Storm Chasing is difficult. Long hours driving across barren landscapes. Fast food diets and little to no time to catch even an hour at a gym. Sleeping any where that you can like fields, on ramps, eerie Kansas hotels (not the kind with continental breakfasts and Starbucks, either). I’m not saying that storm chasing is difficult in itself. It’s all the outlying tasks that accompany each chase that add to the task saturation that causes the fatigue and sleep deprivation.
What is one of the worst things a storm chaser faces? Their own emotions.
Fundamental Analysis: When I begin my #stormchasing forecast, I usually try and get a grasp on what the overall picture is, where the different types of #severeweather will take place (#tornadoes vs #flooding, #snowstorms vs #rain, etc). What will the geographical impact be? Will there be visually appealing storms to document or rain-wrapped tornadoes moving at 70mph? Will the storms have any other environmental interference such as terrain, tree cover, road networks, etc. Once this information has been deciphered, it is time to look at the #weather and see what, if any, chance of storms will be.
Technical Analysis: The first place I look to identify potential severe weather events is the 500mb wind charts. Generally, I look at the charts on Pivotal Weather. Just my preference. This is a map that depicts the winds aloft at 18,000ft MSL level. What I am looking for is any sort of trough (an elongated upper level area of relatively low pressure) where divergence will allow for good upper air venting support for #supercell storms.
Next, I look to the surface charts for general frontal positions. Typically, for me anyways, I find frontal boundaries on the GFS and NAM dewpoint charts. In most cases, it is very easy to spot areas with more moisture that are supportive for supercell and storm development. Once potential areas of interest are identified as possible targets, I begin to dig a little deeper in the severe weather ingredients. Going through charts such as CAPE, LCL, CIN, SRH, Bulk Shear, and others to decide the area in which I think will have the greatest likelyhood for severe weather and tornadoes mixed with road networks, terrain and population(s). Nothing is worse than being chased down by a potent supercell and getting stuck in rush hour traffic in a major metropolitan area (because storms seem to form in the evening, shortly after peak heating has occurred).
What exactly am I looking for?
Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) that is at least unstable enough to allow for storm development.
LCL’s that are low enough to allow for tornadoes to develop
Storm Relative Helicity (SRH) that is strong enough to get storms the shear they need to produce and develop supercells and tornadoes.
Convective Inhibition (CIN) being not strong enough to prevent storms from forming but still strong enough to prevent storms from forming until the right time of day
Then, just for confirmation, I will find the SKEW-t and Hodograph charts that display the winds with height and temperature/dewpoint depictions. This tells me if winds are veering or backing and, along with all other above charts, what type of storm I can potentially expect.
As the days draw closer to the actual chase day, the target area starts to become a little more clear. Once the chase starts, I typically use the SPC’s mesoanalysis page for definitve severe weather information and target selection(s).
Psychological Analysis: Have you ever tried to drive a car when you were upset?
How about cheer someone else up when you are sad about something? The psychological phase of my chasing begins with a brief, yet thorough, examination of where my mental psyche is at. What sort of factors do I have taking place at home? Am I stressed out about anything? Bills? Family? Enough #money (haha, there is never enough money)? Daycare? I go through everything just like I would if I were getting ready to embark on a flight as an airline pilot. You have to check your “mental” baggage at the door in order to have and make clear decision making processes.
How does this apply to chasing #storms? Here’s an example of the above weekend storm chase in #DixieAlley. The first day of the storms began in east #Texas and was looking to be a night time chase event in semi-mountainous, tree-covered, #Arkansas terrain. Road networks are pretty lousy throughout most of the state. However, there is an area along the #Mississippi river (the flood plains) that as flat as the plains of #Kansas. Great roads, great terrain, etc. When I saw that storms would EVENTUALLY make there way to that area, I picked a target area in south eastern Arkansas. Technically, I could see that the greatest potential for supercells (and therefore tornadoes) was in southwestern and southern Arkansas. However, I could also see that eventually the storms would make it over the the #Florida panhandle area.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love to visit Florida. Palm trees and sea breeze. At one point, my family and I actually lived there. We decided we enjoyed visiting Florida more than we enjoyed actually living there. So the biggest problem I faced on this chase that eventually resulted in me busting my forecast was the emotional attachment of having sentiment towards Florida. So, as you can read so far, there are TWO examples of my emotional attachment. The first was choosing to set a target for southeast Arkansas for flat, easy chase terrain. The second, storms in Florida were that the were being lifted by a cold front.
The cold front was completely evident on the surface charts that were coming out that day. Instead of sticking with the technical target areas, such as the warm front or triple point areas, I continued to “believe” storms would eventually produce tornadoes in Florida because I like Florida. See how this works? Now, instead of cutting my losses (leave the cold front storms) and set course to the warm front where I “knew” storms would be semi-discrete and tornado producing, I chose to “not give up” on the Florida cold front storms.
The question begs an answer: Why would you leave a cold front storm in favor of a warm front or triple point storm? Well, when you look at the profile view of a cold front, it is easy to see that they have an uncanny ability to undercut (push cold air under a supercell updraft) and essentially interfere with the supercell storms ability to maintain a rotating updraft.
So what ended up happening was the storm(s) I had “hoped” for ended up going tornado warned, based on radar indicated rotation, but would lose that ability to rotate due to cold front interference. Thus, my storms would go tornado warned and become non-tornadic within 5-10 minutes. In the end, I ended up driving in pouring rain and strong winds while the tornadoes took place only 50-70 miles to my north. To put this in perspective, I very easily could have bailed on the the cold front storms and made it to the warm front with adequate time to catch several of the tornadoes that ended up being confirmed by the NWS.
What does this mean? We will get to that.
Your Forecast: Your forecast is very important. You have studied the forecast atmosphere for days, even weeks. You see where the greatest potential severe weather and tornadoes are going to be. You KNOW where you need to go because the data paints the picture.
Your Target: After you have scoured the forecasting charts, you pick your target, usually, the most reasonable target that puts you easily within range of the severe weather.
Cut your Losses. Focus on the Winners.
Lesson Learned: None of this forecasting matters if you decide to “fly by the seat of your pants” because of an emotional attachment you have created that has no basis whatsoever on the current forecast. In aviation, we use checklists to ensure that ALL criteria for safe flight are met PRIOR to taking flight. The same applies to storm chasing. Furthermore, you do not change your target unless, and only unless the forecast warrants it. Only change your target on chase day if or when the forecast changes and a change in target, if not done expeditiously will result in a bust. In conclusion, storm chasing is honestly very easy. However, our own emotions can make it extremely difficult and frustrating when our minds allow decisions to made based on emotions rather than technical data and reasoning. The heart wants what the heart wants but that won’t get you to the storm. From now on, I will cut my losses and focus on the winners.
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