Overrated chase areas

Discussion in 'Introductory weather & chasing' started by Dan Robinson, Jun 27, 2017.

  1. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    If I've learned one thing I can count on as a chaser, it's that there is simply nothing like the dryline in the southern and central Great Plains from April through early June. Times and places outside of this sometimes gain a legendary reputation after they produce their rare quality event, but being misled by them will usually cost you. Here are the most common "overrated" chase areas:

    The Midwest

    To be sure, the Midwest (essentially Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana) has a rich tornado history, with many classic and defining events. Some have been influential in starting the careers of scientists and meteorologists, and been the impetus for many to start their forays into storm chasing. Plainfield, Roanoke, Albion, Tri-State, Palm Sunday - those names have rightfully earned their place into tornado lore. And even in modern times, the Midwest produces its share of spectacular events. And all this is in addition to the excellent terrain and road network in much of the Midwest region.

    Unfortunately though, all of these factors do not translate to the Midwest being a good place to plan a chase trip. Predictable synoptically-evident tornado events are rare, and it's even rarer that they produce a quality tornado. Most synpotic setups - lacking the dryline and type of EML commonly seen in the Plains - simply don't produce, and are nine times out of ten major dissapointments. Much of the Midwest's quality tornadoes occur on "sleeper" days, influenced by outflow boundaries, MCVs or cold-core upper lows. Most of these events are difficult to forecast in advance, and require an almost obsessive daily forecasting/observation regimen to see coming. And most importantly, they are only a real chase prospect for for a chaser who lives in the area.

    I say all this even though moved to the Midwest because of its tornado history, and I see tornadoes here every year. But to be honest, most of them, I would not have seen if I did not live here full-time. Virtually none of the events were of the caliber that I would have driven here from out of the area to chase them. Even for the chaser that lives here, there are no guarantees that you'll catch those sleeper events, and you really have to stay on your toes to have a shot at them. In the Midwest, if you take your eyes off of the weather for just one day and take a nap after work, a photogenic landspout will happen in your backyard!

    June/July, Colorado, the Northern Plains & the fall season

    I lumped these chase "realms" together, since they are all overrated for the same reason. While they produce legendary events that get everyone's attention when they happen, the fact remains that these good days are quite rare. Someone forfeiting the southern/central Plains targets for Colorado or to chase the Northern Plains in June will be missing far more quality tornadoes and supercells than they will be gaining.

    These regions are, realistically, only an option for either the chaser who lives in them full-time, or to the chaser who is able to "chase everything" all season long. For the chaser who must pick and choose his or her chase days due to the limitations imposed by work, family and finances (that is, most of us), jumping on the Colorado/Northern Plains/late June bandwagons will bring more famine than feast. Sure, you might get the Campo once every ten years, but you'll miss the countless Rozels, Dodge Citys, Benningtons and Atticas that happen in the years in between.

    The South

    While this one is more obvious, it deserves a mention. It's very rare that a setup in the South is worth a drive from out of the area to chase. Even April 27, 2011 was a challenge for most who chased it - very few came away with good images and video.

    For me, it's all about the Plains dryline from April through early June. Before I lived in the Midwest, I rarely chased here - and if I ever move away, I doubt I'd do anything more than come back for the big outbreak days every few years (and for the most part, even those have not been kind to me).
     
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  2. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Resident meteorological expert
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    I thought you would be a little more specific when I saw the title of this thread, Dan. Basically you've said that everywhere outside the southern/central Plains is underrated (and I think you meant to say "underrated" rather than "overrated").

    If we're talking underrated chase areas, I nominate the eastern Dakotas. Like most underrated areas, there are few setups here each year, and they're generally smashed into the June-August period (and setups can be scant even during those times), but in my opinion the terrain and road network are as good there as they are anywhere else in the US, including Texas and Oklahoma.

    If we're talking overrated chase areas, I nominate parts of C/W and NW Oklahoma and much of NW Texas and parts of the Texas panhandle. Many new chasers may come into the hobby thinking the Texas panhandle is the holy grail of storm chase terrain. While most of the panhandle offers a great "big-sky" view, the road network is abominable across all but those areas west of the Caprock and also the northernmost tier of counties and Hartley and Moore Counties. There are also enough rolling hills in these same areas to frustrate you. Perhaps the most unexpected obstruction in the central panhandle is Palo Duro Canyon. It's much larger than you might think, and there are only 5 Red River crossings between Amarillo and Childress. Northwest TX (basically from US 62/83 to I-35 and between I-20 and the Red River) can be even worse. It's desolate enough that if you were to break down, it could be hours or even a day before anyone even notices you broke down anywhere. And even though many areas in this region are pretty flat, there are also more trees here, and even though they're only 10 feet tall, you still may not be able to see above them for miles at a time.
     
  3. John Farley

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    Dan, it sounds to me like you have changed your thinking about the Midwest somewhat from previous things I have seen you post, where you have talked about all the great chases you have out of your St. Louis area base. Perhaps the thread title should have made it more clear that you are talking about chase VACATIONS. And if that is what you are talking about, I agree with your general conclusion. Also agree with Jeff about much of the TX Panhandle, though. All that said, I would argue that, while May in the central and southern plains is the time and place to plan chase VACATIONS, there are often good days for local chasers in many of the other areas. While counting on several consecutive days of great chasing anywhere but spring in the plains with dryline setups is a risky proposition (and some years, like this year, even there it is), local chasers who remain alert to the weather can get a lot of good stuff in the Midwest, in CO/NM/WY, in the Dakotas, and probably even in the South. So where is a good place to chase, IMHO, depends somewhat on where you live, whether you can go out on short notice, and whether you are talking about a chase day or a chase vacation.
     
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  4. JamesCaruso

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    Dan can clarify for himself but I think he did mean to say "overrated," not "underrated." I think his point is that some of these other regions can be hyped up based on certain events, but they are being overrated in that sense because there is no way they come anywhere close to the traditional Southern and Central plains stomping grounds.

    But to John's point this is really an issue for planning chase vacations. If you live in one of those regions then you take what comes and, like Dan, you're there for the mesoscale accidents. But nobody should plan a chase trip to the Midwest. And I don't think anybody does.

    I think Colorado and the Northern Plains are a different story though. If for any reason I couldn't chase in peak season, I might have a go at the Northern Plains in the second half of June - although I probably would only do that if the pattern looked good, I wouldn't go out there expecting sudden slight risks to pop up like they do during May and early June on the Southern and Central Plains.

    Colorado I think of as part of the "core" Central Plains chase region, easily accessible and frequently active during the peak. I guess the issue here is more time of year: would it be worth coming out in late June or July just to chase eastern Colorado? Again I would have to see a good pattern, I guess I wouldn't just "take my chances" and come out like I would during May / early June.

    Jeff brings up the terrain issues, and those I think are more responsible for "overrating" chase areas. Like he said, there are traditional areas like the Texas panhandle full of tornado lore and legend, yet there are vast expanses of unchaseable area due to terrain and/or lack of roads. On the other hand, some of the best chasing terrain and roads anywhere are down to the west of Lubbock, but we just haven't had much activity down there in recent years...

    I think there are substantial areas of KS and OK that are also overrated. Especially when trying to stay on paved roads, there are areas up around I-70 in the northwest quadrant of KS where you may need to drive anywhere from 10 to 30 miles east/west before you hit the next north/south road. The OK panhandle has a dearth of roads and flat terrain, as do other areas of the state even west of I-35.


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  5. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    Overrated is the word - the times and places that gain elevated status after a Campo, Simla, Bowdle, Pilger or June 24, 2003, but are really undeserving of the reputation due to those events being once-in-10-or-15-years affairs. How many chased Colorado on May 24, 2016 and missed Dodge City, or how many moved their chase trips to June 2016, only to miss the late May 2016 bonanzas in KS/TX?

    I still love chasing the Midwest, but after being in quite the "quality tornado" drought in IL/MO over the past 2 years, I've been forced to re-evaluate my accolades of this area. Just like Colorado, you have to chase everything here to see anything - and even then, you're more likely to miss the one mesoscale accident than to see it - even if it happens 5 miles from home. The Midwest is just as likely to rip your heart out as it is to give you a great score.

    Meanwhile, Kansas is more likely than not to give you a blissful 20-minute beauty and send you home happy with a bagful of catches. The point of this post is to hopefully convince someone to not give up Kansas/Oklahoma in May in order to go after the mirages of Colorado or North Dakota in June. I've been tempted to do it like many of us after the Pilgers and Simlas, but boy, I'm glad I didn't!

    I agree on the TX Panhandle and certain areas in KS/OK. The Caprock is the only excellent terrain, but I haven't chased there since 2005!
     
    #5 Dan Robinson, Jun 28, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2017
  6. Jeff House

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    Same goes for timing. June has some great events, but May 15-31 is still the best time to chase. Even this silly year, May 16-19 had a sequence in Oklahoma and Kansas. It was sloppy, but we all saw the successful intercepts in Target Area. May 15-31 offers the best chance of a trough holding in the Rockies for a few days and sending out shortwaves. Surface features usually favor Oklahoma and Kansas that time of year.

    The South is absolutely overrated. Sure Dixie was involved in both super outbreaks 2011 and 1974 but chasing is a joke down here. Dixie Alley is like the power hitter who strikes out way too much to be in the Majors (or Minors). Chasing Dixie just makes me homesick, nothing else, lol!
     
  7. Andy Wehrle

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    Case in point, today. Would have gone to Iowa if not for work tomorrow (3AM start). Instead dodged the rain and winds from the HP grunge bomb that move through southwest and south-central WI. To twist the knife a little more, a photogenic and significant tornado DID occur in WI...much further north, just east of the Twin Cities.

    I remember being surprised when seeing videos of the one good tornado on May 18th this year, by how many trees and hills there were in OK west of I-35. I'd always thought of that whole area as classic wide open Plains, much like the area around Dodge City, KS shown in videos of that event.
     
  8. John Farley

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    But, as I and others found out on May 18, you don't have to go a whole lot east of Dodge City to get into trees in KS, either. Lots of them south of Great Bend.
     
  9. Todd Lemery

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    I was also on the way to Iowa yesterday before family surprised me coming to visit. I really like Iowa a lot even though I haven't had lots of success there. To me, the most over rated is Kansas. No complaints at all about the type and amount of storms though. What kills me is that although it's largely a one mile grid in flat terrain, the majority of the "roads" are not much more than a path through the clay made by a dozer. Ten drops of rain and you're sliding around like you are on an ice rink. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the paved roads spread out so far and the clay options slowing you down. I love it anyway, but it's not the holy grail.
     
  10. Andy Wehrle

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    Are they written out of the will yet?
     
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  11. JamesCaruso

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    I thought statistically the first week of June is equivalent to those last two weeks of May?




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  12. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    I think that is probably true from a climatology standpoint. For that reason, I always keep my schedule clear for Plains chase trips through at least June 15. That being said, I have only gone on June chase trips five times in my 16 seasons of Plains chasing (2003, 2004, 2005, 2012 and 2017). I've been mostly free to chase in all of those other Junes, there just wasn't a system in those years that met my personal criteria for chaseworthiness (something like 35kt+ W/SW flow over strongly unstable dryline) before June 15. I've missed a few good days in those personal "June off years", but I don't remember any of those that had a nice late-May-like trough from June 1-15 that screamed "go on a chase trip".

    Again, these are just my personal stats, but this shows the dominance that May has had in my Plains chasing successes:

    2017bymonth.jpg

    The only thing you could say is that even though June days with a good setup are fewer in number, they tend to produce more reliably than May (my success rates show that at least). The takeaway then would be don't ignore a good classic setup in June, but also don't count on one happening most years.
     
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    #12 Dan Robinson, Jun 29, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2017
  13. Shane Adams

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    Dan is spot-on. There's a reason that tornado research was born in the S Plains. Bitch about the terrain, cry about the road networks, whine about the crowds. Nothing beats the S Plains for sheer frequency of events that can be forecast days in advance. I know it's a romantic notion in the internet area where chasing everything everywhere is easy that places like CO (most overrated state for anything) and the Dakotas are the ultimate destination, but that doesn't change the fact you get about 30% of the realistic shots at tornadoes everywhere else as opposed to the S Plains. It's no coincidence that those who feel the S Plains are overrated are those who live outside the region, have to make long hauls to reach targets, and feel extra-jilted when things don't pan out.

    Spectacular tornadoes? Hell, you can get them anywhere in any region mentioned in this thread. But the most opportunity resides in the S Plains. There is no argument.
     
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  14. Jeshua Everett

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    Oklahoma is where I have seen the most ferocious storms. Live here in C OK and there's just nothing like the monsters we get. Not overrated on that front, but as far as an enjoyable place to chase, it is often not. NW OK I have had very little luck, C OK the high population makes it difficult. E OK is where you run into visibility problems with the terrain and SE OK in particular is a nightmare at times while also being a place you really don't want to be stuck at after dark. I've always had a soft spot for SW OK though. No 1982 Altus kind of storms down there so far since I've been chasing (missed out on the Elmer tornado a couple years back) but it's a place I seem to get around pretty easy.
     
  15. Ben Holcomb

    Ben Holcomb Digital Janitor
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    I want to frame what Shane said and put it on my wall above my door to my garage. He is spot on in every regard.
     

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