip, and delaying the departure could better position this feature in our window of time. The worst-case scenario always scares me: waiting out a dead pattern until it finally breaks…during the time we have to head home. We hope to make this decision by 5/13, so we can adjust our logistics accordingly. Stay tuned on this one.
Regardless of the storm potential, I find myself always happy to return to the wide-open spaces of the plains, and the excitement of what is to come helps blunt the feeling of being away from my home and family for weeks on end. It will be the first trip to the Great Plains for many on our chase crew, and I am certain that they will be as impressed with the open spaces as much as I am…every year. Perhaps most impressive though, is the magnificent architecture of a severe thunderstorm sprawled across the wide open prairie sky. I hope we earn some quality storm time this year, we will most definitely work hard for it. -Dave