When people hear that we chase tornadoes, we hear, “You’re crazy!”. While that may be true, the reasons people decide to take up storm chasing vary. But, underlying every storm chaser’s motivation, is a love for storms. But, what is it that we love about storms? If you are like most people who live outside tornado alley, all you usually see are squall lines and “garden variety” thunderstorms. While we love those too, it is the towering supercell that most chasers long for. We call it the “mothership”. Unless you have stood near one of these monsters, it’s difficult to comprehend the power of these storms. The warm inflow winds, the warm moist air being sucked up by the updraft (evident by rising scud that forms into a wall cloud), the overall spiraling structure of the storm, the possibility of a gorgeous stovepipe tornado. All of these things and more, are what makes storm chasing an unforgettable experience.
The Forecasting Challenge
One of this author’s favorite aspects of chasing is the challenge of forecasting. No, I’m no meteorologist. However, as a hobbyist, I have learned a thing or two from experience, friends, and actual meteorologists. I suppose you could say, the basics of forecasting. With guidance from the Storm Prediction Center forecasts, we pinpoint where we think the best area for storms will be. Then, we drive there and wait for initiation. Sometimes we get there just in time, sometimes we get there late. Furthermore, we also get it completely wrong and are way out of position. But generally speaking, it’s not all that difficult to see any given storm. What is difficult, is finding the few storms or single storm that will have the best chance of making a tornado. Chasing can be very rewarding or it can be very disheartening. Even if a tornado doesn’t touch down, a nicely structured supercell is a nice consolation prize.
There are downsides to chasing of course. It can be dangerous. One must be very aware of their
surroundings, especially when dealing with more than one storm at once. This happened earlier this year on 28 March 2017 when several supercells were in the process of merging into a QLCS or squall line. The rain was pouring and we were caught out of position heading North-Northeast from Anson, TX. We had been tracking storms all afternoon and they dropped a couple of nice looking tornadoes. Except, we missed them. We did see one off in the distance, but we were too far away and it quickly became involved in rain. We did catch a potential monster supercell however.
This brings me to the ups of storm chasing. The one of a kind visuals that each storm puts on display.
Every storm is different, and every storm is different from moment to moment. The two photos (left, above) show the same storm, only minutes apart. Lucky for the residents of Roby, this storm didn’t do much damage or produce any verified tornadoes. But it was gorgeous. And it was a lot of fun catching up to this storm and punching the core to get to a place where we could see it evolve. We literally drove right under the wall cloud before these photos were taken. Core punching is certainly not something I recommend for inexperienced chasers. Danger, in the form of a tornado, could be lurking on the other side of the rain and hail. But timed just right, and done with the utmost caution, and you can be rewarded. These visuals, the experiences with friends, the challenges, and the excitement all make storm chasing worth the time and effort put in. Crazy or not, I will never stop chasing.