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