How "Hard Core" Are You?

Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Hi All,

Figured I would throw this topic out there, as there is not going to be much chasing these next few days...

In your mind, what defines a "hard core" chaser, and do you consider yourself to be hard core?

I don't mean this in the context of how much risk you are willing to take (i.e., proximity, core punching, etc.) I am thinking more in terms of what types of opportunities you go after, and how far you are willing to go. For example, I have chased with people who spent an entire afternoon in west-central KS knowing there was a marginal risk of anything special happening, while planning to get to SD that night for the next day's also marginal opportunity. Or people that will go from OKC to Iowa for one day and then back down to TX.

Particularly during a finite (i.e., two-week) chase vacation, on one hand I feel almost obligated to go after whatever opportunities there are, because that's why I am out there. On the other hand, it is also supposed to be a vacation, and it is simply not enjoyable to me to drive from OK or KS all the way up to the Dakotas or Montana, especially if I am going to have to come back to the Southern Plains again, unless there is a pretty clear cut opportunity for tornadic supercells (and even then, I may just consider it "out of range"). Don't get me wrong, I love structure and am NOT all about tornados alone; I am simply referring to how much driving I am willing to do "just" for supercells. Besides, usually the days that are most certain to have supercells (certain enough to justify an exceptionally long drive) are also likely to have decent tornado chances.

I guess I should quantify what I consider a "long" drive. If it is more than six hours, I will only do it if it's a good opportunity, unless I am going to be staying in that general region for a few days without having to backtrack after just. one day.

There are other considerations as well, of course, such as where we need to be for future days, or the airport we need to be near for the flight home. I don't have any hard or fast rules, each situation has to be evaluated on its own merits. Although there's a reason I haven't ever ended up in ND or Montana in 17 years of chasing! ;-) It is all about the cost/benefit equation - and I don't mean financial cost, I mean that the overall effort needs to be worth it. My chase partner and I fortunately seem to have similar perspectives and want to enjoy the vacation without feeling obligated or guilty if we don't chase every marginal setup. We have no interest in bouncing around like pinballs. Does that mean we are not "hard core"?"

What is your philosophy in this regard? Do you have defined rules/principles you adhere to? I am interested in hearing from everyone, whether they live on the Plains or not, but particularly if you are a "chase vacationer" I would love to know how you balance the limited window of opportunity against your view of the cost/benefit of individual chanson opportunities.

(I know those that run tours have to do whatever it takes to optimize the opportunities for their paying customers, so I don't think this applies to them).

Jim Caruso
 

Rob H

EF5
Mar 11, 2009
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Twin Cities, MN
What is your philosophy in this regard? Do you have defined rules/principles you adhere to?
"Go where the storms are"

If you want to be truly "successful" in chasing (subjective definition here) you need to remove all non-meteorological biases from your decision making process. Weather doesn't care if your car is having problems, or your kid is sick, or it's busy at work. If Day 1 is OK and Day is MN - you find a way to make that drive. There is always something that makes one play better than another. Picking the close setup, or the warm front over the dryline, or whatever because it "has the same odds" is an easy way of justifying a decision that you know isn't grounded in meteorology. If you're honest with yourself and can handle missing the main show, there's no shame in this. I see a lot of people struggle with this, however.
 
Mar 7, 2009
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Norman, OK
I'll go where the storms are, as long as I am physically able. Because I chase solo 99% of the time, and therefore do all of my driving, I do have a limit as to how far I can safely drive from one target to the next. But if I can swing it without falling asleep at the wheel, I'm there if I think there's a chance of a tornado.

Of course, ultimately it comes down to how you evaluate the chance of success. I just got burned by that on the 27th, actually. Had three targets in mind, chose not to go because of the morning convection, and all three produced. After that fiasco, and the way this year is going, you'll likely see me in Montana before you know it...
 
I struggled with this a bit with the Ark/MO setup last week. We all knew it was going to an eventful day, but the chase territory wasn't conducive for good photography and I couldn't bring myself to drive 6 hours for a 30 second view (because I would have targeted Arkansas had I went) so I had this very same question. Same event in South Dakota? No problem I'm there. But, seeing everyone else out and chasing in Arkansas and Missouri made me question if I was a chase territory snob or something. I was definitely not "hard core" enough last week.
 
Dec 8, 2003
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Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
No two chasers are the same, and there is no *correct* answer as to how hardcore any individual chaser should be. There is a whole spectrum of priorities, and that factors into each go/no go decision. I don't and won't chase Arkansas, nor SE OK, nor SE MO, never mind MS or AL, and I couldn't care less what anybody thinks about that.

I won't drive more than about 400 miles (one-way) for any one-day event, either, unless it's an epic setup. I feel zero pressure to try to please anyone else. I chase for myself and do whatever I want to do, chase or not, and I never NEVER regret missing events that I wasn't motivated to chase. I am blessed to be a stormchaser, and I've seen so much cool stuff over the years that I just can't stand it already.
 

Matt Hunt

EF3
Aug 2, 2009
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Carrollton, TX
For me the factors of time and money limit me from being more hardcore. If neither of the aforementioned were an issue, I'd probably be pretty hardcore. I don't mind long drives up to about the 12-hour mark, but it's the amount of money I'll spend in gas that gets me. 4/14/12 I left the house at 4:30am on 2 hours of sleep, and returned the next morning at 7am. No hotel stop, again due to the money constraint. Of course that was a high risk day... don't think I'd do the same for a slight risk, 5% tornado type of day.
 
Mar 7, 2009
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Norman, OK
For me the factors of time and money limit me from being more hardcore. If neither of the aforementioned were an issue, I'd probably be pretty hardcore. I don't mind long drives up to about the 12-hour mark, but it's the amount of money I'll spend in gas that gets me. 4/14/12 I left the house at 4:30am on 2 hours of sleep, and returned the next morning at 7am. No hotel stop, again due to the money constraint. Of course that was a high risk day... don't think I'd do the same for a slight risk, 5% tornado type of day.
Just remember, Bennington, KS last year was a slight risk, 5% tornado day lol. Mother nature can be tricky that way. I think that's what drives some people to be as "hard core" as they are. Of course, the fact that I busted on the aforementioned event just drives me to be insane.
 
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Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
Ironically my success rate skyrocketed after moving out of the Alley. I don't think it is 3G/4G data either. Living in Kansas and Texas we would take a shot at most set-ups. Occasionally we could really go for the right meteorological target. Often we went to the close target, with a poor success rate. Success rate was about 1/3 at quality target areas. Now I'm in Tennessee and only fly out for really good set-ups. We forecast and chase boundary intersections and other high probability targets. Success rate is above 50% now (single day). Multi-day chase trips, knock on wood, I'm 100%. Hard-core (but more selective) is better!
 

chrisbray

EF4
Apr 24, 2012
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I share matt hunt's concerns. I'm pretty hardcore on wanting to chase, but money and not having the ability to travel far outside ILlinois really limit me. I used to chase everything in ILlinois but now due to those constraints I'm pretty selective if it's not in my backyard
 
I'm also one of those "2 weeks a year that are taken off 3 months beforehand" chasers. There's probably a derogatory term for us. :p But we have a totally different set of circumstances with respect to time constraints. Before I got used to it, I found myself driving a lot of miles, and busting quite often on marginal setups out of fear that I might miss that special outside-chance event. I'm done with those days. Won't even hit the road during scheduled vacation time until a setup that looks like I'll at least get one supercell. I think Bob hit the nail right on the head. You chase what you're comfortable chasing, and don't spend any time fruitlessly torturing yourself over events that you decided not to go after.
 
Sep 29, 2011
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Fort Worth, TX
www.passiontwistvideo.com
Ironically my success rate skyrocketed after moving out of the Alley. I don't think it is 3G/4G data either. Living in Kansas and Texas we would take a shot at most set-ups. Occasionally we could really go for the right meteorological target. Often we went to the close target, with a poor success rate. Success rate was about 1/3 at quality target areas. Now I'm in Tennessee and only fly out for really good set-ups. We forecast and chase boundary intersections and other high probability targets. Success rate is above 50% now (single day). Multi-day chase trips, knock on wood, I'm 100%. Hard-core (but more selective) is better!
If a 33.3% success rate at seeing tornadoes is "poor" I'm amazed you stuck it out from your early days. My best success ratio years are around 1/3. I guess different folks not only have different definitions of "hard core" but "success" as well.
 
Feb 14, 2005
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These days, when I do chase, it would most likely be when I am out visiting my family in Kansas City, Wichita, or Springfield. If there is a legitimate opportunity that comes up, that's great. If not, I don't give it much thought for worry or disappointment. If there is a "ridge of death" above, so be it. The atmosphere is going to do what it's going to do. I'm just as happy going out to see a Royals game or taking in some fine KC BBQ or picking blackberries. The more I'm away from the Plains, the more I miss it. But, I miss most all aspects of it, which includes the weather but also the whole environment, including the people.

Oh, I love trying out my skills as a forecaster, but I will always be an amateur at that, so it doesn't really matter whether I'm physically in the plains or not. And goodness knows my photography skills are abysmal, so "getting the shot" means nothing to me. What does mean something is when I'm fortunate enough to be out, in front of a Kansas thunderstorm, and taking it all in with my own 5 senses.

So, in the way the question was posed, I'm probably not a "hard core" chaser.
 
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Just remember, Bennington, KS last year was a slight risk, 5% tornado day lol. Mother nature can be tricky that way. I think that's what drives some people to be as "hard core" as they are. Of course, the fact that I busted on the aforementioned event just drives me to be insane.
Oh hey, thanks for bringing it up... :(

I was sitting in some town near Monroe, LA chasing crawfish down with bourbon until I puked. I chose the leisure part of the chase'cation. Im sure if it was anything more than a 5% I wouldnt have drank bourbon for the first time in about 10 years. Lesson learned though.
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I've always been a "trough chaser", only going out to the Plains for the 40+ knot southwesterly jet days. I can't say with certainty how I'd be if I had 2-3 set-in-stone weeks that I couldn't change. With rare exception, I've never had the means to stay out on the Plains for more than 10 days total or so per season. I do, however, have the flexibility to go whenever the big troughs come through - whether it be March or June. I have to make my Plains days count with the budget I have to work with.

That said, in my experience, any and all 5% days are worth chasing if you can. I don't generally make Plains trips for the 5% days alone, but will stay and chase them if I happen to already be out for a previous or following bigger day. Bennington and Attica are classic examples of 5% gems. A 5% in the Plains in May usually means the ingredients are there, and a nice tornado is a good bet (if you get the forecast right and/or just get lucky).

A 5% in Texas followed by a 5% in South Dakota followed by another 5% in Texas? For me, biting on the South Dakota play would depend on several spur-of-the-moment factors - how I'm feeling that day, how well I slept the previous 2 nights, how good the season has been going for me up to that point, how much money I have left in my chase funds, etc. I've done those drives before, and these days I'm more likely to sit out those marathon "in betweens". I'm even more likely to do that now that I live in the Midwest, where I see plenty of 2%-5% days right here at home that give me occasional tornadoes. Given that, I tend to not want to bust my tail/spend money to get one more 5% day in on the Plains, when I know I'll have half a dozen or more in my backyard before the end of the year.
 
I don't worry about the risk of busts, because even if it's a bust I know plenty of good places to drink beer and eat chicken fried steak 1000 miles away, so i't not like i'll feel let down. I've done a bunch of 600+ miles drives for 2% tornado threats,
although im not sure id go that far if the threat was 0%, unless it was for a real good chicken fried steak and microbrews. When i was in grad school I did once do a last minute hop on a plane from Seattle to Denver on a whim and drove to Wichita for a moderate.
Cap didnt break til after dark so i missed any action that there was, but i did fortutitously catch a tornadic cell on my way back to the airport...
 
Flying out to the USA each year from the UK, in a fixed 2 week spell, is fairly hardcore! To justify the expense of this I tend to try to chase as much as possible, although, within reason.

I've been doing this long enough now that if I really can't see much point in doing a long drive, I won't. But it has to be, in my eyes, a very poor play not to go after it!

For example, May 31st, 2010, was a slight risk, 2% day, but we made the chase anyway because that's why we're there, and got Campo.
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
If a 33.3% success rate at seeing tornadoes is "poor" I'm amazed you stuck it out from your early days. My best success ratio years are around 1/3. I guess different folks not only have different definitions of "hard core" but "success" as well.
Sorry my OP was not clear. 33% was when we picked the right target. When just going with what's close it was less than 10% or worse. Now when going less often, but being more picky, we are seeing 50% success. Like to play tight aggressive, lol!
 
Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
I’m definitely not a hard-core chaser, I chase set-ups that make sense based on potential when weighed against time, cost and lost business. I’ve driven 750+ miles many times for a chase but always for something that had promising tornado potential and mostly to start a multiple day set-up. While I love a great storm and don’t need to see a tornado to enjoy myself I usually won’t go on a chase unless it offers at least one day of strong tornado potential (at least 10% in SPC equivalent) or multiple days of decent potential (5%+). I’ll chase something marginal if it’s within 250 miles but only on a day off as I usually won’t sacrifice business for something with so little promise. Ultimately I think where I live plays a big part in how often I chase and the set-ups I’d be willing to pursue. If I lived in OKC or Wichita I’d likely be more willing to take off after a half day and chase simply for the promise of a supercell but anything within 250 miles of my current home likely wouldn’t offer anything worthwhile if it’s a tornado bust.

I think my latest trip is a good example of what I’ll chase and to what extent I’ll chase. I left home early on the 26th for the 800 mile trip to OKC because it was a multi-day event and the risk of a cap bust on the first day was worth the potential of the 3 day trip. I made it to OKC by 4:30 but by then it was apparent I’d need to drive another 150+ miles for what had become a very marginal set-up. While some chasers would have likely continued onward I hung back and a few hours later headed east to get closer to the next day’s target. To some it probably seems crazy to go that far and not continue but being tired after a long drive and with a very slight chance of seeing a tornado I opted to call it a day and position for the next day. I’ve also cut short chase trips such as last year after 5/19 due to the probability of being in poor terrain and the possibility of being in a heavily populated area. Even though I was already over 800 miles from home and in the area for the next day’s action I didn’t see it worth the value of missing an extra day of work. Yeah, the tornado potential was excellent but mostly in areas I’d rather avoid so I headed home.

If I’ve ever done anything close to being considered hard-core it was the consecutive marathon chases of 5/22/10 through 5/24/10 (Home to South Dakota to western Kansas to South Dakota) that only fell short on the last leg due to car problems from some thick Kansas mud. I probably wouldn’t try it again but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out either.
 
Aug 16, 2009
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Amarillo, TX
I'm so un-hardcore, that I don't think I want to chase this next system because A) not enough confidence that I'll see a tornado and 2) I don't want to be in the hoards.
 
Sep 29, 2011
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Fort Worth, TX
www.passiontwistvideo.com
Sorry my OP was not clear. 33% was when we picked the right target. When just going with what's close it was less than 10% or worse. Now when going less often, but being more picky, we are seeing 50% success. Like to play tight aggressive, lol!
LOL, got it. I was gonna say "Man, that dude has ridiculously high standards of what is/isn't successful." Thanks for the follow up.
 

Timothy Finn

Is "hard-core" a real descriptor that you want? Consider:

A "hard-core" chaser is probably the sort of fellow that punches cores, takes unnecessary risks, and may not use the best judgement at times. This person may also be arrogant, self-absorbed, and have an elevated self-worth.

Now...a "legit" chaser, on the other hand.....I would consider someone to be educated, cognizant, and practices good chasing etiquette. I don't think it would come down to distances traveled, how many things one has passed on in order to chase.

A "legit" chaser is one who's in it for the science, and the enjoyment of correctly forecasting.

In a nutshell, quality over quantity.

I'd consider myself "legit". For me, if I don't bag a tornado, it's no big deal. Unless I blue sky busted, I probably saw some cool weather going down, and that's always a treat.

Tim
 

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,643
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
The way I understand 'hard core' in the context of Jim's question isn't one's exposure to danger, just the level of dedication one has to see storms. "Least hardcore" would be watching storms from the back porch, the "most hardcore" would be driving many thousands of miles a year, living on the road, making life sacrifices to chase (steady income, relationships, etc).
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Yes, thanks for that, Dan. In my original post, I mentioned I did not mean "hard core" as in how much risk one would take. I am just interested in how far people are willing to drive and the cost/benefit decision process that chasers go through in that regard.

In particular, for those that can only take a two-week chase vacation, do you say "I only have 14 days, so I am chasing every day no matter how far and how marginal?" OR do you say, "I may only have 14 days, but this is also supposed to be a vacation and I am not going to kill myself driving 8 hours for a marginal opportunity out of some sense of 'obligation' only to turn back around and come back the other way tomorrow for another marginal chance" ?


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