Chase Range - How Far Are You Willing to Travel Based on Risk?

Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
17
50
1
Neosho Mo
Does anybody else have a certain set of rules they've placed on themselves regarding chase range? This would obvously be different for chasers removed from tornado alley, but for myself I created a graphic to basically sort out how far I'm willing to travel on a given risk. I based it loosely off SPC risk categories to illustrate the idea, of course taking into account my own forecasts and those of my peers. The graphic should hopefully make sense but my home base is near Joplin Mo, and I theoretically chase low risks at the local level, a bit more range for enhanced risks, and high risk events anywhere in the pink circle. It isn't exact of course, but illustrates my thinking. The ripple has a bit of a skew to account for better plains coverage. I rarely chase in the jungle. This has helped me reel in my enthusiasm for chasing every event, especially low risk setups that are far from home and often don't produce. How do y'all decide what's worth traveling long distances? Copy of Copy of Untitled.jpg
 
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May 18, 2013
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Storm mode, chase conditions (ie trees), my personal schedule. and how long it has been since I chased a good storm / how long to the next chance to chase are much bigger factors than SPC risk areas for me. Higher risk days are my least favorite days to chase. The most photogenic supercell I ever photographed was a 1,000 mile round trip day chase to a 2% tor risk area. We where the only chasers on a storm in SW Kansas and everyone else was chasing rain obscured junk in northern Kansas. We swore not to go past Woodward OK, but it was too perty to not chase it. If you go out with low expectations, you are often surprised. Big expectations often led to disappointment.
 

Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
17
50
1
Neosho Mo
Great input. I’ve definitely had my fun on marginal days, it’s just hard for me to justify consistently taking off work and travel expenses for statistically lower risk days, hence the narrow range. My best storm I’ve ever had was a large tornado 20 minutes north of my home on a lower risk day, just 2 days after I had chased a high risk day several hundred miles away with less payoff. As we know, storm chasing is a weird mixed bag of circumstance, but I try to find the good in every chase, even if it’s just finding a neat place to eat or meeting someone along the way. I just like to have some sort of general guide to keep things in perspective when I have to prioritize other aspects of life. Thanks for sharing
 
Dec 8, 2003
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Southeast CO
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My answer would be similar to Randy's, and I'll add a couple things. One is that sometimes you are able to chase systems that slowly cross the middle of the country, so that you chase in Colorado one day, Kansas the next, Missouri or Iowa, then finally Illinois. That happens very rarely, but it happens. That would be an example of when I might find myself chasing a SLGT day in Illinois when there's no way I would drive all the way there for it for a one-day chase from my home in CO.

The other I'll mention is the Dakotas. Again, I would never drive up there for a one-day chase but I would for a couple of epic setups days or three decent-looking setups. Western MN included.
 

Nate M.

EF0
May 16, 2019
17
50
1
Neosho Mo
My answer would be similar to Randy's, and I'll add a couple things. One is that sometimes you are able to chase systems that slowly cross the middle of the country, so that you chase in Colorado one day, Kansas the next, Missouri or Iowa, then finally Illinois. That happens very rarely, but it happens. That would be an example of when I might find myself chasing a SLGT day in Illinois when there's no way I would drive all the way there for it for a one-day chase from my home in CO.

The other I'll mention is the Dakotas. Again, I would never drive up there for a one-day chase but I would for a couple of epic setups days or three decent-looking setups. Western MN included.
Definitely a good point about the multi-day threats.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,893
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I have two chase "range" categories: Plains and non-Plains. For a non-Plains chase, I have home & extended home. "Home" is anything within a 3 hour drive or so. I will chase any tornado setup within this range regardless of risk level, year round. "Extended home" goes out to maybe a 6 hours' drive, and to go this far requires a higher-end parameter event or an outbreak. I have a couple dozen "home" range chases and maybe 3 or 4 "extended home" chases a year.

For a Great Plains trip (April to mid June, peak season), there are no boundaries. Well, except for the obvious: Rocky mountains, Canada, Mexico and the Mississippi River. If I'm on a Plains trip, I'll go as far as I can make it in a day's drive, providing the setup is of sufficient quality and there are not closer targets that would weigh against making a huge-distance jump (like the Texas panhandle to North Dakota). Practially speaking, I rarely make it north of the South Dakota border or south of the Red River. This isn't that I'm not willing to go that far, but mainly because it's unusual for a primary target to shape up there during peak season. Even if a nice triple point sets up in the Dakotas, there's usually a dryline play with better moisture farther south providing there is at least some upper support there.

All that being considered, I don't have a hard and fast rule about how for I'm willing to go. Non-chase factors also apply, such as how rested up I am from the previous day, whether I have to work the next day, how depleted my chase fund is, and so on.
 
Jul 5, 2009
994
759
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
A few years ago I started a thread called "How "Hard Core" Are You?", which explored a similar subject of how far people are willing to go:

For me it's very subjective, although people may be surprised to know that even as a chase vacationer I still limit myself, I don't necessarily go for every marginal opportunity just because I only have two weeks out there. In fact, I wouldn't even go for an Enhanced Risk if, for example, it's a one-day opportunity in South Dakota and I'm in Oklahoma.

SPC risk levels alone don't really tell you enough, especially about supercell/tornado opportunities. The TOR risk is probably a better indicator, if one were inclined to set up a rule of thumb. What I call a "marginal" opportunity is subjective and not necessarily tied to a "Marginal" SPC risk or even necessarily to a 1% TOR risk. I'm probably willing to drive about 3 hours for what I personally consider a marginal risk, about 6 hours for what I consider a pretty "good" Plains day even if it's just a mesoscale type of opportunity, maybe up to about 8 hours of a *same day* drive for a higher-end day. If there is a full day before to allow for repositioning from the southern Plains to the northern Plains, I may be willing to drive up to 11 or 12 hours, but not if I have to come all the way back the next day. I guess I'm kind of thinking out loud here but if I had to list some of the factors in evaluating distance:

- Quality of the setup and opportunity for supercells/tornados - but not necessarily pegged to any specific SPC risk level
- How many good days I've had so far on my chase vacation
- How many days are left (and how the forecast looks for those days, i.e. how many more opportunities)
- How much driving I have done so far
- My chase partner's view of same
 
I have very specific rules. Nothing ever near or east of I-35. Nothing near the DFW or OKC areas, as it's a death trap under the right conditions, e.g., El Reno. I will go into these areas (post-storm) if needed to volunteer as a first responder or to record massive destruction as a journalist, e.g., Joplin. I'll go north to about I-80 in Nebraska, but anything further north is road sparse unless the timing is right near a populated area. All of eastern Colorado into the Roswell / SW NM area is good. South to Midland. Chase convergence is also factored into my range, preferring longer shot regions if they are available as opposed to obvious high volume targets.
 

B. Dean Berry

Staff member
May 25, 2014
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Personally, my range is pretty heavily restricted by my location. Moving on local, or even regional, targets to the south and east just aren't too viable due to mountains. I have options here for west and north, and have gotten local tubes off of those plays in the previous years.

If I'm going to go out west, it's gloves-off. I don't get that chance, ever.
 
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Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
I tend to stick close to home in general. Primary reason being that almost everything I chase is taking me farther away from home, being based in CO. If a setup is looking good enough to warrant an overnight stay somewhere, obviously the range extends, but for the sake of day chases, I stick within 2-3 hours return trip to home usually. This easily puts me into KS, NE and WY and if it's a weekend that range extends as well.

Chase vacation, none of this matters until nearing the end of the trip.

All that said, the risk level rarely matters to me. I'll chase almost anything within a reasonable range and most of my best chases have been low risk, low potential, pleasant surprises. And honestly, I'm not a fan of high risk days. I don't like getting mixed up in crowds if it's avoidable.
 
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I don't have it mapped out but I definitely have some criteria on risk chances. It also depends on the time of the year.

I'll drive an hour for a non-zero risk, three hours for a 2%, 6-10 hours for a slight/enhanced and moderate/high risks are an automatic go on the plains regardless of distance. During high plains season I try to be out already so slights are chaseable, otherwise it would be silly to do a one day out and back from Oklahoma to Wyoming.

Early in the season, I'll make an 8-10 hour drive to Dixie Alley a couple of times for enhanced/moderates just to keep the rust off (and chase away the SDS) but no way I'd do that in April or May.

Everything has its exceptions though, so these are more guidelines than hard and fast rules that I live by.
 
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James K

EF3
Mar 26, 2019
240
94
6
Colorado
I'll start by saying that I've never (yet) gone chasing...
My original thought last year was to say my range would be a 1-hour-ish range from home (and it basically has to be in an easterly direction, since heading west puts me in the mountains pretty quickly .lol.). I'd kinda hoped to pick a storm & go chase/see it, but that didn't happen.
I did 'watch' some storms or radar ... and from that I determined that my original guess of 1-hour range from home is simply not far enough, its going to have to be something more like 2-hours (so at this point I'll go with a 2-hour limit being as far as I'll go).
I'll have to go with the SPC risk levels.
As far as the 'other range' -- just how close to get where I can see something, but still be safely away from it, that I still need to figure out... 1 mile? 5? 10?
 

Joey Prom

EF0
Feb 11, 2020
27
6
1
Lafayette, Indiana
I am absorbed in starting my career (ie grad school/internships) so I am unable to do a chasecation. So, being a local chaser I tend to limit it to 3 hours. I actually found a website that plots driving polygons on google maps. This helps me to get a feel for whether a setup is chaseable. www.oalley.net
I did not use this during my first chase season, and it led to more stress, because I would get amped up for some chase, then my chase partner wouldn't want to drive that far, etc.
 
Jun 28, 2007
269
95
11
Machesney Park, IL
I’ll chase anywhere in the alley as long as the terrain is decent and the set-up worthy of the trip. I’m a lot more particular now though and there are many places I’ve chased in the past that I won’t chase now because of poor terrain/visibility/road network. Interestingly, even though I live in Illinois and have chased in 13 states and travelled as far away as Midland, Texas I’ve never chased right next door in Indiana. I really can’t say why as most of it is great chase territory and there have been plenty of opportunities at such a relatively short distance. Similarly but much farther away I’ve never chased the ND/SD/MT border area. I’ve always wanted to do a late season chase there and every year I tell myself I’m going to do it but every year I never pull the trigger…
 
Jul 5, 2009
994
759
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
I answered the first time more from the perspective of how far I am willing to drive. I see others posting more from the perspective of overall territory / preferred geographic areas, so I figured I would weigh in on that as well.

When I started chasing in 1996, it was with Marty Feely's Whirlwind Tours, one of the first tour groups. Marty had firm rules, similar to what @Warren Faidley articulated. That's the way I first learned, so I have stuck with that, for the most part. I feel like that territory, mapped out by the good visual that @Jason Boggs posted, is "old school"; back then, people just did not seem inclined to chase east of I-35, but that could just be my perception. In chasing today, it seems that no place is off limits, and this is not a good trend as far as safety is concerned.

I stretch the boundaries of Jason's map somewhat, and I'm sure he and Warren do as well. It's hard to forego a good setup just because storms are going to initiate or move a little east of I-35, especially if it's the only option. If there are options in better terrain, then it's an easier decision to turn away from the east-of-I-35 target. I missed Joplin in 2011 because of my general rule to not go east of I-35. I also avoided the Lawrence KS area on May 28, 2019. Neither day turned out well for me, although on May 28 2019 I had only myself to blame for missing the even better tornadoes in Waldo and Tipton.

Also relative to Jason's map, in 20+ years of chase vacations I have never been as far north as North Dakota (probably not much if any further north than I-90 in South Dakota), have never been in Montana, and have only gone as far north in Wyoming as Casper. I've only chased in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri once each. This gets back to my post above, of setting limits on how much I am willing to drive, even though I'm on a chase vacation.

I would expand Jason's map slightly in one place though, southeastern Nebraska is pretty flat and has a pretty decent road network.
 
Being as I generally can't take off work on extremely short notice, and even that has limitations depending on my normal schedule for that particular week, I'm mostly limited to just my usual days off of work, which severely limits my range. If we can tell a week out that we're going to have a significant sequence, I can probably sneak out for a run or maybe a full week, but that hasn't happened since I started with my current employer, so I haven't really been able to test that.

I spent the first many years only able to chase Dixie because I lived either in Kentucky or Tennessee during my first several years (until the end of 2013) and was never able to make it back home to Oklahoma during storm season, so I don't have a "nothing East of I-35" rule like many who have spent their entire careers chasing almost exclusively the plains. While I will generally avoid most of Arkansas and SE Oklahoma, that's not a hard and fast rule, and I know NE OK/SE KS/SW MO extremely well as I grew up in NE OK. After chasing much of KY and TN (and getting tornadoes there), NE OK really isn't all that bad by my standards.

I do really enjoy the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana primarily), but I can't pull the marathons like I could 10 years ago. Unless I'm on vacation, I can't chase those setups. I had 12/1/17 forecast a couple of days out, but due to when I had to be back at work, I was unable to make the trek for it. It's one of the occasions where I wished I had a traditional 9-5, or at least a regular M-F job, as I could have driven to St Louis after work, been ready for Saturday, and driven back Sunday without too much issue.

Basically, it just comes down to how much time I have to play with and how willing I am to make the drive. I did miss a June tornado maybe 60 miles from where I live last year simply because I was burned out from work and had no desire to spend my off days behind the wheel of a vehicle.
 
Mar 2, 2004
2,295
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Wichita, KS
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I think my willingness to drive stupid-long distances in one shot has died away with age, cause I know I've answered this same question before with "just about anywhere", and backed it up with multi-day chase trips that started in Colorado and ended in Ohio or single chases that were over 1200 miles round trip in one shot.

My "range", independent from my chasing job here in Kansas, really is based on the quality of the system I am chasing. Obviously one-shot events in the southeast are not my cup of tea, but I would drive equally as long to say, Montana/Dakotas, for a decent event. If I could get a multi-day system that offered decent chase days as it moved across the country and dumped me into Illinois/Indiana/Ohio and didn't require a ton of "commuting" between setups, I'd be game for that.

But it's all timing... if I have a three day weekend somewhere and I can drive out in a day, chase, then drive back, I'd go as far as I could drive in those days around the event. Really what it comes down to for me anymore is how much I want to drive in a sitting. The days of needing to rush out and back are getting further and further behind me. I've seen enough in two decades where I think I've earned a little easier choice in chasing lifestyles :D
 

Joey Prom

EF0
Feb 11, 2020
27
6
1
Lafayette, Indiana
Being as I generally can't take off work on extremely short notice, and even that has limitations depending on my normal schedule for that particular week, I'm mostly limited to just my usual days off of work, which severely limits my range. If we can tell a week out that we're going to have a significant sequence, I can probably sneak out for a run or maybe a full week, but that hasn't happened since I started with my current employer, so I haven't really been able to test that.

I spent the first many years only able to chase Dixie because I lived either in Kentucky or Tennessee during my first several years (until the end of 2013) and was never able to make it back home to Oklahoma during storm season, so I don't have a "nothing East of I-35" rule like many who have spent their entire careers chasing almost exclusively the plains. While I will generally avoid most of Arkansas and SE Oklahoma, that's not a hard and fast rule, and I know NE OK/SE KS/SW MO extremely well as I grew up in NE OK. After chasing much of KY and TN (and getting tornadoes there), NE OK really isn't all that bad by my standards.

I do really enjoy the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana primarily), but I can't pull the marathons like I could 10 years ago. Unless I'm on vacation, I can't chase those setups. I had 12/1/17 forecast a couple of days out, but due to when I had to be back at work, I was unable to make the trek for it. It's one of the occasions where I wished I had a traditional 9-5, or at least a regular M-F job, as I could have driven to St Louis after work, been ready for Saturday, and driven back Sunday without too much issue.

Basically, it just comes down to how much time I have to play with and how willing I am to make the drive. I did miss a June tornado maybe 60 miles from where I live last year simply because I was burned out from work and had no desire to spend my off days behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Drew, whats the chasing like in IL and IN? I just moved here and I am wondering when the prime months are/what some typical setups look like? Also, things to be aware of/plan around. Thanks.
 
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Jan 16, 2009
615
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Kansas City
Mine really all comes down to my work schedule and when deadlines are. Quick look over it I think this is close with KC as the base.

Dark Red = After work close chase-Home that night with no loss of work. Done a lot of times for ANY threat.
Red = At most 1.5 days off from work with travel the night before if Colorado. My most common one!
Green = Multi Day chase usually meaning at least 2 full days off
Black = PTO or holiday weekend
Target.jpg
 

Mark Egan

EF0
Jul 13, 2017
13
19
6
Frisco
I’ll give the perspective of a mostly armchair chaser. If I have a day off and there are no major family plans:

1. the time I spend potentially chasing should be equal to or greater than the one way drive to get to an area where storms are predicted

2. “Potentially chasing” means I’m at or near my target area, and it’s late afternoon, even if the storms haven’t formed

3. “chasing” stops for me when I can no longer see the landscape ahead of me (at latest this is about 15-20 min after sunset)

4. I’ll be willing to spend some time photographing twilight or night lightning (generally no more than an hour). If I can’t get a good lightning shot in an hour, then the storm wasn’t producing enough visible lightning, or I’m at the wrong angle on the storm. But by this point I’m not chasing anymore- I’ve backed off the storm for safety (not experienced enough to chase after dark)

5. I prefer to be home no later than midnight. I genuinely won’t consider spending the night to chase UNLESS 1. it’s a really good system (good chance for isolated supercells) AND there are clear skies behind the storms AND there’s no moon (I can then stargaze)

I calculated that, at most, that means I can only chase within a 4 hour radius from home (and that’s when the sun sets after 8).

Bur I can’t really say “radius” because I won’t chase where there are lots of trees (E TX, SE Oklahoma, SW AR)
 
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Just to give an 'out-of-towner's' perspective (!), I chase over a ~2.5 week period per year, travelling over from the UK. However, like a few who've commented above, just because I'm on vacation, I don't chase everything which might present itself. Long-hauls are fine, and are undertaken at times, but there has to be a pretty compelling reason. Several trips have been taken over the years to SD and most didn't end up with much!

Also, I can't be bothered with going off east too far - MO has been chased a couple of times, but we've never been to AR, for example. I'm not over to view storms behind trees - I'm over to see sculpted storms on the vast Plains. If they're not on the menu, then we'll find something else to do, which doesn't involve heading to the jungles just because there are storms there.