Poll: worst storm chase seasons in recent history

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Which was the worst year for storm chasing in general?

  • 2009

  • 2012

  • 2014

  • 2017

  • 2018

  • 2019

  • 2020


Results are only viewable after voting.
Aug 27, 2009
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81
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I realize I have been pretty lucky with my timing on chasecations during my 10 years of chasing:

2009: First year. Came early June, saw the Goshen County as my 1st tornado ever. Had some pretty cool storm experiences thereafter but I was amazed by pretty much everything we saw. Caught a bird fart on the last day.

2012: Only chased for 5 days. Drove from 5.30 am to late in the evening all over the place. Lucked out completely by catching LaCrosse on our way home when we had to drive through southern KS. We actually drove under the 2nd tornado at night. I looked out of the window when I saw a glimpse of a tube through all the lightning and it was literally on top of us, just touched down somewhere to our right (in the dark).

2013: Only unlucky chase date selections. Should have chase mid May but got stood up and had to re-book to early May. Saw nothing noteworthy in 10 days. Missed all the historical events later on obviously. My only chasecation without a tornado.

2014: Not lucky enough to select mid June but rather end of May. Only saw a brief landspout tornado and only had 2 chase days out of 6. Terrible season.

2015: Was there for Canadian, TX. Did miss out on Simla.

2016: I landed on May 21st. Missed out on Bennington but was there for everything else. The 2nd week was extremely slow though.

2017: Actually one of my best seasons despite a slow start. Got the CO/WY/NE tornado fest and lucked out on some spectacular storms afterwards as well.

2018: Awful season but did see the Cope landspout fest at least.

2019: Pretty awful season as well and the one with the worst timing I think. Had an incredible day in Goodland, KS, and got the best photograph in my career but my chase partners saw tornadoes 3 days in a row just after I left. Also missed the 8 day span in mid/late May.

2020: Did not chase. My set days for chasing supposedly were pretty much down days so I would likely have had my 2nd season without tornadoes if I had chased.

I often consider my seasons in terms of average and max experience, where the max experience often is the most important one. If I have one AMAZING day, I am usually fine with the rest of the week being completely crap. I come for the amazing experiences, that's why I chase and that is what I usually remember. It also provides the photographs I love to have. Still, if the average experience is really bad (like in 2018) it still leaves me with a negative feeling - despite some excellent photos. Out of all the above seasons, 2013 was probably the worst. We had no exciting day whatsoever and nothing to remember. In 2014 we at least had one decent day but it was pretty much only one real day of chasing for that whole season.
 
Mar 2, 2004
2,319
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Wichita, KS
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I gotta throw a vote for 2006 as well... since I started taking long-term time off to chase starting in 2003, '06 was by far my worst year. 2020 is making a run for that title, but I have hope for the second week in June when I am taking some time off to get out a bit more outside of Kansas. I'm a one-day saves a season kinda guy, and it won't take much to elevate 2020 over 2006, even as I am now officially as deep into the year without a legit tornado as I have ever been (also the fewest chases/miles to this point).

That said, 2006 I had a very busy May, so statistically 2006 will be tough to beat on paper because the percentages will be so much lower just having chase much more... my mileage number is skewed as I lived in Denver in 2006 and am currently in Wichita, but the difference is very reflective of how little I am chasing this year.

STATS BY MAY 31: 2006 vs. 2020

CHASES - 2006: 16 - 2020: 11
MILES - 2006: 13,967 - 2020: 3,313
TORNADOES - 2006: 2 (both pretty pathetic) - 2020: 0 (maybe 1 of the dust whirls I saw on the 21st was a legit landspout, but still going with 0 at this point)

The 2006 season provided a pretty epic Fall setup which would've saved my season had we not stopped at Arby's for a too-long lunch enroute to SD (yes, it literally came down to that). I hold out hope that I will get ONE day to save this season, which will put it over 2020, and depending on the quality of that day, may move ahead of the last couple seasons for me which at least featured some numbers to put on paper.

Here is a list of "day" or "days" I remember a season for starting back in 2003...

2003: May 15 - Stratford, TX
2004: May 12 - Attica, KS; May 29 - Southern KS
2005: April 10 - Trego County, KS
2006: May 5 - Patricia, TX (literally caught only the low-contrast rope out)
2007: April 13 - Seymour, TX
2008: May 22, 23, 29 along/north of I-70 in Kansas
2009: April 26 - Plainview, TX; June 5 - Goshen, WY; June 17 - Aurora, NE
2010: May 22 - Bowdle, SD; May 24 - Meadow, SD
2011: May 24 - Canton, OK
2012: April 14 - Geneseo/Solomon; May 25 - Walker/Wakenney
2013: May 18 - Sanford, KS; Oct 4/Nov 17 Fall Chases
2014: June 16 - Pilger
2015: November 16 - SW Kansas Outbreak
2016: May 24-25 in Kansas just to start
2017: June 12 - Carpenter, WY
2018: May 14 - Arkansas City, KS (a lower-end tornado, but it saved '18)
2019: May 6 - Lewis, KS (the nighttime photo I snagged, but still a low-end year)
2020: TBD

Here's how I'd rank my 3 worst years, excluding 2020..

#1 Worst: 2006
#2 Worst: 2003
#3 Worst: 2018

If my only tornado of this season were to equal the quality of the Arkansas City tornado in 2018, the lightning venture I had a few weeks ago would move 2020 ahead of 2018 (the 2018 car crash didn't help). So yes, it won't take much to elevate 2020 out of the bottom 3. If 2020 stayed as ho-hum as it is now, it would probably make the #2 worst season. 2006 was rough, lack of tornadoes, lack of really anything good that year. At least this year, I have some amazing lightning photos and a couple good hailers.

So yes, a solid catch would move 2020 out of the bottom three seasons for me... already the lightning outing I had earlier this month kinda put the year on the map, so it's not like I come out empty. But there you have it, from an old guy. LOL
 
Last edited:
Jul 5, 2009
1,102
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21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
As I look at the rundown from @Tony Laubach , it’s interesting to see that only 10 of the 18 years had their defining day in May, and only 5 of the 18 had their defining day during the time I usually take my chase vacation and consider to be peak season, which is the back half of May and first week of June. In the past 7 years starting in 2014, only 1 year (2016) had its highlights in the last half of May, while *none* of the last 4 years did. I know these are just Tony’s personal highlights and there may have been other good storms in some of those years, but Tony chases a lot and is good at what he does so if there was anything much better he probably saw it and it would be on his list. Gives some perspective on why my own personal chase vacation record has been so dismal for so many years now.
 
Dec 8, 2003
1,340
331
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Southeast CO
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it’s interesting to see that only 10 of the 18 years had their defining day in May
So we're going off on an interesting tangent here. I have long said that I have had much more success in June than May, and I'll rack things up similar to Tony's way of doing it. Only one day allowed:

2003, May 15 Stratford
2004, June 12 Mulvane
2005, June 11 S of Vega TX ; a tornado only I and my chase partner saw AFAIK

050611l (2019_04_05 18_51_53 UTC).jpg
2006, May 31 possible tor CO/NM line
2007 doesn't count 'cause I didn't chase at all
2008, May 22 Grainfield KS & more
2009, April 29 Cedar Hill TX
2010, May 31 Campo
2011, June 20 York NE 2011 was a tough call because of being a pretty big year for me including my only F5, but gotta go with York.
2012, June 14 tor S of Holly CO
2013, May 28 Bennington1
2014, June 16 Pilger
2015, June 4 Simla (gets the nod over Canadian, Vona, and November in KS. Unbelievable year)
2016, May 16 Texline TX (after which my car broke, ending my season)
2017, June 12 CO/WY/NE corner
2018, May 28 CO Landspoutfest
2019, May 17 McCook NE not sure if this date is correct. I lost EVERYTHING from 2019 in a computer crash like, 8 hours after temporarily(!) deleting my backups.

So, biggest days in:
April: 1 year
May: 8 years
June: 7 years

This surprises me, given what I just said about June. I have never gone through this analysis before, but most of those May biggest days were relatively lame compared to my May 31 and June biggest days: Mulvane, Campo, York (which is underrated. This was a truly epic day), Pilger, Simla. ...and Bennington1 was May 28. Those, plus only May 21 2011's Emporia and May 27 2015's Canadian, are my no-doubt-about-it career top 8.
 

Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
107
119
11
Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
Started leaving on chases out of state in 2011.

I think the best way to answer the poll is what were the available opportunities? Actually realizing those opportunities or not doesn't mean they weren't there for someone. Of course my awareness of opportunities might be quite imperfect but I try to be attentive to all chase areas during spring, summer and fall seasons and see what kind of photos people get even if I cannot be out.

As a photographer who chases I consider great lightning, great structure, or even beautiful updrafts or a stormy sunset as 'counting' equal with seeing tornadoes and am personally unimpressed and uninterested in tornado counting as a measure of success or quality. The experience and opportunity to see any photogenic beauty in the sky and observe fascinating dynamic and exciting weather is what I 'count', and I only really 'count' vaguely as a rough measure of the worth of my investment in time and money chasing.

Based on my own criteria of goodness- photogenic severe weather opportunities whether I was there or not- the least I'm aware of in March through May has easily been 2019 and 2020.

2019 only had a few photogenic events: McCook, the Imperial structure day, a July WY tornado and a couple structure days in TX and OK. The actual season core in mid-late May in TX and OK was an active couple weeks of garbage mostly linear mode soup with ugly tornadoes and even uglier storms. A few great lightning barrage days and structure to be had during the prime of the season if you stayed west near Lubbock or in NM. Monsoon in the SW was awful by most accounts. Speaking subjectively on 2019: I managed to get something photogenic on only two days out of about seven chases, and didn't bother to even leave the house for many of the trashy setups (which was usually justified).

2020 has been so much worse, with just a low opportunity for photogenic storms. Except an over performance in SW Kansas, and a couple other lesser but decent structure days in TX and OK there has been almost nothing. One decent lightning show in NC Colorado. The prevailing pattern continues to block chances for normal robust severe in most of the CONUS and I would wager monsoon in the SW is going to be a dust bowl unless things change. Subjective measure on 2020: I've chased once outside of my home city for the recent NW KS cap bust. None of the other few and far between setups have looked worth budging for, and I was only wrong about the SW KS structure day and maybe the marginal structure day in TX.

Hoping we are not seeing a permanent shift due to climate trends.
 
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Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
107
119
11
Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
I beg to differ. The best structure I have ever seen was the June 11th outside Goodland/St Francis, KS: - it had everything, epic structure and a tornado underneath at the same time.
Nice looking storm that I would definitely qualify as worth it had I been there. As I mentioned, my own awareness of opportunities in a given year might be quite imperfect- I do my best but cannot know about every setup in every location throughout the year- try as I might. Still, even adding one or several more missed opportunities to 2019, I wouldn't personally promote it over other years in the range for its potential.

I think it likely that no matter how much we try to be objective, the goodness of a season can be made or broken by a good couple storms we personally see or are aware of. A lot of people thought 2018 was terrible, but I saw the landspout fest, Tescott wedge, and several decent lightning days on the plains as well as SW monsoon, and the gorgeous Laramie tornado (which I missed) so maybe I underestimate that it was more sparse from other perspectives.
 
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Mar 2, 2004
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To be fair, I missed my share of bigger days within those years, including a few bigger May events that would've left the month out of the highlights for me that year. Of course, I'd rather forget some of those misses LOL But thinking back to March 28, 2007, which was probably the big day of that year (I missed that event due to college obligations).

Also, these days are heavily leaning toward tornado days, kinda using lightning photos or other storm stuff as tie-breakers. There are quite a few events that stand out that were not tornado-highlighted, but they don't weigh as heavily for me. I love a good structure day, but 99 times out of 100, I won't regret NOT chasing for structure. Obviously, it's not always about tornadoes for me, but that's the goal with most chases that are of appreciable distance. I think it's rare that I go out of my way for anything less than a decent tornado potential. So that's kinda where I am at.

As I look at the rundown from @Tony Laubach , it’s interesting to see that only 10 of the 18 years had their defining day in May, and only 5 of the 18 had their defining day during the time I usually take my chase vacation and consider to be peak season, which is the back half of May and first week of June. In the past 7 years starting in 2014, only 1 year (2016) had its highlights in the last half of May, while *none* of the last 4 years did. I know these are just Tony’s personal highlights and there may have been other good storms in some of those years, but Tony chases a lot and is good at what he does so if there was anything much better he probably saw it and it would be on his list. Gives some perspective on why my own personal chase vacation record has been so dismal for so many years now.
 
My chasing has really tapered off over the past 3 years just due to work constraints/somewhat of a lack of drive to get out. 2018 and this year I didn't have the option for a chasecation/freedom to go out whenever with any sort of frequency so that likely skews my perception a bit.

2009 definitely gets saved by a handful of days in June and some spread out setups earlier in the season. It was a weird year regardless and I didn't chase very much except for late May into early June in the Midwest.

In more recent times, 2014 is similar in that it was saved by a much better June even with a truly putrid run of setups on the Plains in late April into May. It still stands as my worst year based on volume of chases just due to the truly god awful setups I chose. I didn't get to chase in June so I don't think I saw a tornado-warned supercell until September 1st on the Geuda Springs, KS storm. The effects of drought this year on the southern Plains were immense and it showed with moisture cratering out on multiple setups.

2018: Tough year but there were some gems sprinkled throughout the season with Tescott, KS and Capitol, MT coming to mind. The only tornado I saw that year was the crappy Lone Wolf dust whirl on May 2nd that can barely be counted. That said, I chased a whopping 3 times all year so I can't really say it was objectively bad.

2019: Had a week long chasecation from May 20th to the 27th and blew every setup. We were in the Panhandle for the majority of the trip and whiffed 4 consecutive days from the 23rd to the 26th. Personally can't ding this season for bad luck/bad forecasting as the opportunities were there for me.

2020: I couldn't justify a single chase day for time off this year. Outside of the southern Oklahoma tornadoes at the end of April, I regret missing absolutely nothing from this season. Assuming June stays locked up with a smattering of setups on the northern Plains, I don't really think this season is going to have an equal outside of maybe 1988 for how terrible it was.
 

GPhillips

EF4
Jul 8, 2004
312
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11
Topeka KS
Well May 2020 was one for the record books.

-May 2020 was the first year without a moderate risk or higher Day 1 outlook issued in the 1995-present period.
-May 2020 had the fewest number of tornado watches in recorded history (1970-present).
-May 2020 had the fewest severe weather reports since May 2014.
-May 2020 had the fewest recorded tornadoes since at least 1970 (likely longer).
-May 2020 had the fewest number of EF2+ tornadoes in recorded history (1950-present)


From post on SPC Facebook page on June 2nd.
 

Mark Blue

Owner
Staff member
Feb 19, 2007
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Now that we're in a new decade I hope we can turn over a new leaf and leave the 10s behind us. It would be nice if every year was a 2008 season. That was the last humdinger we had along the front range!
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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12, 14, 16, 18, 20

Anyone else notice that the top-5 years for fewest May tornado watches was every-other year since 2012? That's kinda weird.
The every-other-year pattern is a strange coincidence, but the fact that the top 5 years for fewest May tornado watches happened in the past decade is certainly an interesting fact that corroborates just how bad the decade has been for chasing, particularly for chase vacationers heading out during the traditional peak May season.

What‘s really weird for me personally is that, while the above corroborates the generally dismal stretch I have had in recent years, it just so happens that two of the years (2012 and 2016) are the ONLY years I have seen tornados since 2012!
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
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Have not been able to buy a -PDO for almost a decade. I think cooler waters off the West Coast would help trough evolution. Now with +PDO we are constantly fighting a semi-permanent Northwest ridge, with crap undercutting or just stumbling across. That's not very scientific, but I'm trying to paint a picture here.

Perhaps climate change has reached the point Oceans can't sink heat any more. Will AN SSTs just dominate? Even with climate change, variability will remain. Guess we just have to wait it out. I'm not ready to chase hurricanes yet. Great Plains is my love!
 

Michael Towers

Supporter
Jun 28, 2007
304
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Machesney Park, IL
I chased the Dakotas a weekend ago and if Sunday the 7th had busted I think 2020 would have vaulted past 2012 for second worst season. The chase on the 6th set a record for longest bust ever at over 850 miles to target, I could have stuck around for the wind show but I preferred getting back east early enough to get a good night’s rest for the next day. I did salvage the day though by taking a detour through Badlands National Park so it wasn’t a total waste…glad I listened to that little voice saying do it just in case. While the 7th didn’t bust it was basically an HP junk-fest but even so I still had a blast and love chasing that part of the plains. But at about 2200z and still waiting for something good to pop I was wondering if it was going to be a 2300+ mile round trip disaster.
 
Jan 7, 2006
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2020 is going to take this running away, unless the slew of very marginal days ahead overperforms in most improbable fashion. The only thing that could possibly be used to argue against 2020 among the options on this poll is storm structure, which I would say subjectively has been better than 2017 and 2018; perhaps others, as well. For targetable, highly visible tornadoes, it doesn't really get any worse than this year, minus April 22. It's a very close match to 2006, which had a couple decent but unremarkable tornado days in April, and then essentially nothing in the heart of the season. This year was more active in late May and June than 2006 and some of the other least active years, but every single opportunity went to shit in real time, more or less. So, for 2006 vs. 2020, I guess it comes down to whether you'd rather have opportunities that fall through (possibly with structure and hail as consolation prizes) or just know to stay home the whole year.
 
Mar 30, 2008
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Norman, OK
www.benholcomb.com
I don’t recall any memories of 2012. Does anyone have an opinion about that year?
I believe 2012 was alright. I had a decently good year including tornadoes on March 18, April 13 and 14 although I missed the big event the 14th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th, as well as some good structure days (May 19) an eclipse (may 20), more tornadoes May 25 and then a brief tornado and some bigger hail on October 12th.

2014 was AWFUL. If it wasn't for my sprint to Dixie the 28th of April I'd have been left with nothing but dust whirls for the year. Chasing a cut off low in southwest texas at the end of May and I just said F it and flew out to Vegas to go to the Grand Canyon and Zion for a week.

2018 - Worst year of my life chasing and worst year of my life personally. I only chased 7 times and each of them was really sad and I put up a huge goose egg.

2020 - AWFUL. If you didn't bite on the early season stuff in dixie you were left with only a few days that actually did something. 4/22 is my only savior this year because that crap in IL on March 28th sure wasn't