COVID 19 and the 2021 Chase Season

Warren Faidley

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May 7, 2006
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Mos Isley Space Port
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Starting a new thread in reference to COVID-19 and the 2021 chase season. The mods can move this or edit the title as wanted, but I'm hoping we can avoid injecting any politics into the new year and keep the discussion related to chasing vs. COVID. (Thanks).

The main catalyst for this thread is the breaking news that a more contagious strain of COVID-19 #B.1.1.7 has been detected in Colorado. This could mean new restrictions and travel bans, depending on how the new strain develops and if the current vaccine offers any protection.

 

Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
Staff member
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Oct 7, 2008
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Broomfield, CO
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I think I posted most of the following in a thread about photography and trips in 2020 that Tony Laubach started.

Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic had negligible impact on my chasing for 2020. 2020 just plain sucked meteorologically; I didn't have to be stuck at home to avoid getting or transmitting the disease since there were hardly any days worth chasing on the Plains during the regular season anyway. As a "regular season/Tornado Alley" chaser, if it doesn't happen between April and July somewhere in the general box from 105 to 90 W lon/32.5 to 45 N lat then I'm generally not interested in chasing it. Since the box and time period I just outlined were basically dead quiet in 2020, I had the worst chase year I have had since beginning in 2008. I only went on one official springtime chase. I went on two other chases that occurred near home (Denver area), one each in July and August, and even those weren't much to write home about (although at least they were short and close, so I saved time and money).

I also traveled outside Colorado twice in 2020, and several hours away from home inside Colorado several times, too. I stayed in hotels a handful of times and never really had much concern or fear of getting COVID-19. It seemed to me that business proprietors and travelers took the disease seriously and made me feel comfortable/safe where I went.

Therefore, unless the pandemic gets significantly worse and stays that way into spring 2021 (given how much the vaccine rollout appears to be getting botched so far, I can't say that doesn't look possible), I don't see health concerns or pandemic restrictions keeping me from heading out on setups that I deem worth it. Problem is I just have a high threshold for tolerable setups, and I'm just not interested in getting out on every birdfart day that happens in the alley. In fact, given how bad 2020 was overall for severe weather, I have found myself simply not as excited about seeing severe weather setups show up. 2020 has been such an existentially threatening year for all of us (myself included, as I developed bad depression this year) that it takes quite a bit more to get me worked up than a few shrimpy 5% setups. Should severe activity on the plains ever approach the 2003-2011 levels again, I will get back into the hobby. Otherwise, I will continue to branch out into other hobbies that have become more passionate to me over the past few years (non-severe-storms photography & hiking, to name a few).
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
As is usual for me, I'm reliant on setups lining up with my days off. Since I only have 12 days off vacation per year to work with (I'll get another 6 days in 2022) I'm unwilling to burn them to chase with much of my family (including my mom) living several hundred miles away. Fortunately, I've gotten better at avoiding burning the candles from both end, which cost me a few opportunities in 18 and 19 for tornadoes on what had been days off for me.

As far as COVID goes, I wouldn't be shocked if I've already had it at some point, and even if I haven't, my losing upwards of 70 lbs has me much healthier overall. As a truck driver though, I'm more likely to get it (if I haven't had it already) in my day to day life at work at shippers and receivers than I am chasing. But after the constant grind over the last year, I won't turn down an opportunity to get out and chase.
 
Jul 1, 2014
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Outside of the police enforcing some sort of stay at home orders there is nothing that will stop me from chasing as normal. I already had Covid and without a test I would have thought it was nothing but a one day cold. Personally I am not worried at all about Covid. I can bring food if restaurants are closed and sleep in the vehicle if there is no hotel, but if the 2021 tornado season is as crappy as 2020 then I will be worried.
 
Jan 7, 2006
576
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USA
www.skyinmotion.com
Going into last spring, my primary concern was with lodging for long and multi-day trips. Even at the height of panic and uncertainty in early April, I never saw day chasing as a real issue, and only let COVID dissuade me from some iffy day trip opportunities during the stay at home/safer at home orders in April. Not to rehash the endless bickering from that time period, but I feel no different now than then in that regard. Predictably, much of the loudest uproar over the scourge of chasers driving around solo 2-3 hours from home came from people who simply don't like chasing and chasers to begin with, many of whom later caved to demonstrably less responsible behaviors as the pandemic wore on through the summer and fall. I have some thoughts on that contingent (mainly on social media, not here), but I suppose I should keep this PG-13 or cleaner, so I'll just move on.

As I mentioned, the crucial question for me was the safety of lodging options on the Plains. I took the back row of seats out of my vehicle and made just enough space for a miniature air mattress, which I used reluctantly a couple times in May. By the end of May, I decided I'd chance a room some nights if needed, but specifically sought out classic roadside motels with outdoor room entry. Now that we have better confidence that fomites are not a major source of spread, leaving droplet (most dangerous) and airborne (gray area) spread as the main concerns, I feel pretty comfortable continuing this approach. Provided no one has been in the room for several hours prior to your arrival, and there is little to no mixing of air with other rooms, the risk should be quite low by any reasonable standard.

Amusing side note: the most harrowing COVID-related moments for me last season were several cases where I arrived at a motel to pick up the room key in a small front office, only to be greeted casually by a maskless and nonchalant local who wanted to chit chat 🤦‍♂️. So much for us being the bad guys on the chaser-rural Plains interface...
 
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Apr 10, 2008
504
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Tulsa, OK
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Last year I chased solo the entire year. Back in the spring I decided to bring my own food since we weren't really sure exactly how COVID spread. My family and I continue to social distance because my father-in-law (77 y/o with pre-existing conditions) is at very high risk. We continue to eat at home and buy groceries online and only do curbside pickup. If I was single I wouldn't be taking such drastic precautions, however I have chosen to make personal sacrifices for the betterment of my family's safety.

I do ride-along tours in the spring, however cancelled all tours in 2020. I am hopeful that by spring we will begin to see the pandemic begin to fade as more people are vaccinated. My hope is that I can start ride alongs again by May. I have a family wanting to do a week long tour at some point this spring or early summer which would require staying in hotels. Fingers crossed. If things don't improve I am prepared to chase another season solo, however it has become quite lonely doing every chase solo.
 

John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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Pagosa Springs, CO
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Since I am over 70 and very prone to upper respiratory conditions, I have to be very careful about COVID. Last season, with one exception, I only did local/day chases, all in southern CO or northern NM - no overnight stays. I did end up doing one chase involving an overnight stay in June, for what turned out to be a very photogenic and tornado-warned (but non-tornadic) supercell near Colorado Springs on June 26. I had thought I might be able to do out and back in one day, but by the time the chase was over, I was faced with the choice of driving over 2 mountain passes after dark to get home or staying in a motel. I decided a motel of the type Brett talks about a couple posts above was better than a night-time drive through mountains full of deer and elk, and I guess it worked out because I did not get COVID. And still haven't. And the limited chasing in 2020 did not really matter much, since it turned out that overall, there was very little to chase on the high plains of eastern CO and NM and western KS and the Panhandles, my usual chase territory.

What I do this year really depends on vaccine. I am in the 1b group in Colorado and was able to sign up today on the list at my local medical center, with current thinking that people over 70 might be able to get their first shot later this month. If so, then I am good to go this spring, though in May I could be limited by a couple of family/personal events. If it somehow turns out that I am not vaccinated by chase season, then I would probably do the same thing as last year. Until more people are vaccinated, the combination of the new strain and the widespread disregard of safety guidelines by many people over the recent Holidays tell me that COVID is going to be very widespread for at least the next month or two. And if the vaccine distribution does not go better than it has so far, perhaps longer than that. Hence, until I am vaccinated, I will continue to play it safe. But I am quite hopeful about getting vaccinated, which for me is the ticket to something more like normal, including the chase season.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
I have posted something similar to this in other threads, so forgive the redundancy, but thought there was relevance and value in adding to this specific thread.

I did not chase in 2020. I live in a locked down state (PA), and work for a healthcare company headquartered in NY which was even more locked down. Regardless of one’s personal feelings about the appropriateness of lockdowns or the actual risks of the coronavirus, the overall atmosphere I was living under at the time made it feel imprudent to go gallivanting all over the country. I think my bosses would have thought I was completely nuts and lacking judgment, and it may have even seemed inappropriate to others within the company, as we had shut down offices and were in the midst of responding to the crisis operationally as a healthcare company. Although I am on the finance side of the business, there were issues to deal with even there, with the various relief, tax and unemployment legislation. So here we have the whole management team hunkered down in their homes, and off I go traversing the Plains for two weeks? Probably wouldn’t go over too well. And we were just plain busy. Chasing like normal would have seemed sort of like being tone deaf to what was going on, if that makes sense.

I also felt bad to leave my family cooped up at home alone - kids’ schools closed, no place to go, nothing to do, just leaving them stranded while I’m off having a good time.

My philosophy in general is to realistically assess risk and not put my life on hold just because of the relatively small probability that I contract the virus in any given activity, and even smaller chance that I would be hospitalized or worse. But I don’t pretend to be fearless or reckless either. For example, I got back into the gym as soon as it opened - in defiance of the PA lockdown - in mid-May, but have still not restarted jiu jitsu, which is grappling on the ground and just about the closest contact you can possibly have with anyone other than, well you know... Regardless of how anyone feels about the risk today, it has to be remembered that back in May it was still all new and near the peak of this whole thing. Flying, staying in hotels, going in and out of convenience stores, and eating out for three meals per day seemed to unnecessarily multiply whatever minimal risk I might have perceived in my own local activities.

One of the biggest issues to me was logistics. Would I even be able to find restaurants open? That’s hard enough in some of these towns at night after a chase. If open, would it be takeout or drive through only? Was I willing to eat nothing but fast food for two weeks? Would I be able to do my normal morning routine of sitting in the hotel lobby forecasting while drinking coffee and eating breakfast, or would all that be gone? Would I be able to explore nice bars and restaurants in cities on off-days? It just didn’t seem like it would be much of a *vacation*.

For 2021, I don’t have any of the above concerns any longer. The only potential carryover issue from 2020 is my chase partner. He is generally more skittish about the virus than I am - he is 10 years older than me, so that is understandable. I am not sure if he is going to be willing to go or not this year, or if he will make it dependent upon getting vaccinated.

The bigger issue for me is that I expect to be starting a new job in February, so don’t know how practical it will be to go away for two weeks. I guess there’s no reason that I couldn’t get out for at least one week, but I don’t expect to have the same flexibility to time a good pattern and leave on short notice like I have in the past.
 
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Jan 16, 2009
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Kansas City
COVID did not change much for me as far as actual chasing. I chased everything I could and ended up chasing in double digit states. HOW I did it changed and I figure this year will be more of the same. Safety measures as lined out on the 2020 thread will be continued this year.
 
Mar 2, 2004
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Wichita, KS
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I think for me, I will treat 2021 as close to normal as I can so long as there are no travel restrictions or other legal concerns. I feel like I've done enough daytrips and such throughout all this to have a good idea how to keep myself safe. Thus far, it's worked well. Still will have the precautions in place (sanitizer, wipes, masks, etc). Really I think the key is to stay away from people as much as possible. Should I require overnight stays, will try for hotels with outside entrances to the rooms. But again, having stayed a few nights in hotels over the last several months, I feel like I keep myself pretty safe as long as I limit my exposure to others and do a precautionary wipe down of the room.

Of course, the big question will be how all this will be come April and May... so it could change in either direction, hopefully we're in the downward trend by then. We'll see. But right now, I am planning on a mostly normal chasing season, and I cannot imagine Ma-Nature taking a second year off. Hopefully the central Plains will see something more typical, then I'll get the perk of beign able to stay at home most nights then :)
 
In 2020 as a non-Plains resident, I decided in March to not take time off to chase the Plains in my usual time frame of late May. This was due to betting COVID would be nowhere close to being controlled, but also not wanting to take time off from a job I started in mid-April. The dull season made that decision seem golden, and there were no desirable local setups that tempted me. With the job situation and a dull local scene, I'm not sure if the lack of a pandemic would have changed things for me in 2020.

As for 2021, I currently don't anticipate doing anything differently while chasing than I have done any other year (except 2020). When out in the Plains, my wife/chase partner and I usually keep to ourselves, pack and eat mostly our own food and beverages, and wipe down high-contact surfaces in hotel rooms. When timing allows, we do like to eat out at places we don't have at home, but we would have no problem skipping those or doing drive through/carry out if possible. My only concern is lodging, but as others have pointed out, this is fairly safe if done right. If my time off for chasing in May approaches and I'm not vaccinated and/or the pandemic worsens, then I have no problem staying at home and hoping something comes my way.
 
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acibarich

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Feb 15, 2020
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2020 was meant to be my first real year of chasing after getting out of Air Force wx, but I decided to lockdown. It doesn’t sound like I missed much anyway.

I plan to make the trip out this year, since I’ve converted my rig into a part-time camper. I still plan on taking all precautions.
 
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Feb 20, 2019
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My biggest hesitation is just bathrooms. Even here in Georgia which has been somewhat more open than other areas, bathrooms in private establishments (mainly gas stations) are still hit or miss. Rest areas on interstates are open, but very little of my chase territory here gets near them.
 
Sep 25, 2006
286
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Denver, CO
stormdig.com
If community spread was as bad during 2020 chase season as it is right now I wouldn't have risked contributing to the problem. Even when I'm not particularly concerned about my own exposure I risk contributing to spread that can endanger others. Lodging and gas stations on the plains were often a mask-free parallel universe particularly where the pandemic hadn't yet hit hard (but later did).

Now with the vaccine hopefully most will be able and willing to get it by the time chase season rolls around. And for me on the high plains that doesn't usually start until the last blizzard in mid-May :p
 

Warren Faidley

Supporter
May 7, 2006
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Mos Isley Space Port
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Just a heads up, there is a surplus of vaccine in some areas. I got my second dose on Friday and spoke with the volunteer coordinator. The 1a group is done in a growing number of areas so they are moving forward with 1b+. I've seen some locations offer vaccinations to anyone who desires it so the vaccine does not expire. If you are seeking a vaccine before chase season, you might want to keep a lookout for this option. I would suggest trying to do this sooner than later if you have the option -- as distribution, eligibility, availability, etc., could change at any time.

FYI: I reacted well to the two-dose, Pfizer vaccine. Maybe a little tired for 24-48 hours, more so after the second dose. My arm ached a fair amount after the second dose for about 12 hours, but nothing serious.
 
Jun 19, 2005
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New Mexico
I was able to get my first dose Saturday, so as long as I get the second dose in 4 weeks (Moderna), Covid should have a smaller and smaller impact on my decision to chase. Main issue is my wife will probably have to wait until it's released for the general public.
 
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Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
I'll be chasing like normal. Im not a long run chaser, mostly limiting myself to within a reasonable drive from home. This still covers the High Plains into Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas.

I'm outfitted to car camp if needed.

Have gloves and masks for any necessary stops.

Just hoping 2021 actually does something.
 
Jul 1, 2014
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This chart may help ease some concerns. Total active Covid-19 cases in the plains (chart is for Kansas) have been dropping dramatically since its high on November 9th. One explanation is that we may have reached herd immunity way sooner than predicted. Regardless, the possibility exists that Covid-19 could be all but done in the plains by April if the total count continues to fall at its current rate. kscovid.png
 
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twarner

EF0
Jul 9, 2004
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Wichita, Kansas
Total active Covid-19 cases in the plains (chart is for Kansas) have been dropping dramatically since its high on November 9th. One explanation is that we may have reached herd immunity way sooner than predicted.
Kansas does not have the numbers needed for herd immunity. Covid is alive and well in Kansas. The drop that we are seeing is due to companies going virtual where ever possible. Masking being adopted and reemphasized. Schools in Wichita and surrounding areas all went virtual (or remained virtual) starting back in November.

Kansas still does not adequately test. They also seem to be lagging on the vaccine rollout. Things are starting to open back up with schools moving to hybrid model so it will be interesting to see if the numbers start climbing or not. The other wild cards is the different COVID variants emerging and how quickly the vaccines can be adminstered.