Poll: What is your main goal when chasing?

What is your main goal when chasing?

  • Tornado, no matter how brief, small, low contrast- nothing else comes close.

    Votes: 13 19.4%
  • Love tornadoes but epic structure a close second.

    Votes: 43 64.2%
  • Great structure trumps all but the most photogenic tornadoes.

    Votes: 10 14.9%
  • Tornadoes? Meh, but give me a mothership any day.

    Votes: 1 1.5%

  • Total voters
    67

Dan Robinson

Staff member
Jan 14, 2011
2,394
2,056
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I'm always looking for something like a Dodge City or Bennington when I go to the Plains. Those are my benchmarks of chase quality. Visually spectacular, easy to chase, photogenic. I know most chases won't yield something on that level, but the more they are like them, the better. My secondary (and many times primary) subject is lightning. I will stay out all night for a good lightning show. I like a nice CG barrage as much as a tornado. Structure is a distant third for me. Unless it is a Leoti-level event, I'd prefer a tornado or nice lightning photo.
 
Last edited:
Jan 7, 2006
505
432
21
31
Norman, OK
www.skyinmotion.com
It's interesting how this has changed for me subtly over the years, probably opposite the direction that's most common.

I started chasing primarily as an offshoot of landscape photography, which I was already interested in before I moved to the Plains. So initially, my goals were a one-to-one mapping with: "will what I see today make a spectacular photo?" That's still largely true, but after getting a taste of the adrenaline rush of being within a couple miles of a sig tor, that started to become another goal in and of itself. So in the context of the poll, I used to be closest to #3, but am now more #2. Neither #1 nor #4 have ever rung true for me, though. I really don't care about seeing rain-wrapped or bird fart tornadoes to pad my stats, and truly exceptional structure (i.e., Plains storm of the year) still does top most tornadoes. Lightning is a tertiary photography goal, but I've had such impossibly bad luck with it over the years that I've kinda given up, aside from the most in-your-face opportunities under the right conditions.

I guess if I had to summarize the manifestation of what's changed for me, it's that I'll now drive many hours and get pumped just to see a "mediocre" tornado, even if it's more suited to video and doesn't yield great stills. Also, when the rare opportunity of a high-end/photogenic tornado presents itself, I'm thinking a little more about the experience/getting close/video than I would've at the beginning, even if stills remain my top priority. If I had to perform a little pop psychology on myself, I think some of this is probably the competitive nature of chasing in the social media era -- if most other chasers value tornadoes above all else, and I know close/intense footage will be all over my feed after a good tube, maybe the FOMO creeps into my decision making!

But man, am I glad I can fall back on the landscape-oriented approach sometimes. I did a lovely 1000-mile round trip to NM last week, and anticrepuscular rays on the back side of a messy storm at sunset were the only reason to take my camera out all day. As dejected as I get after a string of busts, I can't even imagine staying passionate about chasing if quality tornadoes were the only way an outing ever felt remotely worthwhile.
 
Jul 27, 2012
21
75
1
Grand Forks, ND
When I'm chasing and it's not local, I am out to see tornadoes so I will pass up structure shots to try and keep myself in position to see tornadoes until the storm mode no longer supports it. Exceptions would be QLCS tornadoes which I want no part of and mega-HP storms where getting some good structure is preferable to seeing a brief barely visible spin-up at great peril to myself or my vehicle.
 
Nov 18, 2006
1,231
296
11
Chicago, IL
Up close tornado video is always my main goal, but I enjoy everything and also want to have a wide range of shots in my portfolio. The experience of being up close to a tornado trumps everything, but the documentation aside from those few seconds is usually sub par, annoying, and filled with screaming chasers, windshield wipers and vehicle interiors.

I still appreciate and want to get a nice, out of the vehicle, clear shot of the entire life cycle from one location.

On days when tornado potential is zero or "non-zero" I'll go for structure and lightning shots anyday. I also enjoy hail. The way I see it, you have way more opportunities to get that stuff than tornadoes, so I always give priority to the thing that is rarer

Basically I want it all, but priority #1 will always be the dramatic tornado video. You could give me all the epic structure and everything else day after day, but my season will never feel complete until I get that great tornado video.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JohnHuntington
Aug 9, 2012
344
572
21
Galesburg, IL
www.facebook.com
Tornadoes first are my main goal of chasing (even though I'm not very good at it this year lmao). Awesome structure with lightning is a close second for me since photography is my main outlet of chasing. I realize not every season can be a good one for a chaser, so that is why I like photography, so I can fill in the gaps between being satisfied by seeing a great tornado and being satisfied by seeing a great storm.

A great storm can offer up just as much as some tornadoes do if you play it right and time it right with your camera.

Like Dan I also enjoy lightning, I'll stay up and shoot lightning if there is an opportunity, sometimes even if its only a small one, because it only takes that one bolt to get a great photo.

Thirdly, this sounds dumb, but winter-time photography (especially ice storms) are my third favorite to photograph and enjoy. Nothing in the off-season gets me pumped like seeing a great winter storm come together. Probably not the most popular thing on here, but its what I love!

Great topic btw!
 
Aug 19, 2005
235
44
11
Atlanta, GA
A perfect example of my chase philosophy was the storm near Leoti, KS a couple of years ago. We did see an early tornado, but missed a few subsequent decent ones that you had to be up close to observe. However, because the structure was so awe-inspiring I could have cared less about missing those. On the Imperial, NE day I was with a group that had a person that "had" to see a tornado, so we played around too close in (did see rapid rotation and 70mph RFD) but when I saw the structure photos later it was my biggest disappointment of the season. I can't count how many times I have been several miles away from a storm marveling at the structure and seeing numerous SN dots right up next to the area where a tornado might occur and wondering what the heck they were doing.
 
Jul 5, 2009
843
518
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
Thirdly, this sounds dumb, but winter-time photography (especially ice storms) are my third favorite to photograph and enjoy. Nothing in the off-season gets me pumped like seeing a great winter storm come together. Probably not the most popular thing on here, but its what I love!

Great topic btw!
I don’t think that’s dumb at all ! I feel the same way. I don’t “chase” winter storms, but I spend the winter watching each opportunity and hoping it comes together for my area. Not specifically for the photography, but for the overall drama and experience. Beyond the love of weather itself, it’s just a great feeling to be hunkered down at home while it’s snowing, whether it’s a raging blizzard or even just some “mood flakes.” Or going out to shovel, burying some beers in the snow to drink after, and coming inside to a hot meal. I agree ice storms are gorgeous and photogenic, but my desire for those is tempered by the unwanted impact on my trees/bushes and power 😬 I belong to a local Philadelphia weather forum, where the crew seems to be much more into winter storms than anything else (I guess because none of the other weather around here is too exciting 😏) I don’t know nearly enough about winter weather forecasting, but enjoy following the discussions anyway. If I didn’t have hurricanes to track in summer/fall, or winter storms to track in winter, I would go even crazier than I already do after getting back from my chase vacation.

I would think a lot of chasers are interested in all kinds of weather, including winter storms. Perhaps that would be another interesting survey, what other types of weather are you interested in outside of tornados and severe thunderstorms, and to what extent do you follow other types of weather, i.e., actively chase, enjoy it (or not) only when it happens to affect your local area, photography, or just keep up on what’s happening for general interest?
 
Jun 16, 2015
430
931
21
32
Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
This is a tough question. I wouldn’t be fooling anyone if I said I wasn’t hoping to catch a tornado while chasing, but my approach and motivation has shifted over time.

Early in my chase “career,” I would have answered #1. Once the beginners luck wore off (June 16-18, 2014), I realized that I wanted to find other reasons to chase. I began to see more and more often that some of the most inspiring storm visuals were seen from a distance and/or from supercells that did not produce a tornado.

Coming off another bout of luck in 2016, the last few years have been a personal struggle in terms of catching photogenic tornadoes.

My main goal shifted toward finding photo opportunities during as many chases as possible. This is especially the case since this spring when I decided I wanted to take photography more seriously and upgraded to a much better camera. Sure, there will be some chases in which there is not much structure and the goal is to find a tornado, but most of the time, there are photo opps. This might mean choosing a secondary target, going out on a limb or scouting the landscape for just the right shot. Even if a storm is not particularly impressive, there are many unique foregrounds to pair with whatever nature throws out there.

Basically, it’s about capturing and experiencing a storm, even if it’s not a tornado. More often than not, I do target an area during a storm chase that is most likely (in my forecast) to land me a tornado. When that doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility, I will gladly focus on storm structure and other photo opportunities.
 
Jun 1, 2008
467
362
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
Oh yeah I love snow and photographing it, esp when snow skiing. Now about tornadoes..

If I drive 14 hours or spend hundreds of dollars on air fare, I'm going for tornadoes. Period.

Stretch goal is DDC or Harper-Attica. One really can't expect it, but such days make the vacation.

Threshold goal was met this year. We saw two cycles, but only a few minutes each cycle. One was photogenic.

In-between is something like Rozel. It was two long photogenic cycles. In fact it's close to DDC for me for personal reasons (chaser company including two first-timers).

Goal not met would be a single crappy cycle or very distant. Moderate distance is good because one can get both tornado and structure, but long-distance is meh.

Once threshold goal is met the pressure is off a bit, and we can enjoy structure and other experiences.

For example @Quincy Vagell takes awesome pictures with animals/livestock. We had cows approach us once. Probably meaningless, but it was cool. Of course we never touch or disturb animals.

Raw inflow winds, dust, crisp structure and lighting are other solid wins, especially after threshold goal is met.

In 2016 DDC met stretch goal. Therefore I'm able to appreciate a non-tornado day same trip. Inflow created a 1-2 mile dust plume. We do not believe it was the ghost train due to position and size. Still it was so incredible with the wide open Texas sky.

Back in 2008 we had another amazing non-tornado intercept. Two days alter was a 3-4 cycle show, making the trip.

The said non-tornado days would not be great memories if we did not meet goals other days of the trip. Maybe I should learn to appreciate those days regardless.
 

Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
103
109
11
Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
Structure or photogenic tornadoes are spectacles that I can appreciate on both surface and deeper levels. Good CG lightning is just as impressive and fascinating and should be in this survey. A great sunset or landscape photo is also on my list. Like others have said- in winter I am interested in local observing, and in corner seasons I like to watch transitory storms in between mountain peaks. Overall though, I find that you cannot boil down motivation to a few basic categories of 'the reward'. I'm often not motivated by, nor can I identify with simple rewards or countable things.

I'm there for the open road, dynamic sculpted and colorful skies, some peace and solitude or to share the view with quality people or well behaved strangers, maybe some intelligent road conversation or good music. I'm also there to have a good time with whatever happens, including an infrequent total bust, or experiencing the quirks of small towns. I'm there to visually observe and verify the science I continue to learn from books and media. I'm out there just to get away.

Not to turn the topic sour, but the survey doesn't cover a large additional part of my motivation. Lately I will try to simply have a clean relaxing chase experience away from all the problems that have become synonymous with it. There are unfortunately a lot of things I am avoiding out there. Giant convergence is an automatic no go, especially after this year- I have just had it with the stupidity and aggression in these recent crowds. Car wrecks every day, honking horns, blocked roads- its a total circus of drama, immaturity, and dysfunction. Usually the largest collection of those issues occurs on HP garbage that SPC called a moderate or higher close to a metro in KS, TX or OK, and sometimes CO. Some low contrast garbage tornado has never done a thing for me and includes plenty of risk for nothing but a transitory cheap thrill- the same dopamine reward as social media in my opinion. HP messes I've noticed tend to be especially good at attracting the arrogant, the risk takers, band wagon dot chasers, people selling something, and of course counters- some of who self identify their worth with the count of tornadoes. Any time I have been close to that crowd on a chase or on any type of media, the attitude gets worse, and my enjoyment is negatively affected. I also try to avoid chasing with or near people who get their happiness all tied up in expectations and rewards- the must be constantly entertained and happy, can't handle a bust or not seeing what they expect, and can't just let an experience be what it is.
 

James K

EF1
Mar 26, 2019
89
32
6
Colorado
My main intent would be to see a tornado.
Though there is something to be said for seeing nice structure, and/or a good lightning show! (that last one can be done from home...though we really don't get many thunderstorms in a summer here)
 
Sep 25, 2006
273
65
11
Denver, CO
stormdig.com
On the Imperial, NE day I was with a group that had a person that "had" to see a tornado, so we played around too close in (did see rapid rotation and 70mph RFD) but when I saw the structure photos later it was my biggest disappointment of the season. I can't count how many times I have been several miles away from a storm marveling at the structure and seeing numerous SN dots right up next to the area where a tornado might occur and wondering what the heck they were doing.
I was one of those dots. Sat under the thing with basically zero to see and drove off with no idea what I was missing. I was an hour west before I caught wind of what I left behind. Ugh. That and deciding to head home rather than chase KS the next day were my two big mistakes this year.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JamesCaruso
Jun 4, 2018
61
55
11
29
San Angelo, TX
Considering I have yet to see my first tornado (been so close a few times it makes me sick), that is obviously going to be my top priority. However, since I don't get dedicated chase days very often due to my job, I have learned to take what I can get. I have yet to witness any truly breathtaking structure, but I desperately want to. The two are very different in my eyes. Where as a tornado is a relatively brief, violent, beautiful thing to behold, storm structure to me is almost humbling. Not that tornadoes aren't, but even the images I have seen of truly great storm structure leave me feeling almost insignificant in the face of this monstrous beauty. It's hard to explain how I feel about the two. It's almost poetic (as cheesy as that may sound).

I also enjoy lightning. I'll sit outside even when I don't have my camera out and just watch approaching storms for hours. It's mesmerizing.
 
Jul 5, 2009
843
518
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
Oh yeah I love snow and photographing it, esp when snow skiing. Now about tornadoes..

If I drive 14 hours or spend hundreds of dollars on air fare, I'm going for tornadoes. Period.

Stretch goal is DDC or Harper-Attica. One really can't expect it, but such days make the vacation.

Threshold goal was met this year. We saw two cycles, but only a few minutes each cycle. One was photogenic.

In-between is something like Rozel. It was two long photogenic cycles. In fact it's close to DDC for me for personal reasons (chaser company including two first-timers).

Goal not met would be a single crappy cycle or very distant. Moderate distance is good because one can get both tornado and structure, but long-distance is meh.

Once threshold goal is met the pressure is off a bit, and we can enjoy structure and other experiences.

....

In 2016 DDC met stretch goal. Therefore I'm able to appreciate a non-tornado day same trip. ...

...
The said non-tornado days would not be great memories if we did not meet goals other days of the trip. Maybe I should learn to appreciate those days regardless.
Well said Jeff, I feel exactly the same way. Before my goal is met - especially if I didn’t meet it because of my own errors and squandered actual opportunities - I tend to be too pissed off and frustrated to enjoy the “other” stuff. I might enjoy it on the first day or two of chase vacation, but as time runs out and disappointment sets in, it becomes harder to enjoy. Then maybe on the last day or two I’ll get my head screwed on straight and realize I’d better enjoy whatever I can before it’s all over.

I think part of it is the “competitive pressure” to have a close encounter with a tornado. Not competition in a literal sense, but in the sense that I haven’t achieved enough if all I got was structure.

You’re right, we need to learn to appreciate those days regardless. They are still amazing sights and experiences we can’t get anywhere else. That level of mindfulness is key in all aspects of life, not just chasing, although chasing maybe be an excellent vehicle of self-improvement in that regard if we can use it as a catalyst to achieve that mindset...
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff House
Jul 5, 2009
843
518
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
What’s being referred to as the Imperial NEB day, 5/27/19 - did that storm still have good structure at that point? The best structure shots I have seen were when the storm was still southwest of Holyoke. We were late to the storm so missed that, then came in behind it so were close-in at Imperial. Then we decided we didn’t have a good road option to follow it north, so we bailed east hoping for structure, but our view from our resulting position to the southeast really wasn’t that great. Was the structure still good at that point and we were just at a bad angle, or was its best time already past?
 
1: Campo-Simla-Pampa (Twister) type, lone, slow-moving supercells with highly visible tornado(es) -- on long shot / slight days out west where convergence is limited. I'm almost a 100% dryline chaser now days and avoid any HP set-ups exept the very early stages. I've seen multiple wedges, and although they are exciting and mesmerizing to watch, I actually find them boring as a photographer / videographer. As a volunteer EMS worker, I also dread the possibility of a small or large town being pulverized when large and violent tornadoes are forecast.

2: Hurricane storm surge of at least 15+ feet, e.g., Biloxi / Katrina. I'll only chase if there is substantial infrastructure to survive the projected strength+. (Yes, I'm crazy when it comes to hurricanes but I wear floaties).

3: Insane LP storm (or similar) structure.

4: Wildfires where I've somehow gained access to the best action. The Forest Service is so anal now days, it's almost impossible to gain access unless you get there fast.

5: Biblical-class dust storms in the Phoenix area. This year will be great after the multiple deep freezes.

6: Lightning. I've shot almost every possible lightning situation there is. However, as soon as global shutter, cinema cameras are available in an affordable, low light quality format, I'll start shooting full force again.
 

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
2,986
1,498
21
Westminster, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
I prioritize great photogenic opportunities however they reveal themselves. Usually that is in the form of a tornado. However, in many cases a storm's cloud structure far exceeds the photogenic nature of the tornadoes it produces. In those cases I would rather be backed off and seeing great structure. A great example of this was 22 April 2015 in WTX. This sunset saver of a storm (the main event blew by to the north as an HP storm that just chased us out of the way and provided little in the way of any valuable show) ended up being not only the highlight of the chase, but the highlight of the first half of my 2015 season, despite apparently producing a tornado that I could not see. I only wish I had been 5-10 miles further ahead of this storm...it would have been epic.

Also, what I consider my career best shot so far is storm structure, not a tornado. I don't even have a framed picture of a tornado hanging up in my apartment, but I do have a few framed structure shots.