RIP 2018 chase season / season summaries

Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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The season looks to be just about six feet under at this point, so it’s as good of a time as any to reflect on it. For me, the season was pretty much a great big bowl of disappointment flakes. I had a great time as always, but the storms generally had a hard time getting going. For that I give the lack of adequate shear a good chunk of the blame. Too many times what would have otherwise been good setups came up short because of that. The moderate risk areas that I was on were complete busts. Too many times I committed to the long drive to chase only to start getting the “oh-oh” feeling around noon the same day.
I did get to add a few new cities in Colorado to my list of towns visited, made some new friends and got to eat dinner a little earlier than usual on quite a few nights. After putting on a ton of miles this past year, I’m already getting jacked up for 2019. Bring it on!
 

John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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My tornado count was zero, thanks in part to bad decisions on multiple days when I was on storms that did eventually produce tornadoes. That said, I saw lots of supercells, and more, stronger, and closer gustnadoes than I have ever seen before. Unfortunately, I botched the video on most of them - they start and end so quickly that you need to have good reflexes, and I guess I don't. And I chased in some parts of NM where I had not chased before, so learned some new chase territory. Ready for 2019.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

We all know the season was pretty bad. But I did learn a few lessons, and gained some new perspective. Much of this is aspirational, “trying to convince myself” kind of stuff, as I am not naturally a particularly optimistic person, but I am trying to work at it [emoji57]

1. Even the worst seasons can have some good stuff. Were it not for my own screw-ups, I *could have* seen tornados on three consecutive days during my trip: Cheyenne; Colorado (landspout fest); and Dodge City (sorry I don’t have exact dates, but you all know the stretch I am referring to). Not enough for a Plains resident to consider it a good season, but as many tornado days as a two week chase vacationer like me might get in even a very good year.

2. It is worth trying to time a chase trip, if you can. I delayed twice, and pulled the trigger on the above-mentioned stretch. But this comes with an important caveat: don’t try to be too cute with this; don’t wait for a perfect pattern. When I finally did go, the pattern was far from perfect; in fact, I doubt anyone thought there would be tornados on any of those days, let alone all three. But I was running out of time, it was either finally get out there or wait until next year. If it’s anything other than a complete death ridge, get out there. You’re not going to see anything at home on your couch.

3. Similar to the above, if you are out there, especially for a limited chase vacation, chase. Due to frustration, pessimism, demoralization and other factors, we decided to blow off our last chase day and decided against the trip down into central New Mexico, missing the picturesque storms, and just the overall experience of being in an unfamiliar region with a cool landscape, as evidenced by @John Farley ‘s excellent pictures and write-up.

4. Trust your gut and don’t allow technical discussions to dissuade you. Or maybe it’s just to try not to parse every word and read too much into them. Tough to ignore the experts, when you’re not a meteorologist yourself, but on the day of the Dodge City tornado I was down in northwestern OK but knew the OFB had lifted north toward DDC. The DDC AFD acknowledged that, but also said the best chance of a tornado (and they didn’t seem too high on that anyway) would be in the southeast regions of their forecast area. I interpreted that as being down toward the OK border so I stayed where I was; probably also influenced by all the other chasers around, so that’s another thing to not let happen..

5. Storm chasing is not easy. Technology has made it EASIER but NOT easy. Like in baseball, a 300 average is pretty good. Isn’t part of the reason we love chasing because of the challenge, the unpredictability, and the rarity that everything comes together perfectly (good forecast, good execution, good roads, atmospheric cooperation)? Well, if that’s true, then it’s all the failures that make it so. Like a salesman knowing that every “no” gets him closer to a “yes,” embrace the failures as a necessary part of the game.

6. Most of these lessons will be forgotten, because I have thought and/or written about most of these for years already. I will say that #5 is a somewhat new attitude for me, but after bad chase trips in both 2017 and 2018, that new attitude is going to have a very short shelf life if 2019 is also no good.

I could probably think of more, including some specific forecasting and field strategy lessons that came out of my 2018 screw-ups, but it’s thanksgiving so I have to get to the gym and back home!
 
Mar 8, 2016
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Bloomington, IL
I actually managed to do pretty good this year all things considered. I got Tescott(although I had poor positioning that only allowed a brief view of it) and a brief tornado after dark, along with a brief birdfart in Oklahoma the next day near Hobart. I then managed to get a tornado confirmed in Northern Illinois in June due to being the only person close enough to see the ground circulation. Iowa swooped in and really saved my year though on 7/19/18 yielding 6 tornadoes from the same cyclic supercell including the Pella EF3.

But yeah, I was ready to essentially spend half of May in the Central and Southern Plains this year only for that area to have one of its single worst years ever. Really disappointing.
 
Aug 9, 2012
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Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
I had a decent year despite it being slim pickings. I didn't get out to the plains much, skipped my chasecation totally due to lack of activity and medical reasons. Had a few good local chases, despite very few chances. A lot of my success this year came with my photography in the fall months and late summer. I got Tescott/Culver and the tornadoes north of that on May 1, 2018 yielding 5 tornadoes. I chased one day in late May that yielded an LP supercell in Western Illinois, otherwise I went most of May without chasing anything. June I had a few good chases....saw a possible tornado in Iowa on June 9th, saw a weak tornado near Yates City, IL on June 21st. Chased a few more times in Late June including a derecho in Central IL on the 28th. July was my best month with July 19th being my best chase of the year with 5-6 tornadoes including the EF-3 near Pella IA. Some hurricane action later in the year as well and now a blizzard here in late November today in Iowa. Yeah tornadoes are cool, but I chase weather, so if I can get a year with a few big weather events, I'm happy. So I guess I'm pretty satisfied as far as this year goes.

With that said I look forward to next year and whatever it holds. Hopefully its more active than this year. I always feel bad about complaining because its been a while since my last tornado chase, but like I say it could always be worse.
 
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James Gustina

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Mar 9, 2010
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Outside of a possible run to east Texas later this week, I'm packing it in as well. All in all, a pretty terrible season for me both from a quality and ability standpoint. I believe I only got out the door 3 times and arguably the second best supercell I saw was from the top of a parking garage in Plano. I managed 1 verifiable bird fart of a tornado out of May 2nd near Lone Wolf, OK but never really got close to another tornado day. The most frustrating day for me was by far March 17th in Central Texas. Started in Keller that morning at a brewery and as a result of leaving late, got stuck in stratiform precip ahead of the transient supercells for the entire chase. Finally was forced to give up the ghost in Marlin, TX without seeing much of anything except some occasional lightning.

I can't complain too much since I didn't really get the chance to chase all that much this season, but I certainly hope for an uptick/early start for the season next year after this one left a 2014-esque bad taste in my mouth. I'm still somewhat stunned by how truly unreliable the southern Plains were this season.
 
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Jan 14, 2011
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Season summary: A challenging year with some surprises and a few firsts. This was looking like the first year since I moved to the Midwest in 2010 that I wouldn't log a Midwest tornado (MO/IL/IN/IA). The lower Midwest (within 3 hours of STL) had been in a daytime "chaseable" tornado drought for over 3 years - our last one being June 28, 2015. December 1 was the Hail Mary for a game-winning touchdown, keeping my "at-least-one-Midwest-tornado-every-year" streak alive. The December event leaves me with only 3 tornado-less months: January, March and August. Hurricane Michael was my first tropical system chase since 2007, my first Cat 4 and one of my top 10 chase experiences.

My 2018 stats:

Tornadoes:11
- Great Plains: 7 (CO,OK,NE)
- Midwest: 4 (IL)

Top days:
1.) October 10 Hurricane Michael
2.) December 1 tornadoes
3.) May 28 Colorado landspouts

Tornado chase days: 15
Tornado days: 4
Success rate: 27%

States chased: 13
IL, IA, MO, OK, KS, NE, TX, KY, IN, TN, FL, MS*, AR*
(* for winter storms)

Firsts:
- First landspouts (May 28)
- First December tornadoes (Dec 1)
- First Category 4 hurricane (Oct 10)
- First Great Plains chase trip after June 15 (June 23, Oklahoma)
- First icy road footage capture in the month of April (April 1)

Notable stat:
- Illinois now tied for second place with Oklahoma for tornadoes by state (both at 25). Kansas still way ahead in first place with 42.

My 2018 chase logs:
http://stormhighway.com/chasing/2018.php

My tornado stats page:
http://stormhighway.com/tornado_chasing_stats.php
 
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Aug 9, 2012
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Welp to add to my last contribution, came December 1, 2018. I haven't had a chance to get all my video compiled together, I'm waiting on a solid state drive for my desktop. However based on what I've looked through, my count for the day sits at 7-8 separate tornadoes....that could possibly go up as I saw some fishy stuff going on after dark east of Peoria. One of my best Illinois days ever rivaling the Monmouth/Cameron day and June 5 2010. I won't reiterate everything I already said in my previous post. The only additional being the historic early season blizzard that I documented in Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois. That was one of my favorite snowstorms I've documented (behind the GHD I storm in 2011). Lots of thundersnow and high winds with crazy snowfall rates. That kinda stuff right there gets me as pumped as seeing a tornado (I know I know....I'm crazy...:) lol).

Anyway here are some stats:

I actually didn't chase that much this year and had a pretty good success rate and I will preclude just local days where I went out with my camera expecting no tornado or severe potential (that happens a lot, I really enjoy it):

Chase Days: 14
Chase States: KS, MO, IA, IL, NC, VA, NE

Best Chase Days: 5/1 in KS (5); 7/19 in IA (6); 12/1 in IL (8). Netted another tornado on June 21st in Central IL and a likely tornado in Iowa on June 9th.

Also saw Thundersnow with 2 separate storms this year (March 24th in Iowa and November 25-26th in Iowa).

Chased Hurricane Florence in Eastern North Carolina with wind gusts near/over 110 mph (pressure down to around 954mb) in violent bursts with numerous transformer explosions, what a sight to behold.....

Saw some of the heaviest snowfall rates I've ever seen this year on February 5th in Northwest IL as a heavy band set up northwest of Galesburg and produced up to 11" of snow within a few hours in spots. Surprised I didn't see thunderrsnow with that, but got excellent video.

Conclusion:

I only made it to the plains twice this year with the first being May 1st and a huge success....the second time was a fail on my part and I should have never left the house on May 19th. I chased Southeast Kansas and only saw a couple briefly supercellular storms, if you want to even call them that, and they quickly died. I made for it like a fire, home-bound and got home around midnight. The only other chase I can think that would contend as "plains" would be SE NE/SW IA on 4/13, but that was a bust too. All my other "quality" chases ended up in IA/MO/IL. That is how I like it though.

Winter storms, hurricanes, and all, I traveled 9651 miles this year chasing storms and spent just under $1000.00. I typically collaberate with groups of local chasers so we can cut down on costs, hurricane trips are the costliest because you need to prepare for days of food, fuel, and shelter.

For being such a rotten year early on, I can't really look back and complain too much, except to look forward at what 2019 has to offer each and every one of us. Remember that even if you didn't cash in this year, it only makes that next big score that much sweeter. :)


Oh and to extend on what Dan said about April icy road conditions, I don't think there is ever a year in which I shot 3 or 4 different snow packages (in april) on separate days as this year. Our last snowfall here was April 18th. Now that is disgusting, even from a snow lover standpoint.
 
Although an atrocious season for pretty much everyone, 2018 ended up being somewhat...typical for my past few years of chasing. I can never really chase any early season stuff unless it's local. My previous years of chasing were largely ruined by obligations during the active stretches, but were partially saved by late season events. The same happened this year. Tescott happened before my finals were done. Chased May 17-19th in the Plains out of desperation, which unsurprisingly ended poorly. Kinda wanted to chase the 3-day sequence in late May, but couldn't find anyone interested enough and I didn't want to drive to Colorado by myself. Oops. By June 25th, I was finally on the board with a tornado in southwest Iowa, although it was one of the wimpiest tornadoes I've seen. I was honestly content with that. Seeing a single cruddy tornado in 2018 was a feat.

Then came July 19th. A midsummer Iowa 2% risk provided what I'd consider tied for my #1 chase (6/12/17 being the other). We saw 6 tornadoes, most of those being photogenic, high-contrast, and some long-lived. I can no longer complain about Iowa, and lost all privileges to trash-talk 2018.

On August 20th, an extremely marginal setup mostly driven by low level instability and vorticity provided me a chance to witness and extremely weak, brief tornado 10 miles from my college right after class. That was my first solo tornado.

After a busted October chase near Springfield, IL, we once again returned to the area on December 1st. This time we headed west to Jacksonville, where we waited just outside town for initiation. We were expecting a small handful of brief tornadoes, and had little expectation to actually see one of them. We took a chance anyway. And boy did that pay off. Our chase certainly could've gone better, as we missed the Beardstown and Havana tornadoes after dropping south onto the next storm (BIG oops). We still saw 4 tornadoes, two of them being impressive, and I got good documentation of all of them. I won't whine about that one bit.

Final 2018 stats barring the unlikely event of another setup (please):

Tornadoes: 12
Chases with tornadoes: 4
Total chases: 9
States with tornadoes seen: IA, IL
States chased: KS, CO, OK, IA, IL
Achievements: first solo tornado, first August tornado, first December tornado, latest tornado seen in the year (Dec 1)
 
Feb 22, 2015
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Norman, OK
Good riddance to this 1987-esque year.

Best thing I saw on my 5 day trip in May was a transient supercell near Greensburg, KS on May 13th that was thoroughly unimpressive. Just an average season in the Plains will seem hyperactive after this season. Already looking forward to the "State of the Chase Season" thread for next year, especially since I'm now living out here.
 
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Shane Adams

Our 2018 was, in a word, abysmal. Some of the numbers look good on paper, including a career-best success ratio. But with such a small sample size overall, it's tough to really take any satisfaction in it. Life continues to take its toll on my chasing career in my 40s. We'll just keep trudging along like always into next year.

2018 Season

CHASES: 4
MILES: 1,597
AVERAGE CHASE DISTANCE: 399 miles
TORNADO DAYS: 2
TORNADOES: 2
SUCCESS RATIO: 1 in 2.0*
STATES CHASED: OK,TX

*career high
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
First year with a goose egg since 2015, and there were no days that I was able to get out on where I felt like I had a good shot at tornadoes. The timing of the big events for the year just didn't work with what flexibility I do have. That part I'm used to, as I almost never make it out for the big events. I usually manage to salvage something out of the smaller events, but it was not to be this year. So I've just focused on my forecasting and setting up my equipment so that hopefully I'm able to make it take advantage of whatever next year brings me.
 
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Having to chase for around 2 weeks per season (over from the UK) means that the sub-seasonal synoptic pattern of the two weeks is vastly more important to the success/failure (chase strategies notwithstanding!) than the overall season.

This year were were over from May 21st to June 6th - we had some decent storms in that time - the tornadic activity was limited to 27th/28th, but those two days gave us at least 10 tornadoes between them!

The next day saw us drive through Dodge and head to NW OK - nice supercell but missed the tornadoes SW of Dodge - which was a bit of a sore point as the conditions in Dodge, when we stopped for lunch, looked pretty ripe (decent dewpoints, backed flow, bubbly Cu).

Thereafter, a few more nice storms before we finished the trip by heading up Mount Evans in CO.

Given the overall state of the season, and how it looked like it might be before we headed out, it was pretty good for us.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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...

...

The next day saw us drive through Dodge and head to NW OK - nice supercell but missed the tornadoes SW of Dodge - which was a bit of a sore point as the conditions in Dodge, when we stopped for lunch, looked pretty ripe (decent dewpoints, backed flow, bubbly Cu).

....
Dodge that day is a sore point for me too because I knew the outflow boundary had already lifted that far north but I stayed in NW OK because several cells had gone up in the exact same spot before dissipating as they moved north, until one took root and developed and I stayed with it. I was influenced by the Dodge City AFD, which mentioned the OFB having lifted north but still said ”Any tornado potential would be located across the far SE, if that.” They didn’t seem too bullish about tornados, and considering that the “far SE” of DDC’s area is along the OK border out to Comanche and Barber counties, and since I was actually already on a developing storm just south of the border, I thought I was in good shape. That turned out to be my only chase with anything interesting at all, after having missed both WY and CO on the two preceding days.
 
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Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
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Oct 7, 2008
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2018 was abhorrently disgusting from a perspective of a springtime plains chaser. As in 2017, the year-end nationwide statistics will not tell the story of the dearth of tornado events on the traditional great Plains from late March through June. The best days in the US overall in 2018 occurred in Wyoming, Montana, and Iowa, with the latter occurring in mid-July. With the exception of 1 May in NC KS, the year was forgettable unless you happened to be in Wyoming, Montana, or Iowa on those few special days.

For me personally and statistically, this year wasn't actually as bad as 2013 and 2014 were. I still haven't fully lived down my disastrous "miss" of three consecutive days of significant tornadoes within 250 miles of where I was living (two of them being within 20 miles) in May 2013, and I didn't catch the big three-day outbreak in NE/SD in 2014. It didn't help that I recently relocated to the Denver area and thus my comfortable chasing territory also substantially shifted northwestward. I did manage to get out a handful of times for nearby chases and even scored a few tornadoes. One of them was even an impressive event relative to the rest of the year, but it was still generally disappointing.

Chases: 5 (all within a 41-day stretch from mid-May to late June)
Tornadoes: ~3 (not sure if I will count all the distant, brief landspouts on 28 May)
Tornado days: 2 (28 May, 19 June)
Miles traveled: ~1150
Best day: 28 May (landspout fest and simultaneous long-lived landspouts that I attempted to drive between)

Despite all that, the highlight of chasing in 2018 for me was running up behind some geezer driving an SUV down 168th Ave on the Weld-Adams County line, and upon passing him realizing it was Ed Grubb, who I had become good friends with in my days chasing with TWISTEX, which is now 8 years past. He turned around and I literally chased him down, pulled up next to him on the two-lane road (in a double-solid yellow) going about 65, and flagged him over. We reconnected in the wake of departing hailers and then spent some time hanging out in the following months. It put a smile on my face to see an old friend!
 
Mar 8, 2016
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Bloomington, IL
Now that I know for sure I won't have any more chases in 2018 this time(lol) I guess I'll finally tally up everything properly:

Total number of chase days: 12
Tornado days: 5
Final tornado count: 17 confirmed tornadoes
States chased: IL, IA, KS, OK, TX
Highlights: 12/1/18, 7/19/18, 5/1/18
Day with the most tornadoes observed: 12/1/18 in Illinois with 7 confirmed tornadoes

Overall this year was very kind to me. Being based out of the Midwest definitely helped this year even with an incredibly abysmal traditional severe season for Illinois, with the one and only tornado watch of the year in central IL being in December of all months.

Here's to hoping 2019 is much kinder to Central and Southern Plains.
 

John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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I posted previously, but had not tallied my chase statistics. Here they are:

Chase days: 10 - saw supercells on 8 of them, but no tornadoes - my first definite goose egg in that department since 2012. Did see funnels on at least 3 days and multiple gustnadoes on at least 2 days.

Chase mileage - around 5,200, not counting local outings for lightning, thundersnow, local storm photography, etc.

States chased: NM, TX, KS, OK, CO.

Storms I was on that eventually produced tornadoes: 3 (5/1 in KS and 5/21 and 6/3 in NM). But I creatively found ways not to see any of them. All three of those storms were impressive, though. I was on the 5/1 storm in KS when it produced 4-inch hail and spectacular storm structure ner Susank, but left it for the southern storm before it eventually produced Tescott. And the 6/3 NM storm produced the closest and strongest gustnado I have ever encountered, as well as a massive dust storm, copious hail, and some brief funnels. Probably would have seen the tornado southeast of Willard had I not nearly run out of gas by then. ARRGH!

Like I said before, ready for 2019. And now it is only about a day away!
 

Jeremy Perez

Supporter
2018 somehow wound up productive for us on the plains and at home in AZ. We made two trips to the plains April 29–May 3 and May 27–June 3. Once the southwest monsoon got rolling, I worked on the home state chases, finally catching some Arizona landspouts toward the end of the season and into the transition period.

States actively chased: AZ, NM, CO, TX, OK, KS, NE, WY, MT

Chase days: 21 (10 Plains + 11 AZ)

Supercell days: 10 (1CO, 1TX, 1KS, 1OK, 1WY, 1CO, 1MT, 1NE, 1NM, 1AZ)

Photogenic supercell days: 7 (1TX, 1KS, 1OK, 1WY, 1MT, 1 NM, 1AZ)

Attempted tornado chase days: 10

Tornadoes: 11 (5 mesocyclonic + 6 landspout)

Tornado days: 5
  • May 1 — Chester/Tescott/Longford, KS (3T)
  • May 27 — Cheyenne, WY (2T)
  • May 28 — Cope, CO (4T)
  • August 18 — Twin Arrows–Winona, AZ (1T)
  • October 21 — Two Guns–Meteor Crater, AZ (1T)
Tornado success ratio: 30% (not counting the random AZ landspout days)

Miles chased: 9,412 miles
  • 3,306 miles on plains chase #1
  • 4,526 miles on plains chase #2
  • 1,580 miles in Arizona
Notable Firsts:
  • First Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona tornadoes
  • First nocturnal tornado
  • First landspouts
  • First tornadoes with my son
 
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General comments on the season
It is well known that the unfavorable synoptic pattern that dominated nearly the entire year cut down on decent chasing opportunities and tornadoes. However, some of the numbers that are being used to gauge this season may not be as bad as they seem (they’re still pretty bad, though).

Violent Tornadoes: The lack of violent (EF4/5) tornadoes in 2018 may be based partially on that most of the seemingly potentially violent tornadoes occurred in the middle of nowhere with very few, if any, damage indicators. Some of these very well could have produced violent damage. The tornado record also only goes back to 1950, and the first few decades are questionable when it comes to violent tornadoes. There could have been years prior where this lack of violent tornadoes happened.

Watches: The relatively low number of watches, both severe and tornado, can also be possibly attributed to factors such as improvements to the forecast process. A possible better watch-based stat would be the percentage of verified watches by year.

Again, the low values for these measures are still strongly dependent on the lack of severe activity.

Comments on my season
This year was “meh” for me, as the storms I was able chase, while pretty, lacked punch. Being from the Midwest and usually having scheduling and financial restrictions that prevent me from chasing when I want, I’m used to not seeing any tornadoes, but going a year without seeing one doesn’t hurt any less. This year was a little different, as I had three weeks open for chasing and had the finances to support at least a few expeditions, but mother nature obviously had other plans. I still witnessed some good storms and structure, and I’m content with that. 12/1 in IL will stand out as one of my biggest chasing blunders ever, as I did not see any of the tornadoes that composed the record-breaking outbreak that occurred within a couples hours of where I live. Below are my 2018 stats.

States chased in: IL, MO, NE, KS, CO
Chase days: 8
Miles chased: 2,483
Tornadoes seen: 0
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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General comments on the season
It is well known that the unfavorable synoptic pattern that dominated nearly the entire year cut down on decent chasing opportunities and tornadoes. However, some of the numbers that are being used to gauge this season may not be as bad as they seem (they’re still pretty bad, though).

....

Watches: The relatively low number of watches, both severe and tornado, can also be possibly attributed to factors such as improvements to the forecast process. A possible better watch-based stat would be the percentage of verified watches by year.

Again, the low values for these measures are still strongly dependent on the lack of severe activity.

...
That is a very insightful observation. However, in light of that I would suggest that the better watch-based stat is actually number of verified watches, instead of percentage. The percentage of verified watches would be just as affected by forecast improvements as would the number of watches - one would expect that percentage to improve over time. But the number of verified watches would provide a more apples-to-apples metric that is not affected as much by forecasting improvement. It would still be affected somewhat though. While it would help smooth out the effect on the trend from more “false alarm” watches in the past, it would not eliminate the effect of “missed” watches, i.e. when something happened but no watch had been issued.
 

Lucas McIntyre

Enthusiast
Apr 12, 2018
6
7
1
Manhattan, Kansas
Being my second year of even remotely trying to see tornadoes, I have to say the season was a success for me, albeit I only got out to shoot storms locally (Manhattan, KS area) , with the exception of my after work mad dash west just in time to see the Tescott EF3, my first tornado, so I certainly can't complain.

Tornadoes: 1

Chase Days: 7

States: 1, Kansas.

Here's a toast to what was, and a toast for what we can only hope will be a better season in 2019.