Chaser traffic post-mortem for 2019 season

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R. Doan

Apr 8, 2018
Westville Il
Ever since the May 3, 1999 outbreak (I was only 7 at the time). My goal has been to move to Oklahoma, to chase these things on a consistent basis. The image that stuck in my head for years was the image of the wedge, with a satellite right next to it. I currently live in Illinois and have been chasing here since 2009. Just got to hope for the good warm front set ups that Illinois is notorious for. Chased the dry-line for the first time this year and had a great chase. Working on getting a place down there now.
Nov 13, 2017
Convergence will not always be as bad as it was this year, and there are two reasons that it was worse this year than in the past:

a) haze. Easily the most frustrating aspect of chasing this year was the haze, and it made convergence way, way worse.

On 5/20, I dove into Texas after the storm fairly early south of Childress. I was in the inflow notch on a plateau overlooking the canyon about 3 miles southeast of the circulation. I couldn't make out a storm base, let alone the multiple brief tornadoes reported. It forced me, and everyone else, to get closer to see, including those who were clueless. Instead of dealing with that, I went back through the canyon to get ahead and yet within minutes the traffic began to pile up in Childress because everyone else also knew that there was no good viewing until we were out of the canyon. Ultimately, even with the lack of roads and even with just one storm, the crowds would thin accordingly, particularly among the local yokels that we all ramble on about, as people who prefer viewing from a distance would be able to view from a distance and those of us who prefer a more aggressive approach would be in more manageable crowds, such as was the case on 5/26 in Colorado or 5/17 in Nebraska.

On 5/23, I bailed from the notch of a classic supercell and cut through another canyon in the TX panhandle southeast of Perryton ahead of the crowd. In a scenario where there should have been visibility, there was none, and while it is true that we had a miracle of a road to play with to get up close and personal on a slow moving supercell and 100+ chasers were on it, it was manageable - until it was dangerous, that is. Many were stopping in a dangerous position directly in the path of an impending tornado (and a half-mile wide wedge 30 minutes later), the only place where you could actually see. I turned my car around and waited in line to get out and get ahead, where I eventually bailed on the storm, knowing that those I passed were taking an unnecessary risk but ultimately making their own dumb choices. I am glad I did not see the traffic jam that took place underneath that meso when they all simultaneously had to move at the last possible second without any room for error.

b) the cap, or lack thereof, and messy storm modes.

My experience with dryline storms is fairly limited living in the midwest, but I know how to chase them. Better yet, I know how not to chase them. The triple point goes first, the remainder of the dryline remains capped for another hour, and then there are multiple supercells, generally more isolated and less rainy. This is exactly what almost happened on 5/7 with the Tulia storm, but that day got very messy very quickly, and those who were baited by the SPC's 15% hatched zone around the boundary intersection or by the earlier initiation up north realized that their only shot at an isolated storm was to the south. Those who were on the Tulia storm as it initiated outside of Lubbock were fairly lonely for awhile beforehand, and had those storms up north been more isolated with a little bit of capping in place during the daylight hours, there would not have been convergence issues that day because there would have been no need for those who played the early storms to change their strategy.

Early initiation isn't necessarily a death sentence, and there were plenty of days with early initiation this year that otherwise lived up to their tornado potential. Yet I chased every day from 5/17 through 5/28 and only once did I chase storms that were fighting a legitimate capping inversion - 5/22, when I targeted central OK instead of NE OK. A storm went up near Lawton, which, as had been the case to that point, was hard to view with the haze. It looked as if it would sustain itself and even prompted the NWS to extend a 10% hatched risk down through that region, but it (probably for the best) got capped off within two hours of initiation. There was no convergence because other storms had already initiated north of Oklahoma City. The local Oklahoma crowd had already flocked to the first radar blips, the first warnings, and the first tornado reports in Guthrie. I had never felt so lonely in Chickasha in my life. I only ran into convergence as I adjusted north toward Red Rock later in the day to chase a storm that looked ready to go only produced briefly after dark before I bailed on it.

There are some realities that we are going to have to learn to deal with as chasers, and one of those is that yes, we will encounter highways with a line of a couple hundred of us chasing after a storm. Another of those is that in that line, there will be idiots who think that it's safe to pull over with two wheels in the road, who watch the storm and glance at the road instead of watching the road and glancing at the storm, and who think streaming scud is the coolest thing they've ever seen. Some people will chase based on the SPC, and despite the fact that some of us do our own forecasts that sometimes "beat" the SPC it is a good thing that people pay attention to the SPC and that the SPC is getting much better at correctly outlining risk areas. We won't get such a hyperactive pattern in most future seasons, but we won't be dealing with the haze and the constant mess caused by early initiation that we did this year, and that will help to thin/spread out the crowds in the southern plains drastically.