Storm chase trip = Lots of trip; some chase; a little storm

Dave and I regularly emphasize in pre-chase meetings that a storm-chasing trip consists primarily of one main activity: Riding around in vans. 

I broadly characterize the days of our storm trips into three categories:  (1) travel, those devoted primarily to positioning for the next day; (2) chase, those in which we actually engage severe storms; and (3) bust, those in which expected severe weather fails to materialize or we badly position ourselves and miss what does occur.

Of the 68 days on our five trips from 2005-09, 37 were travel days, 22 were chase days and 9 were bust days.  Broken down another way, an “average” chase trip over the past 5 years has consisted of roughly 8 travel days, 4 chase days and 2 bust days.

But travel days are not necessarily bad days or boring days.

We maxed out travel days in 2008 – 10 on a 16-day trip, including 6 in a row waiting out a mid-trip lull in the weather pattern. We enjoyed those travel days having picnic lunches at the Guadalupe Mountains and Palo Duro Canyon in west Texas as we slowly worked northward toward a developing severe weather threat. We ate and slept unusually well! The payoff came with two epic tornado days in Kansas.

One of the most poignant travel days came in 2006 when we followed the damage path of a recent tornado through Caruthersville, Missouri, and Marmaduke, Arkansas, twisted trees and ruined homes everywhere. Similarly, in 2008, we visited the Saragosa, Texas, tornado memorial, and actually bumped into a survivor of the tragic 1987 tornado that killed 30. Those stops added a sobering dimension to a trip focused on severe weather.

Occasionally we will encounter some mild storms on a travel day, and we’ll stop to admire those.  Even a mediocre storm can be picturesque hovering over the Plains, and meek storms can still etch the sky with bold strokes of lightning.

We end up at some of the same places on repeated trips, like Lambert’s Café in Sikeston, Missouri, home of the “throwed rolls” (2006, 2007); Palo Duro Canyon outside Amarillo, Texas (2007, 2008); and Bosselman’s Travel Center, the mega-truck stop near Grand Island, Nebraska (2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009).

On an average trip, we enter 14 states and typically put about 6,000 miles on the vans. We’ve chased storms from North Carolina to Colorado, from the Badlands of South Dakota to deep in the heart of Texas. Even our successful chase days often involve many hours and hundreds of miles of travel.

We’re happy to do the tourist thing for a while if the pattern fades, but we’re there to chase severe storms. Every mile we move, even on the off days, is taken with the next target in mind.

—Kevin Myatt, May ’10  storm trip co-leader

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5 responses to “Storm chase trip = Lots of trip; some chase; a little storm

  1. hokiestormchaser

    As Kevin said…lots of driving! Even on travel days, we will have everyone working constantly as we analyze new model data as it comes in, and try to determine where we need to be to greet any potential storm activity. Like a chess match, we may have to decide whether to punt one chase day in exchange for a travel day to a distant location for a better-looking set-up in the future.

    Busting on a chase, like falling in skiing, is part of the game. Fortunately, pure forecasting busts have been pretty rare for us. Kevin can correct me if I’m wrong (I frequently am of course), but I don’t think we have totally busted when storms formed (although the last day of ’08 would be considered close as wimpy storms fired in NE while the big stuff went up in OK…we were in NE). If storms form, we are usually there(knock wood) at some point.

    Atmospheric busts are a different matter: sometimes our forecasting is dead-on, we are already in the area when the SPC issues an MD or a watch, but storms fail to form. Some atmospheric ingredient is lacking, or the cap is simply too strong. All part of the game… -Dave

  2. Busts are definitely a learning experience! And for sights to see during a slow period you ought to add Carhenge in Alliance NE and the “World’s Largest Ball of Sisal Twine” in Cawker City KS. (And don’t forget Wakita OK!!)

  3. hokiestormchaser

    …we’ve passed by the ball of twine many times! (I understand the roof over it leaks and it has begun to rot). Our “adopted” small town is nearby Downs KS…a very friendly place!

  4. Defining what is a “bust ” is admittedly a bit subjective. I definitely counted the ’08 Nebraska chase effort as a bust since we didn’t really engage any storm that day, just a towering cume that wouldn’t quite go (nice photos from that, though). Also, 2006 in Indiana when we did manage to move along near some storms in the trees and hills but got on the wrong side of the supercell to see the day’s only tornado. A “bust” is one of those things that can be a bit hard to define, but you know it when it happens … you FEEL it inside.

    We’ve misplaced ourselves on a few chase days but usually recover to catch something. Like the first chase day in ’08 when we were in southern Oklahoma and all the storms were firing either in Texas or in northern Oklahoma. We ran south and had a neat sunset intercept of a supercell in north Texas, wall cloud silhouetting the windmills.

  5. BTW … I didn’t count as busts those aborted chase days Dave is talking about, where we break off by mid-afternoon and decide to go elsewhere for the next day’s threat, but rather counted those as travel days. Biggest example of that was ’07 when we were set up for chasing in South Dakota but by early afternoon the next day’s outlook for Kansas looked so good we packed up and left — there were storms in the Dakotas we missed but they paled compared to the motherships we found in Kansas! And then last year we were on our way to Wyoming but turned on a dime in Nebraska (after a team vote — Dave and I presented the options, and left to let the chasers vote) to head to Texas for the next day — not as great as the ’07 gamble but we did find more storms than if we had stayed.

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