Relocating for storm chasing

Michael Towers

Supporter
Jun 28, 2007
309
132
11
Machesney Park, IL
The thought of living in the heart of the alley definitely has its allure, I’d love to be within a few hours reach of so many set-ups and take advantage of so many opportunities I miss due to time constraints. I realize that living in Illinois is still a great location for a chaser to reside, most set-ups are within a day’s reach and if my schedule allows I can pull the trigger the day before, put in a full day’s work and be anywhere from Oklahoma to North Dakota the next day. That’s great when I have freedom to take at least two days off and those are the typical set-up situations I usually chase, a two to four day trip depending on the target locations. I’m self-employed and have to be judicious about taking days off, not just because of lost income but because it’s just not good for business to be absent extensively or for extended durations. This basically limits me to about a half dozen trips a year and I'm fine with that.

But of course I’d love to chase more and if I were to relocate the consideration for chasing would definitely factor into the equation in deciding where to live. While I love the West Coast I’d never move there, its just too far from the Plains. Same for the East but I’m not much of a big fan of anything east of the Mississippi anyway. But my primary choice wouldn’t be in the heart of the Plains either, yeah I do love the area, the people are great and I’m sure I’d be perfectly happy residing there. The ability to chase so many more set-ups and then be able to sleep in my own bed on many of those occasions would be awesome. But there’s more to life than chasing and I think I’d be happier in the Denver area where I’ve resided briefly in the past and where I plan to ultimately retire. The mountains hold a strong attraction to me, I love to ski, hike or just simply take a ride and escape to the wilderness. It’s kind of a therapeutic thing for me and the ability to have that year round would outweigh the advantages that living in the Plains would provide for chasing. Denver's also on the edge of some of the best chasing country in the world and I’d be much closer to my favorite chasing territories than I am now. Western Kansas is a few hours away and a drive of ten hours pretty much gets you all of the best chasing territories of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, a large swath of South Dakota and the entire Texas Panhandle. I’ll trade that for Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota in a heartbeat and the choice of Eastern Colorado as my backyard over Illinois is no contest. So ultimately I do plan to relocate and the Denver area is my choice, hopefully in due course and on my own terms. If so my entire chasing experience should benefit and I’ll have those beautiful mountains right in my backyard.
 
Jul 5, 2009
1,116
943
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
...I’m self-employed and have to be judicious about taking days off, not just because of lost income but because it’s just not good for business to be absent extensively or for extended durations. This basically limits me to about a half dozen trips a year and I'm fine with that.

...there’s more to life than chasing and I think I’d be happier in the Denver area where I’ve resided briefly in the past and where I plan to ultimately retire. The mountains hold a strong attraction to me, I love to ski, hike or just simply take a ride and escape to the wilderness. It’s kind of a therapeutic thing for me and the ability to have that year round would outweigh the advantages that living in the Plains would provide for chasing.
Michael, I really enjoyed your post.

I always fantasized that if I were self-employed I would have more flexibility and opportunities to chase, but your post is a reminder that that is not necessarily the case.

Also, your post is similar to my own on this topic, in that you recognize that no matter how much you love chasing, there is more to life, and you have to give more weight to year-round considerations than to something you can only do 10% of the days of the year if you're lucky.

Jim



Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
 

Michael Towers

Supporter
Jun 28, 2007
309
132
11
Machesney Park, IL
Michael, I really enjoyed your post.

I always fantasized that if I were self-employed I would have more flexibility and opportunities to chase, but your post is a reminder that that is not necessarily the case.
Thanks and that’s very true, I can take as many days off as I like but aside from the chase trips I take only a one week vacation the remainder of the year. One thing this hobby does for me that hardly anything else does is offer an “escape” from having business on my mind, when I’m on a chase somehow it’s only the storm that has my attention and all other worries or concerns are temporarily forgotten. But when the chase is done the realities of the real world come back and I’ll find myself balancing the value of returning home to work versus extending a chase trip. While many chasers, especially chasecationers like yourself, yearn for a long stretch of activity it’s something I dread because I know I won’t be able to play it out. Better for me to have a nice two day set-up followed by two weeks of inactivity followed by another nice two-day set up…that’s my sweet spot!

Also, your post is similar to my own on this topic, in that you recognize that no matter how much you love chasing, there is more to life, and you have to give more weight to year-round considerations than to something you can only do 10% of the days of the year if you're lucky.
Most definitely. Family, friends, career all are more important to me than chasing. There are many things in life that matter more and I wouldn’t sacrifice any of them for the sake of chasing. My choice of Denver still keeps the people that matter to me relatively close and there are of course other things beyond the mountains that make it an attractive destination to me.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Oct 6, 2006
479
30
6
Thornton, CO
Most definitely. Family, friends, career all are more important to me than chasing. There are many things in life that matter more and I wouldn’t sacrifice any of them for the sake of chasing. My choice of Denver still keeps the people that matter to me relatively close and there are of course other things beyond the mountains that make it an attractive destination to me.
Agreed! I relocated to Denver nearly 15 years ago without ever having stepped foot in CO, before I got into chasing, and loooong before having a child was a thought for my wife and I. We like being near Denver (I could never live downtown anywhere) for the variety of activities in and out of the city, but we like having a quiet place to actually live. It has it's pros and cons, but when we had the opportunity to move in 2009 on a full relo to MI for me, we declined it, but not for the chasing aspect. My wife was pregnant at the time, and we decided Denver was a much more lucrative place to be for jobs for both of us, friends are here (but not family), and that CO more than MI was where we wanted to raise a child. It's not to say we won't leave CO, but it would have to be the right opportunity in the right place that allows us to provide for the lifestyle we want throughout the year.

Even being here, there are plenty of events that I miss simply because or work or family, but that is okay. My daughter being born did not put to much of a crimp in my chasing activities and my annual chase vacation with my chase partner was uninterrupted, even when my daughter was 6mos old. My wife understands this is one of my passions, and fully supports the 2 weeks my partner and I chase. Now that my daughter is 5, things are easier from a kid aspect, and we go as a family sometimes. Work more than anything is what limits some of the day trips. One of the biggest downsides to being in Denver, is you are always chasing away from home, so a 3hr drive to the target area on the KS border can easily become a 5hr drive home.
 
Nov 8, 2014
33
28
11
52
O'Fallon, MO
ofallonweather.com
Living just west of St. Louis and my work limits my days for chasing in the plains to the weekends and my planned two weeks off in May each year. My boss is flexible enough on the somewhat local chase days for me to get out early and make the time up. Last year I didn't make it out of MO or IL to chase, this is frustrating at times, but with a wife and two kids, you take what you can get. My wife wants nothing to do with chasing(yet), I have tried to convince her for us to try and find a condo in Kansas to rent for the whole month of May, in her own words, "that ain't happening".
I do agree with others that heading west is fun because you get to chase the system home, for some reason I hate going into Illinois, just knowing it will be a squall line when we are finished chasing and having to drive back through it always frustrates me.
 

John Farley

Supporter
Apr 1, 2004
1,576
783
21
Pagosa Springs, CO
www.johnefarley.com
This is an interesting thread. I lived for more than 30 years in the Illinois part of the St. Louis area, about 20 miles north of Dan. After he moved there, we were on the same storms all the time, LOL. When my wife and I retired, we decided to move west, partly because of my other passion, skiing, and partly because she loves Colorado and New Mexico. Some time before we retired, we bought a vacation home in Santa Fe, NM, and that eventually led us to where our main home is now, Pagosa Springs, CO. It is in the southwest part of the state, not far from the New Mexico state line, about 3 hours NW of Santa Fe. I think from a chasing standpoint, these locations are slightly better than the St. Louis area, but there are plusses and minuses to both, and the move has certainly changed my chase style. The advantage of the St. Louis area was that often the storms come right to you, and chasing within an hour or two of home without having to deal with overnight lodging and long drives usually is possible a number of times a year. The downside is that a higher percentage of the storms are low-based, rain-wrapped, linear, etc. By no means all of them, but more than on the plains. Another downside was that when I did go to the plains, it was a haul. The part about being able to go east with the storms, as others have mentioned, was nice, but a downside was that if you underestimated how far west the storms would initiate or got a little bit of a late start, it was easy to drive 10 or 12 hours and then end up 100 or 200 miles too far east to see the good stuff. Very frustrating!

From Santa Fe or Pagosa Springs, a different chase style is needed. Yes, I have lucked into a tornado within 30 miles of Pagosa and a couple of funnel clouds within 30 or 40 miles of Santa Fe, but compared to the St. Louis area, these kinds of local events are rare - certainly NOT something you can count on happening a few times every year. So in general, other than the rare local setup, most of the time I do not chase unless there is potential for a multi-day opportunity in eastern Colorado, western Kansas, the panhandles, or western Oklahoma. It takes a little more planning, but these are often high-reward events. Within about a 4-6 hours drive, it is possible to witness truly spectacular events like Rozel in 2013 and Trinidad last year. More overnight stays than when I was in the St. Louis area, but overall, prettier storms. For this reason, my overall success ratio has modestly improved since I moved west, and I like being able to combine decent access to the great chase terrain of the high plains with skiing and summer activities in the mountains. For this reason, I can also see why a number of people here like the Denver area, as it kind of combines the same things. Too much traffic there for my tastes, but being retired I don't have to worry about things like job opportunities, something for which the Denver area makes a lot of sense.
 
May 1, 2004
3,393
632
21
Springfield, IL
www.skip.cc
I moved from Chicago to Springfield, IL a couple years ago. The change in my chasing has been dramatic. Mainly because
  • In Chicago I had to drive almost an hour before I could even think about chasing due to urban sprawl and traffic.
  • I'm 2 minutes from both I-72 and I-55 so I can be traveling at highway speed across open terrain extremely fast
  • I'm three hours closer to the Southern Plains.
  • Central IL is a hot spot compared the rest of the state, especially northern Illinois

This has allowed me to catch tornadoes I would have missed otherwise, like the February 20 event last year which was a short notice event that produced several tornadoes in central IL. I was able to jump in the van and be heading west on 72 in a couple minutes across beautiful chase terrain, snagging a distant tornado just 40 miles from my house.

This has probably been mentioned, but living east of the event is a double edged sword. Yeah, you get to chase the event back toward home making for a potentially shorter drive. However, many times the event winds up chasing you instead. I can think of so many times I wound up with a raging MCS or derecho behind me, at night, when I'm just trying to make it home and don't want to get caught inside of it. The worst is when you are caught in it. Heading east down Iowa 80 in pouring rain, at night, stuck behind two trucks driving side by side at 40 mph, matching the speed of the MCS. You never get out of the storm. It's the most tedious, exhausting drive ever. If you live west of the event, you zip across that dryline or cold front right after the chase and you're in clear skies all the way home many times making for a nice, smooth drive.
 
Mar 6, 2006
430
206
11
36
Amarillo, TX
owlsp.com
If you live west of the event, you zip across that dryline or cold front right after the chase and you're in clear skies all the way home many times making for a nice, smooth drive.
Living west is not always that easy. April 14, 2012 for example, me and Brady Kendrick had to punch back through the line that had just created the Woodward tornado. Had to pick a good gap and just wait on the highway for the storm to pass, especially with spotty data coverage in NW OK. Situations like that have got me numerous times just trying to get home and having tornado warned storms in my path. You will also get crazy post-dryline or post-cold front winds on the drive home too that add to the fun.

I will say living east of setups annoyed me more though. Being stuck in rain all the way home, especially with lightning, going back to Norman drove me crazy. Very rarely in Amarillo do I get to drive east to go home.
 
Jan 14, 2011
2,941
2,747
21
St. Louis
stormhighway.com
I had the "driving home with a squall line" problem more when I lived in West Virginia. Even if I stayed in a hotel in the Plains on the night of my last chase, I'd frequently catch up to the next day's storms in the Midwest and be stuck in them the rest of the way home. Some of my worst drives ever were in those, especially the fast-moving ones that you have no real hope to get ahead of. It's almost better to just hang back at 60mph and let them stay ahead.

In recent years, when I'm on the Plains, I tend to get a hotel on the night of my last chase unless I end up in far eastern Kansas or Oklahoma at the end of the day, and thus avoid having to drive east with the storms. I guess I've just lucked out in the past several years in not having to deal with many squall lines those times I did decide to make the rest of the drive home to STL. Most that I have encountered were slow-moving enough to get out ahead in about 30-45 minutes.
 

James Gustina

Supporter
Mar 9, 2010
650
270
11
26
Dallas, TX
www.thunderingskies.blogspot.com
I will say living east of setups annoyed me more though. Being stuck in rain all the way home, especially with lightning, going back to Norman drove me crazy. Very rarely in Amarillo do I get to drive east to go home.
That is the only thing I hate about living in Norman. The drive back is always awful when you're going through open expanses of pitch black prairie with lightningless storms that are just dumping on you.
 

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,337
2,087
21
Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
That is the only thing I hate about living in Norman. The drive back is always awful when you're going through open expanses of pitch black prairie with lightningless storms that are just dumping on you.
I've lived in Norman for over 3 years now and have yet to have that kind of experience. I don't know how I've gotten so lucky.

Storm chasing is just not a big enough part of my life to consider relocating for. I'm in Norman to get my PhD at the University of Oklahoma, and for no other reason. When I finish, barring I get offered a great job at the NWC, I plan on leaving and finding a career elsewhere.

With that said, I now have a few years of experience on 1(-and-a-half) sides of this issue. Living in Iowa, I left Ames going south or west for chases probably 75% of the time, and chased storms on the way home about that same percentage of the time. It's nice to have a relatively shorter drive home than on the way out. Of course, many times I have fallen into the trap of leaving too late or targeting too far east (associated with my homeward bias) and ended up too far east of the storms by the time they're active. That highlights probably my biggest pet peeve against the atmosphere: having to drive farther away from home than anticipated in order to have a chance at seeing something good. It always seems to happen when I'm going the farthest out. It's annoying and has caused me more than a few missed events.

I certainly have dealt with having to drive through/with an MCS on the way home. As an example, after field goal busting on 24 May 2011 in NC OK and eating dinner in Wichita, I caught up with the then MCS moving east across Kansas on the Kansas Turnpike and managed to punch through the east side of it eventually...but it took me almost 300 miles, and when I was going through the KC metro I was dealing with 50-60 dBZ rain with nickel hail. It was exhausting, and certainly not something I prefer doing. Since moving to Norman, nearly all of my chases have been to the west through northwest. Even so, I really haven't had to deal with driving east through an MCS or precip cluster to get back to Norman, mostly because storm clusters tend not to evolve upscale into MCSs in this part of the plains as often as they do farther to the north and east. Most of the time, isolated or discrete cells just die, allowing me to drive home with, at worst, damp roads.
 
I moved to Florida for many reasons but storms is one somewhat big reason. Of course I'm speaking more of Hurricanes as it is a higher priority for chasing for me than tornadoes. But the simple fact is Florida is a much bigger weather market in general and living in DC just wasn't cutting it. It was awesome when I was an architect. The goal is to be a high end filmmaker and Florida is the fastest growing film industry in the country and I would rather be here than LA (New York simply too expensive for a speculative professional move).

Back in the late 90s when I was working on my architecture degree I did consider two Texas and a Kansas University to combine my need to finish my degree and love for storm chasing but in the end I just realized I'm not a country/central states person. I need to be in or near a major city. I love being out in the central US but living there would not be a good fit for me at all. chasing has been sacrificed for my other desires and hence a move to tornado chase territory was never realized.

This time I'm in Tampa....and LOVING IT. Miami was fun, especially in my 20s, but Tampa/St.Pete is sooooo much better, friendlier, professional, etc.
 
Jan 18, 2015
232
60
11
Tucson, AZ
I moved to Florida for many reasons but storms is one somewhat big reason. Of course I'm speaking more of Hurricanes as it is a higher priority for chasing for me than tornadoes. But the simple fact is Florida is a much bigger weather market in general and living in DC just wasn't cutting it. It was awesome when I was an architect. The goal is to be a high end filmmaker and Florida is the fastest growing film industry in the country and I would rather be here than LA (New York simply too expensive for a speculative professional move).

Back in the late 90s when I was working on my architecture degree I did consider two Texas and a Kansas University to combine my need to finish my degree and love for storm chasing but in the end I just realized I'm not a country/central states person. I need to be in or near a major city. I love being out in the central US but living there would not be a good fit for me at all. chasing has been sacrificed for my other desires and hence a move to tornado chase territory was never realized.

This time I'm in Tampa....and LOVING IT. Miami was fun, especially in my 20s, but Tampa/St.Pete is sooooo much better, friendlier, professional, etc.
I love Florida. For school it's a toss up between there and Oklahoma. Although I don't care for being in a big city, but rather outside where it's a bit quieter like Punta Gorda, port charlotte area. Was there back in April last year and just love it. Then you're not too far from Tampa or fort myers
 
I'm in Punta Gorda a bit. Ever since Hurricane Charley I've had a connection to that town (and the Celtic Ray). As noted, I'm the opposite, much rather be near the city, not that I would not ever move there.

storms are just as common but Tampa Bay really delivers on the water spout front. Peace River/Charlotte Harbor has had some decent ones though.
 
I had never really thought about this before, mainly because it wasn't so bad to get to a lot of storm chasing from the DFW area. But now I'm thinking that in a few years, when the pensions kick in, I might -- *just might* -- have to do at least one real good full-season megachase. Car rental, lots of La Quinta's and Denny's. Gain 15 pounds. I have about 36 months to plan this out. Thanks for the idea! :)
 

chrisbray

EF4
Apr 24, 2012
471
125
11
Bourbonnais, Illinois
This has probably been mentioned, but living east of the event is a double edged sword. Yeah, you get to chase the event back toward home making for a potentially shorter drive. However, many times the event winds up chasing you instead. I can think of so many times I wound up with a raging MCS or derecho behind me, at night, when I'm just trying to make it home and don't want to get caught inside of it. The worst is when you are caught in it. Heading east down Iowa 80 in pouring rain, at night, stuck behind two trucks driving side by side at 40 mph, matching the speed of the MCS. You never get out of the storm. It's the most tedious, exhausting drive ever. If you live west of the event, you zip across that dryline or cold front right after the chase and you're in clear skies all the way home many times making for a nice, smooth drive.
I just now noticed this, but wow you are SO right. Usually Iowa is about as far west as I can chase (from IL) and there have been so many occasions where I have had to drive hours on end Eastward at night underneath a never-ending squall line!
 
Apr 22, 2014
26
2
1
Charleston, SC
I keep throwing around the idea of moving out to the plains. One of my friends moved back to SC from DFW, and he said that living there was epic. We even talked about heading out there and getting a place. I've also looked into moving to OKC, as it seems that the economy there is still pretty decent, and rent is low. But I love the Southeast so much, I can't really see myself moving away from this beautiful part of the nation. I'm actually currently planning to live out of my van full-time. I'll save quite a bit of money that way, and I'll never have to stay at a crappy hotel!
 
I have been car-camping the last 30 days in Florida, (from Iowa) and so far everything is great. I have a memory foam bed, storage for computers, cameras, food, and clothing. I designed my car "camper" to blend in with every other car so not to tip anyone off. If you parked next to me, you would never imagine that I was sleeping. My car has a dual-battery off offline power (phones, computers, cameras). Of course I scooped up one of the last remaining Verizon unlimited data plans for watching tv, Netflix, and weather streaming. I plan on staying in Florida until the severe season starts up in the deep south and midwest. If you see my spotter icon or you are nearby, give me a buzz.
 
I have been car-camping the last 30 days in Florida, (from Iowa) and so far everything is great. I have a memory foam bed, storage for computers, cameras, food, and clothing. I designed my car "camper" to blend in with every other car so not to tip anyone off. If you parked next to me, you would never imagine that I was sleeping. My car has a dual-battery off offline power (phones, computers, cameras). Of course I scooped up one of the last remaining Verizon unlimited data plans for watching tv, Netflix, and weather streaming. I plan on staying in Florida until the severe season starts up in the deep south and midwest. If you see my spotter icon or you are nearby, give me a buzz.
Hahahahah, depending on where in Florida, you probably would NOT look out of place if people saw you camping out of your car. Florida crazy like that.
 
Apr 22, 2014
26
2
1
Charleston, SC
Thanks man, I appreciate it! I just got my Chevy Astro van back in December, and have some plans for it. AGM deep-cycle battery, 100w solar panel, plentiful storage, and I'm currently trying to figure out how to use a hammock as a bed in the back of the van... But yeah, if I see you near me, I'll give you a shout!
 
Apr 22, 2014
26
2
1
Charleston, SC
My plan is to get some Reflectix for the windows. I'll Plastidip one side of it black. That way, if I'm trying to keep the van cool during the day, I can use it with the reflective side against the windows. During night time, I'll put the black side towards the windows. That way, it won't look like someone is trying to cover the windows while sleeping. Plus, the windows are already tinted, so it'll just look like darker tint.
 
Jan 5, 2010
199
23
6
Castle Rock, CO
Any Louisville, KY people here? I would think there would be a good option, because you have Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio right there, plus more beautiful scenery all around. Plus it's a little more sheltered from the harshness of the yearly weather of the great plains.
 
Oct 25, 2004
570
111
11
65
Tucson, Arizona
Marcus, God Bless 'ya.....you say that now, but if you were to live in a place that sucks except for the few short weeks of tornado season...I think you'd change your mind about making a permanent move there. There isn't too much that's worse than living in a town or city that you really dislike. It makes your whole outlook on life pretty darn bleak.