2017 Lessons Learned

Discussion in 'Introductory weather & chasing' started by Devin Pitts, Aug 6, 2017.

  1. Devin Pitts

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    So with this years severe season being over I figured I'd get one of these threads rolling.

    I think the biggest thing I learned chasing this year is to stick to my forecast. On 2/28 in IL this year my initial target that I waited for initiation at was in Metamora, IL and I let myself get baited 40 miles further northwest by some meh storms(that did at least produce a brief spin up) only to miss the Washburn EF3 tornado, which touched down no more than 10 miles from my initial target.

    I also learned to not immediately discredit a storm just because it has a big shelf on it. On multiple occasions this year while chasing locally I saw several storms manage to reorganize into supercells, and in one case I actually ended up directly in the path of a tornado after dark near Rockford because of this.
     
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  2. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
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    This year I learned how to take a major hail barrage: take it in the front windshield for as long as the glass will hold, and do not worry about slowing down to minimize the relative velocity of the stones into the glass.

    Front glass is stronger than all other glass on your car, especially rear glass. Also, with non-luxury models (that don't have rain sensing wipers or other fancy tech embedded in the glass or affixed to the rear-view mirror that is attached via the front window), the back glass tends to be substantially more expensive to replace, and is much weaker, than the front glass. If you can't find shelter for your vehicle, just keep moving and get out of the hail!
     
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    #2 Jeff Duda, Aug 6, 2017
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  3. Tony Laubach

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    Small town mentality is quite curious, but not surprising... I also learned that chasing Oklahoma really isn't worth dealing with anymore.

    On a related note, having an always-running dash camera is invaluable. Not only does it capture those fleeting weather events you may miss on your normal cameras, it obviously can save your ass when you get assaulted by an idiot unmarked guy on a power trip.

    For the first time in a couple years, I didn't screw myself out of a good tornado event... I chased selectively and with as few good days as there were, I felt I nailed them all pretty good. Had a better average of NOT chasing events, sitting out hyped ones and didn't miss anything. The lesson, take the time to learn about forecasting and skip the hype. Believe me newbies, you have so much technology in front of you that helps you bag tornadoes much easier than I did when I was doing this for real back in the late 90s/early 2000s. But it doesn't do any good if you have no clue WHY those models are putting out the results they are. Seriously, take the time to learn. You'll ultimately save yourself many days of busting. Sometimes the results aren't in the tornadoes you see, but in what miles you don't waste (and I say that to those who think the only win is a tornado or high-end storm event). You all know what you go into a day looking for, and if you feel disappointed on frustrated at the end of it because you went balls in one a setup that didn't pan out the way the "here you go" models panned out, then go to school or read a book and LEARN... cause there is a helluva good feeling in sitting at home listening to everybody else whine which can be just as rewarding as a good storm chase day. :D

    Pay more attention to low-end days... I think this is where not being out constantly does get you is that you end up missing good low-end days. Obviously there is a risk/reward for me for driving from southern IL to the high plains, so it's hard to justify going after every low-end setup there is in hopes you get the rare ones. 2017 seemed to produce a few solid low-end rewards, but those winning were either living in the area or out on an extended trip. I missed none of those days while actually being out in the field, so that's good. This is the first season I can recall in many years where I did not see halfway decent to amazing tornadoes I missed on a day I chased or was out in the field. But again, this comes from learning about the weather a bit. It's easy in hindsight to be like, "oh yeah, check that out." Try it before the fact sometime.

    Gradients over bulls-eyes.

    Forecasting, but not so much chasing, if models have some consistency is bringing high amounts of precip that go beyond what you think it should be, don't discount them (two ice events and a foot of rain event showed me that three times).

    Iowa is still Iowa and can go do something to itself that most humans without some form of surgery can't do.

    Invest in your tires... AWD/4WD is great, but a solid set of tires will get you through most roads AWD/4WD will. This is nothing new, but being my second season in the van, and the first on this set of tires, I realized I can get around just fine on 2WD as I did with AWD; spend the money on good tires.

    Investing in a good cooler and buying drinks in bulk ahead of the season saved me a lot of money and I was able to have a cache of the exact beverages I wanted with me all the time. Per my calculations, I saved roughly on average $0.87 per beverage this way verses buying from a gas station stop. This includes Gatorade which I got for $0.88 each at Kroger as opposed to a 2/$3.50 deal. The average is probably lower as I stocked up on teas that you can't get at gas stations (which throws points at having drinks you REALLY want).

    I changed my hotel rewards from going toward my Southwest flying and used them as hotel rewards... in total, I had 8 free nights I used between April and June. Choice Hotels was my preferred stay as their points were more flexible per room as opposed to Wyndham where it's a flat 15K. Choice varies per night depending on the hotel, so sometimes I could get a room for 8K-12K. I registered for double points, stay X times and get X points, and probably cut $600 or more on hotel savings in that three months. Wyndham is good for their stay fast rates, which for 3K points, cuts down a hotel room cost by a certain amount. In a few instances, this was $30-$40 per night... but more often $10-$20.

    I bought a tri-fold memory foam mattress that I kept in my van, which I assumed would come in handy if I wanted to crash a night in my van. I did that ZERO times... but I used that mattress on a hotel floor three times. Makes cheap to split a room, or in two cases, I just crashed in the room free.

    Buy the giant jugs of Goldfish... I don't need to state the reasoning.

    Lastly, and I think most importantly... enjoy the chase. I didn't waste as much time trying to get video in immediately after a chase. Yes, I didn't make as much money as I could, but I wanted to enjoy the chase. I put down the video camera for my still camera and took more photos, and just enjoyed being out. There was a day driving down the caprock enroute to a chase where I blasted the music, closed down the gizmos, and just enjoyed the ride. I thoroughly enjoyed my time out there more not having to worry about deadlines, beating people with video, and enjoyed the experience. I've been shooting video for more than a dozen years, I am going to make my money. But instead of making that a priority, I took care of it after in most cases, and in the end, just enjoyed the days more. I was happier for it. Not saying there weren't days I busted it out, but I really stepped back, I think.
     
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    #3 Tony Laubach, Aug 6, 2017
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2017
  4. Alex Elmore

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    I'll echo several things that Tony said. I too learned the value of bringing a cooler along this season. I have in the past for the sake of packing food that's easy to eat on the go, but this is the first year I also packed water. I was able to get a couple 24-packs on sale for a dollar or two, which helped save money. Also, I joined a hotel rewards program this year, which also saved me a lot of money.

    I needed to purchase a car last September, and I did so with chasing in mind. I wanted something that was fuel efficient, roomy enough to carry everything and possibly sleep in, and had AWD/4WD. I ended up purchasing a Ford Focus hatchback, which has FWD and is OK on room. After chasing one season in it, I have no regrets. I've learned that for me, great fuel economy is fantastic and outweighs the benefits I would have gained from having more room and/or AWD/4WD. I only wanted the latter just in case. I've come close to needing it a couple times, but as everyone says, as long as you're smart and have good tires, FWD should do just fine.

    This year, after seeing my first tornadoes since 2012, I can say I have truly learned that seeing a tornado, while it can be absolutely awesome and breathtaking, is not always what it's made out to be. I've always had the mentality that you should be sure to focus on and appreciate the storm, and I have done so, but this year confirmed that for me. You'll get lucky every once in a while and witness a Dodge City or Rozel (or insert your favorite here), but most of the time, it'll probably be a less photogenic, short-lived, weaker tornado (still worth chasing, though).
     
  5. JamesCaruso

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    I've learned a lot since I started chasing in 1996. But all I learned this year was:

    1. Don't look forward to your chase vacation too much, don't get your hopes up, or you're setting yourself up for disappointment that you can't get rid of for a year

    2. Don't tie up too much of your self-image in chasing, or anything that's dependent upon the vagaries of weather

    3. If there's no chasing, stay in a city so you can drown your sorrows at night

    4. If there's still no chasing, go back home

    5. Get a job where you can chase whenever you want.

    6. Wait, scratch that, that's putting too much of your identity into chasing... Instead, advance your career to the point where you have the flexibility to schedule your chase vacation when things look good. Make enough money so that you can fly back and forth more than once if you need to.

    7. Work remotely on down days, maybe it will enable you to stay out longer. After doing this for four days, see #4

    8. Returning a rental car at a different airport than you rented it, is a more expensive proposition than changing a flight or buying a one way ticket on short notice



    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  6. Taylor Wright

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    Not a whole lot of chasing lessons-learned this year, but more tough life lessons learned that I'm sure a lot of younger chasers like myself will have to deal with at some point, so I'll try to offer some advice.

    After chasing the plains for 5 years and having seen roughly 30 tornadoes in 2016 alone, I graduated college in December and got an engineering/construction job which sent me to Maryland. With generous PTO, I was able to set up an unsuccessful week and a half vacation in May, which brings me to my first and second lessons learned:

    1. Invest in your future. Tornadoes will always be there, but while you're young, start a career, invest in your 401k (skipping on putting money into a 401k/IRA until you're 30 could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars when you retire) and building connections so you're not broke and in shambles by the time you're 30. Chasing won't pay the bills, so build a career that will allow you to stabilize yourself financially and chase with more freedom in the future. Also, build relationships and spend time with your family. One day they'll be gone forever and you'll wish you hadn't skipped on hanging out with them to go chase. Look at the older veterans out there chasing successfully in their 50s and 60s. They've established solid careers and spend time with their families. You'll be much more happier in the long run.

    2. Mentioned above, but was a big one for me. Expect the worst on Chasecations. You're not going to see 30 tornadoes taking the last two weeks of May off to chase. Most likely, you'll see very few. Learn to enjoy just being out there on the road, seeing your friends. Find other things to do on your down time. Spend time with your family, hike, find enjoyment in other things.

    3. You'll miss a lot of big events. Especially if you're doing the two things mentioned above. Figure out how to not be so depressed when that happens. Again, there will always be big events. You'll get yours. Enjoy the videos others post, be happy for your friends that saw it, etc. This is probably the hardest one to do, but really the only thing that's helped me is just getting used to missing them.

    4. Stay out of the social media drama. Chasing and weather has a lot of weirdos and drama queens. You'll quickly get sucked in if you feel the need to add every single chaser on Facebook and comment on everything, especially if you post anything opinionated or political. Your name will quickly get dragged through the dirt publicly and people will attack you. You'll find yourself spending hours scrolling through chaser drama, completely wasting your time and life away. I recently deactivated my Facebook so I could focus on other things and it's helped tremendously.

    5. Find enjoyment in other things. It's impossible to stay happy when the only thing you enjoy is chasing, an unpredictable and often unfulfilling hobby. Play guitar, go fishing, go to concerts, find something you can do on your down time. There will be years that chasing sucks. Use those years to do the first three things on this list.

    6. No one cares how many tornadoes you've seen. Don't get caught up in the numbers. Unless you chase every single setup, there will be many years you don't see very many (or none if you're me so far this year). No one cares except for you.

    7. (An actual chasing one) Don't waste your chase freaking out about live streaming, getting video, navigating, etc. Take some time to stop and enjoy where you're at and what you're looking at. Don't forget why you're out there in the first place. There are many chases I don't even remember because I was so zoned in on just forecasting and navigating that I didn't even pay attention to what was going on unless a tornado was on the ground. I have found I'm even more successful on chases where I don't bring insane amounts of equipment and I just rely on visuals to determine what the storm is doing, with some basic help from radar and maps. Also, you'll find yourself enjoying chasing much more if you're not stressed about getting everything on video and flying it out the door as quickly as possible.
     
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    #6 Taylor Wright, Aug 8, 2017
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
  7. Ben Holcomb

    Ben Holcomb Digital Janitor
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    I learned to not trust your friends when they try to pawn a chase guest off on you.
     
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  8. Randy Jennings

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    1. You don’t have to have a chance of TOR to have a good time. Watching any storm is therapeutic if it has been more than a few weeks since your last chase. We chased a couple of times knowing there was almost zero chance of a TOR, and we had a blast.

    2. Trust your skills and instincts. Sticking to my forecast and not jumping to the first thing that fired paid off several times. So did going with my target area and not the SPC high risk area where everyone else was at.

    3. Warning on #2, make sure you watch surface obs and adjust as needed.

    4. After years of chasing with just RadarScope, I added Gibson Ridge to my toolkit. I love RadarScope and still use it, but having a bigger screen, integrated detailed maps, and the ability to pull in info like surface obs paid off.

    5. I got a pre-paid month-to-month Verizon Jetpack AC791L this year and I had data about 99.9% of the time. Big improvement.

    6. Paved roads that go a little out of the way often get you there faster than more direct dirt roads. On one chase we kept beating the same folks who always took the dirt road takers.

    7. A bad day chasing is better than a good day at the office.
     
  9. JamesCaruso

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    Excellent post @Taylor Wright (for some reason I can't "like" on the Tapatalk app I am using... ) Anyway, I assume you are a pretty young guy yourself having just graduated college, but being nearly 50 myself I can attest that your post is full of wisdom for younger chasers. It must have been hard for you to move to the east coast and leave behind the ability to chase on a fairly regular basis, but you made the right decision for all the reasons you described.

    Life is a balancing act, on the one hand it's important to take every chase season as if it's your last; we could look ahead to our 50s and 60s but none of us knows for sure how much time we have left on earth, or it could just be that something happens that keeps us from chasing for the next year or more. But on the other hand, we have to assume we're going to be around a long time, otherwise personally I would probably just quit my job and move to the Caribbean :) So your advice is right on.

    Even living on the Plains and chasing whenever you want, you are realistically going to chase a maximum of what, 30-40 days a year? Make the remaining 90% of your time satisfying, fulfilling and productive by investing in the things that Taylor describes (as much as I love it, I have to admit that chasing is pure recreational indulgence, not a productive pursuit, unless you are a meteorologist or otherwise part of the weather enterprise).



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  10. John Farley

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    Here are a few of mine:

    1. Avoid impulsive moves. I seem to have to re-learn this every year. This year on May 8 an impulsive move took me down lousy roads to the wrong storm, where if I had been smarter I could have stayed on a paved road to the only storm that produced a tornado. And similarly on May 18, an impulsive move led me to turn just as a tornado formed and crossed the road a few miles in front of me - I actually saw it as I was turning but was too far into the turn to abort and go straight. I did get turned around and it didn't keep me from seeing the tornado, but it certainly cost me closer views and better photo ops.

    2. You can't look at the storm as much if you are playing catch-up on lousy unpaved roads. Doing so nearly led me to hit a mailbox and go in the ditch. I avoided it, but it was close. Those unpaved roads are unforgiving and, as others have said, best avoided if you can.

    3. The best chases don't always involve tornadoes. Like many this year, I had distant views of low-contrast, brief, weak tornadoes on the one day I saw any tornadoes that I am sure about. But my thundersnow chase in Wolf Creek Pass on May 10 and my chases in New Mexico on May 18 (one photogenic supercell after another, and lots of hail) and June 25 (gorgeous supercell with multiple tornado warnings and a couple possible tornadoes, but never confirmed and too far away for me to tell) were all better and more enjoyable than the one where I saw definite tornadoes.

    4. Chase New Mexico if you can. Probably shouldn't say this, as it could undo one of my favorite things about chasing there, lack of crowds. But the storms are nearly always pretty and the crowds thin. Only downside is the road network is pretty thin, too.

    5. Taylor Wright has it right about keeping perspective on chasing in your life.
     
  11. Timothy Stiffler

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    this was my first year chasing and i learned a few things.

    1. have a gps or a map so you dont get on a road that you cant get off of for 30 miles...... yes i did this. i missed my exit so kept going hoping for another and it finally did about 25 miles later causing me to lose my storm.

    2. plan out your chase instead of grabbing your gear and rushing it.

    3. stick to your plan. even if you see a storm popping up closer it may not be better.

    4. this is the most important one yet. have fun!!!! i did have fun just the drive watching the storms and lightning. im doing this to document storms but also to have a good time!
     
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  12. Warren Faidley

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    This is a great question that should be asked after every chase season.

    1: Downsize. The days of carrying huge SLR's, heavy lenses and separate video devices are fading. I can use two small digital cameras and the weight and size is cut down by at least 50%. It amazes me I can shoot genuine 4k cinema footage on a small camera.

    2: Hotels. The few extra dollars for a slightly nicer room is worth it. Long gone are the days when I would search out the lowest priced hotel. As others have mentioned, using points and loyalty programs are a good deal. There is nothing worse than getting a few hours sleep in a low-budget hotel, or wondering why the sheets smell funny. (I still stay at the Chase Ghetto in Amarillo sometimes because it's nostalgic and inexpensive).

    3: Driving safety. Needless to say, I think most of us are a lot more cautious about driving. I've always been careful, but now days you have to pay a lot more attention to the road. The addition of a "witness" camera is a must.

    4: Cut chasing time to pinpoint more productive days. I've cut the amount of time I spend chasing from about 45 days to an average of 16 days. New forecasting technology, experience and the climatology shift have not only increased the number of bust days, but altered where and when I chase.

    5: No more OKC or DFW metro area chasing. I do hang back if there is no secondary target and volunteer my EMS skills if needed.
     
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  13. Todd Lemery

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    Taylor Wright is right, enjoy the ride while you are chasing and remember while you are out there. Earlier this year in Oklahoma during the high risk day, we were having a rough go of it on a day we thought might be like fishing with dynamite. I wasn't aware my brother had turned the live stream to an interior facing camera, so I was just being myself. He started getting text messages from friends asking why I looked so angry. It wasn't until then that I realized I was putting so much pressure on myself trying to position us that I really wasn't enjoying the chase. I remembered that I was there to enjoy myself and tornados were just a bonus. Having my faced buried in a computer half the time thinking every storm was doing better than ours was sucking the life out of me. I was piling stress on top of stress for no reason.
    The truth is, there is something to like about every storm. Just being out there to watch Mother Nature do her work is a treat. Nobody is going to hit a home run every time out, but this guy is going to enjoy every at bat from here on out. That's what I learned this year.
     
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  14. Michael Towers

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    Agreed, chasing without feeling the pressure of needing to score makes the experience so much more enjoyable. I’ve never chased for the money so I’ve never felt pressure in that regard but did feel the need to justify the travel and time off from work with some measure of success. After busting earlier this year I found myself over 400 miles from home and a bit dejected when a memory came back to me from a chase back in 2010 of another bust over 500 miles from home. As I filmed a not so spectacular storm that was trying to get its act together a nice elderly couple pulled up, they must have been in their late 70s or early 80s. The guy looks at my Illinois license plates, looks at my camera/tripod, looks up at the sky and cracks this wise ass smile and asked “you came all the here for this (gesturing to the not so impressive sky)?” I laughed, they laughed and I told them that while I was really expecting to see something a little more impressive I still had a nice road trip and I enjoyed everything surrounding it if not the final result. I ended up chatting with them for 10 minutes or so letting the storm get away and it ended up being one of those memories from chasing that I cherish and won’t ever forget.

    So as I sat there earlier this year thinking back I realized that even though I missed a day’s work, spent over $100 on gas and would be driving late into the night to get home in time for at least a few hours sleep that I felt very much the same as I did back in 2010, only without some old local cracking wise and busting my chops. I still enjoyed everything that went into it, from the forecasting leading up to the chase to the execution of the chase and so much in-between. I got out and gave myself the chance to see something amazing and if Mother Nature didn’t cooperate I still made the most of my day and enjoyed a memory that wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if my only satisfaction from a chase was derived from success. So what did I learn this year? I think I finally learned not to stress it and just be happy and thankful that I’ve got the ability to take off and enjoy what the day will offer.
     
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  15. Ethan Schisler

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    Taylor Wright pretty much hit the nail on the head here. I didn't really have any issues with 2017. Was a pretty good year for myself, better than 2016 considering I couldn't get out much last year. My only quirk was with my health in the second week of June that caused me to sit out the 6/12 Wyoming event. However your health is the only thing you have for sure in life, so that always comes first in my book, so I can't be too upset about that. Next year will be my 10th season of "serious" chasing, I don't really feel the pressure anymore to be at every single event, although it definitely would be nice! I'm going back this fall to finish up my meteorology degree and hopefully develop a career of some type over the next 5 years! As others have said, just enjoy being out there doing what you love. Not everyone gets the liberty to do what we do, we should be thankful for all the spectacular (and not so spectacular LOL) sights that we get to see and experience. Its truly a blessing :)

    Oh and as far as drama goes, be nice to everyone! Give them the benefit of the doubt, remember that we were all n00bs at one point and made dumb decisions/didn't know what we were doing lol.
     
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