State of the Chase Season: 2019

John C

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Here's a sounding for next Monday (5/20) for Clinton, OK - I've been sitting in a hotel in OKC for the last 6 days so I'm pretty bored (I'm out for 5 weeks & didn't want to drive 1,200 miles back home this last week).


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This is a somewhat thinking-out-loud and navel-gazing post so I hope the MODS don't have a problem with its lack of meteorological content. I don't know where else to put it and it is at least related to the 2019 chase season and upcoming pattern. My post relates to timing of chase trips, which others have also posted about in this thread.

Anyway, I am beside myself with angst about having to sit this pattern out. I can't remember EVER seeing an SPC 4-8 day quite like this. 2013 was great the last two weeks of May, but even then I don't remember the outlooks looking quite this good this far in advance. After years when I had some flexibility to chase within a window that would just about always include the third week of May - and having to keep delaying the trip because nothing was happening - this year the earliest I can possibly start my two week chase trip is the night of the 22nd (for a first chase on the 23rd). This is due to a combination of a family event of my own on Sun 5/19, and of my chase partner's on Wed 5/22. Knowing about my chase partner's 5/22 commitment, I went ahead and scheduled a business commitment for that same day, which I now cannot get out of. In retrospect, that was stupid on my part, but I don't like chasing alone anyway so not sure I would go out there without him, especially on a high-end day. Now, the best I can hope for is to hit the last day of the pattern on Thurs 5/23. But I'm not even sure that's worth doing because that will probably be immediately followed by at least 3-4 down days that are going to feel even more frustrating and depressing than usual. In that case I might be better off delaying my two-week trip until Memorial Day weekend so that I can stay longer on the back end.

I have even toyed with the idea of flying out just for Fri and coming home Sat for my family event on Sun, but that's probably pretty stupid (thanks @Todd Lemery for helping me realize that). Now I'm toying with the idea of flying out Sun night for Mon and coming back Tue for my business commitment on Wed. Also probably equally or even more stupid; not even sure if I have time to get out there Sun night after my family event. See, I'm just getting crazy here... By only chasing for two weeks, I miss stuff every year, so why should this be any different? The issue this time is that it looks SO good, it's SO close to my own trip, and it's during a week that, in most other years, I would be able to get out there.

I guess I just need to take a deep breath, be stoic about it, focus on work, suck it up, and trust that my own trip, which starts soon enough, will be fruitful. In trying to find some positives in the situation, there are downsides in high-end, high risk events - chaser hordes, a very broad risk area making it harder to pick the "best" target, too many storms going up at once interfering with each other, very high moisture content obscuring visibility, the pressure to not make a mistake and screw up a great day such that even people back home hear about 50 tornadoes and I have to see I didn't see any of them... There are just such high expectations on a high-end day, so much real and self-inflicted stress and pressure! As a chase vacationer I need time to "shake the rust off" and actually prefer not having a high-end event on my first day. None of us needs an outbreak for a great chase; one good supercell and/or tornado from a mesoscale setup is just as satisfying as an outbreak. It's like a great meal at a restaurant, as long as I enjoy my meal, who cares whether the menu has 10 other good things or nothing else good? Maybe an outbreak increases chances of success because of the number of available storms, maybe it spreads the chasers out, but it also draws many more chasers in total and comes with the other potential downsides noted above.

As long as I get enough chase days of my own once I get out there, the pain of missing this sequence should become a distant memory. I've missed plenty of good stuff even while I'm on a chase vacation; if I can get over that, I should be able to get over this. I'm not even bothering to look at the models that far out. I am encouraged by some of the posts on here about late May, but I also am not a huge fan of northern Plains chasing. Of course I'll do it, but I much prefer the "feel" of the southern Plains; that's Tornado Alley to me. I don't hold out much hope that all three weeks through the end of my trip on June 8 can possibly be good. But I'm certainly hoping there is more than just this upcoming week. After all, 2013 had two consecutive awesome weeks, and most people still think that season sucked because two weeks was all there was. So hopefully this one great week isn't it for 2019.

Thanks for listening. Who else but my fellow chasers can I even talk to about this? Even if they politely listen, they could never understand.

If anyone else has this same unfortunate timing, I would love to hear from you, feel free to message me directly.

Jim
 

Dan Robinson

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James, I really feel for your situation. Does your family know how much chasing means to you? If it was me, I would feel put off that a family event was scheduled in the heart of chase season knowing how much I look forward to the trip, wait for it all year, and how I don't ask for time free all other 11 and a half months of the year. I realize that if you have a family you have to make sacrifices sometimes, but it seems to me to be pretty inconsiderate of them to put you in the position you're in now. I don't know the exact situation or whether that is fair of me to levy that criticism of them, but that's just my gut reaction whenever I hear about family or work scheduling something mandatory in the middle of peak chase season like that. When they KNOW how much it means to you. It's happened to many other chasers I know and it always irks me.
 
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If it was me, I would feel put off that a family event was scheduled in the heart of chase season knowing how much I look forward to the trip, wait for it all year, and how I don't ask for time free all other 11 and a half months of the year.
On May 7, 2016, I was in Greeley Colorado attending a graduation. I had to be there. The forecast showed a good possibility for a tornado in NE Colorado, and sure enough, while the graduation was taking place, the Wray, CO tornado hit... just a little over a 2 hour drive from Greeley. It was extremely frustrating to be 2 hours away from a great chase, and not able to chase. Some things are more important than chasing, and should not be missed.
 

Dan Robinson

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Yes definitely - a marriage, graduation or similar event is OK. In many cases it's something else that probably could have been scheduled at a later/earlier time.
 
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Jeff Duda

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I have even toyed with the idea of flying out just for Fri and coming home Sat for my family event on Sun, but that's probably pretty stupid (thanks @Todd Lemery for helping me realize that). Now I'm toying with the idea of flying out Sun night for Mon and coming back Tue for my business commitment on Wed. Also probably equally or even more stupid; not even sure if I have time to get out there Sun night after my family event. See, I'm just getting crazy here... By only chasing for two weeks, I miss stuff every year, so why should this be any different? The issue this time is that it looks SO good, it's SO close to my own trip, and it's during a week that, in most other years, I would be able to get out there.
If you have the money, time, and means, I don't see how this is stupid. You're still honoring your family's event while showing yourself the love, too. So why not do that?
 

Mark Blue

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I understand your plight Jim and it isn’t easy no matter how you slice it. My dad passed away in early 2017, then my mom had a heart attack. On top of that my sister and daughter were living with my mom and my sister was slowly dying of alcoholism. Two month later she died and my mom was in a shambles. We had her move in with us because she wasn’t really able to live alone anymore. Her living here has all but put the kubosh on any chasing I might do, unless it’s a two or three hour chase just east of Denver. I’m not getting any younger so it stinks to see these beautiful setups coming and I’m pretty much grounded at home. I figure I’m doing the right thing and if there’s a reward for it in the after life I believe I’ll be better off because I put my own needs aside. I don’t think she’ll be here much longer so that should free me up to get out more. I’m just trying to be patient and wait for life to run its course. Hang in there and things will work out!
 
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The 12Z ECMWF heard @JamesCaruso and pooped all over early next week with a tear drop upper trough and all kinds of WAA slop. Surely it's an outlier. Ensembles have kept it open. GFS keeps it open. I know LOL the GFS day 7 it's borderline. We shall see if the 00Z Euro opens back up.

Saturday the Euro was always closed and compact compared to the open GFS. In the past it was a Euro bias. Still that's day 5 and a lot of divergence. For all the talk of historic outbreaks and generational sequences, this may just be an average chase sequence. Too early to cancel though; ceiling remains high.

If all else fails Week 3 still looks good on Ensembles and Weeklies, with a continued Pac jet. Current charts look a little zonal, but the SER has been over-performing. Week 3 could still improve. North would be nice too.
 
Aug 19, 2005
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The 12Z ECMWF heard @JamesCaruso and pooped all over early next week with a tear drop upper trough and all kinds of WAA slop. Surely it's an outlier. Ensembles have kept it open. GFS keeps it open. I know LOL the GFS day 7 it's borderline. We shall see if the 00Z Euro opens back up.

Saturday the Euro was always closed and compact compared to the open GFS. In the past it was a Euro bias. Still that's day 5 and a lot of divergence. For all the talk of historic outbreaks and generational sequences, this may just be an average chase sequence. Too early to cancel though; ceiling remains high.

If all else fails Week 3 still looks good on Ensembles and Weeklies, with a continued Pac jet. Current charts look a little zonal, but the SER has been over-performing. Week 3 could still improve. North would be nice too.
The 12Z EPS and GEFS say the really strong second system the Op Euro has is likely overdone.
 
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Jun 16, 2015
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I decided to take a look at mid to late May climatology in more detail. The Plains states (CO/KS/ND/NE/NM/OK/SD/TX/WY) average 87 tornadoes between May 16-31, using the 1993-2017 average, as I wanted the most recent 25-year period that was available.

From there, I assessed the most active periods for tornadoes in the Plains, as well as the least active.

I won't spoil all of the results, but I will share this image that shows the mean pattern in the five most active periods, which included, not in this order, May 21-30, 2016, May 23-28, 2015, May 18-25, 2010, May 22-29, 2008 and May 16-30, 2004. These years averaged 166 tornadoes from May 16-31, which is roughly twice the climatological average:
analog_mean_key.png

There is nothing all that extraordinary about the CONUS pattern. As expected, there's troughing in the west with ridging across the East/Southeast. What was a bit interesting to me was the presence of negative height anomalies in eastern Canada. This is associated with what I would consider downstream blocking. With this blocking, the pattern, based on the historical cases, has remained stagnant for 1-2 weeks, allowing for trough after trough to impinge on the Plains. The end result is a very active period for severe weather in the Plains in mid to late May.

What led me to do some of this research were the calls, by some, for a historical chase period coming up. Even if the models are correct, mesoscale details are important with respect to tornado occurrence. With that said, the synoptic pattern, at least what's modeled, is very encouraging for storm chasing prospects. The updated CPC day 6-10 graphic shows a pattern that you would like to see and 5/23/08 comes up as an analog, which was near the beginning of the historic 2008 stretch.
cpc_610_0514.png
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Note the bottom image above is the GEFS day 8-12 mean, which brings us into the middle and end of next week.

I prefer the Euro ensembles for the long range, but there is fair agreement between the suites, which is encouraging. Plus, I'm not sure that Euro EPS data can be posted here, as it is not data that is freely available to the public.

I would hesitate to call the upcoming trend historic or to say that we will even see a tornado outbreak. I also caution against looking too much at point forecast soundings for next week (well over 120 hours out). Those calls for high risks are silly, in my opinion, as a lot can change.

With all of this said, the pattern is very encouraging. It's hard to argue against an at or above average period of tornado activity, beginning on May 17th and lasting for at least 7-10 days. The details, which will differentiate between a slightly above active period and a well above average period are still yet to be determined. My final advice is to not get too caught up in specifics for more than 2-3 days out. A lot can and most likely will change, both in the model solutions and in the observed weather conditions across the Plains.

Visit the link below if you want to read more about what I found out about late May tornado activity in the plains:
Peak Tornado Season: Active or Quiet?
 
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Anyway, I am beside myself with angst about having to sit this pattern out. I can't remember EVER seeing an SPC 4-8 day quite like this.
One thing to keep in mind regarding the SPC Day 4-8 Outlook and its historical significance in that it's the first of its kind: SPC outlooks are not a steady, objective measure when looking back at events/patterns over the last decade. Human bias that is different in each forecaster will cause differences in outlook issuance and magnitude to some degree. Additionally, the guidance available has changed over the years, as well as SPC's minimum probability in the day 4-8 period (used to be 30%). Given the right forecaster, the guidance we have at our disposal today, and SPC's current methods of Day 4-8 outlook issuance, there very well could have been outlooks that looked like this in the past. The outlooks also have to verify, but that's a whole other conversation.

While it is definitely promising and great to finally see a pattern like this, the hype I've seen on social media of it being the severe pattern to end all severe patterns is a bit too much. For those not able to chase during this stretch: there will be other chances. Just because a pattern screams severe does not mean it will necessarily yield photogenic storms or tornadoes either. I've had to sit out a lot of events for various reasons, and I know the anxiety caused by not being able to chase them. However, there's always been great storms after that still.
 
Jun 16, 2015
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One thing to keep in mind regarding the SPC Day 4-8 Outlook and its historical significance in that it's the first of its kind: SPC outlooks are not a steady, objective measure when looking back at events/patterns over the last decade. Human bias that is different in each forecaster will cause differences in outlook issuance and magnitude to some degree. Additionally, the guidance available has changed over the years, as well as SPC's minimum probability in the day 4-8 period (used to be 30%). Given the right forecaster, the guidance we have at our disposal today, and SPC's current methods of Day 4-8 outlook issuance, there very well could have been outlooks that looked like this in the past. The outlooks also have to verify, but that's a whole other conversation.

While it is definitely promising and great to finally see a pattern like this, the hype I've seen on social media of it being the severe pattern to end all severe patterns is a bit too much. For those not able to chase during this stretch: there will be other chances. Just because a pattern screams severe does not mean it will necessarily yield photogenic storms or tornadoes either. I've had to sit out a lot of events for various reasons, and I know the anxiety caused by not being able to chase them. However, there's always been great storms after that still.
This is a good point about 30% vs. 15% outlooks. The latter of which is a relatively recent addition with the day 4-8 outlooks.

I do agree that the hype on social media is out of control. I'm all about highlighting the synoptic pattern, but the posting of soundings that are for 144 hours out, for example, is silly. It's one thing if one or two people do it, but I can't tell you how many people in my feed are going on about details to Monday, when we don't even have the details clearly sorted out for Friday yet!
 

Dan Robinson

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Agreed - we don't know if and how each day is going to play out. Outbreaks are possible, Dodge Citys are possible, epic junkfests and busts are also possible. That being said, we do have the main ingredients for an active pattern in place, daily, for an extended period. For at least one or two of those to not produce something higher-end in terms of chase quality would be very unusual.
 
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I'm not a chronic #wxtwitter follower up until the past couple years, but the amount of hype I've seen on my feed is akin to that of a major hurricane coming. Maybe even worse. Like Quincy said, its not even Friday yet, we don't know the details on each day. Each day is probably going to have boundaries to work with from previous day convection, stuff you can't pick up on a synoptic scale. Also agreed that with such a favorable pattern it would be highly unusual to not see something significant out of it, but stranger things have happened! Hoping we can ride the pattern into June and the Midwest, we are overdue for a good season here. That being said, I plan on making a run at things at least Friday and then most of next week. Very excited to get out there after missing the first part of May in Texas.
 
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Apr 5, 2015
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As noted earlier the op euro was on the extreme end of its ensemble solution. A lot of spread with how that second wave will behave/amplify. FV-3 and GFS illustrate point nicely. GFS is not as amplified leading to a weaker mass response, although still favorable wind fields for a confined tornado event. FV-3 has more latitudinal expanse thanks to a more amplified (but not too amplified) trough.. Which would favor a more robust tornado event.

Lots to sort out. This is quite a favorable synoptic pattern for multiple tornado events, one or more of which could be high profile. But we won't really know for a while.
 
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May 22, 2007
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I am leaving Arizona tomorrow to be in place for Friday. If the current forecast for storm locations for each day on SPC holds true I will shift East for Saturday but probably let Sunday go without me. I hate chasing in the Jungle and that will make Monday much easier to reach.
So you know that means Sunday will be an historic event!
 
Jul 5, 2009
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I won't spoil all of the results, but I will share this image that shows the mean pattern in the five most active periods, which included, not in this order, May 21-30, 2016, May 23-28, 2015, May 18-25, 2010, May 22-29, 2008 and May 16-30, 2004. These years averaged 166 tornadoes from May 16-31, which is roughly twice the climatological average...
Quincy thanks for doing that research and posting it for us. Since I cannot chase until the last week of May this year, I find it encouraging that four of the five most active periods you listed include the last week of May. On the other hand, four of the five periods were also only one week long. So knowing what the 7 days starting this Friday look like, it doesn’t seem as likely that the last week of May continues to be quite as active. Of course, it did happen in 2004 per your list, and also in 2013 which I am surprised is not on your list. More importantly, as we all know, a statistically “most active” period is not necessarily a prerequisite for a good and reasonably productive chase vacation.
 
Mods - I hope this is OK here, as I'm not focussing on any one day (which, I know, would require a post/posts in Target Area)

As is being discussed, a multi-day severe weather event is likely to unfold over the central USA - but will it be a multi-day chaseable severe event? Let me define 'chaseable' as a mixture of decent supercells, and also fairly decent chase country.

Friday looks interesting - stout dryline, strong SW flow, front on the northern end of the moisture return...a broad chase region should unfold from NE into SW TX...tornadoes possible close to the front around NE, and down the dryline - the question for the latter is how much capping there is.

This is clearly a chaseable set-up! With strong moisture advection on a very stout LLJ evening/overnight, it may be that some nasty after-dark tornadic supercells are roaming the Plains too.

Saturday, for my money, looks rather tougher to call - plentiful lift/moisture through TX and OK, and up into E KS, etc - but the strong dynamics may initiate lots of convection, perhaps leftover from one or more MCSs from the previous night. I'm sure there will be a few nasty supercells lurking around, but it may not be so chaseable...perhaps eastern NE and IA for the warm front could be best? It hinges on the previous day/night, and also the evolution of the upper flow - it could still be very prolific!

Sunday looks like shifting the risk well to the east and south...southern TX might be OK.

Monday looks like a potentially decent chase day - from around NW TX into SW KS.

Thus, there will be some great chase action in the coming 5 days or so - but perhaps also some tough calls and frustrations!

Good luck to all those out there - and stay safe!
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Quincy thanks for doing that research and posting it for us. Since I cannot chase until the last week of May this year, I find it encouraging that four of the five most active periods you listed include the last week of May. On the other hand, four of the five periods were also only one week long. So knowing what the 7 days starting this Friday look like, it doesn’t seem as likely that the last week of May continues to be quite as active. Of course, it did happen in 2004 per your list, and also in 2013 which I am surprised is not on your list. More importantly, as we all know, a statistically “most active” period is not necessarily a prerequisite for a good and reasonably productive chase vacation.
2013 was #6 on the just, just behind 2016.

In 2013, there were 153 Plains states tornadoes from May 16-31 with 139 occurring between May 18-31, for an average of 10 tornadoes/day for the last 14 days of the month. The 1993-2017 average is roughly 5 tornadoes/day for the second half of May.

I'm not sure there is a slam dunk correlation, but you mentioned May week 3 vs. week 4. I almost wonder if this current setup, May 17-21, is about a week "too" early. Meaning that if this setup took place a week later in the year, would that be just enough to help overcome some of the issues? Climatology goes north with time and it does seem like a lot of the most memorable chase events/periods took place between the final 7-10 days of May.

Either way, maybe expectations coming up were just too high. As many have said, even if the next 1-2 weeks don't verify as a historic period, there will undoubtedly be many chase days. At least we're not looking at a shutout like recent years of 2014, 2012, 2009, 2006, 2005 and 2003. Each of those years saw dreadful chase periods in mid to late May.

Anyway, there are some flaws in the next few events (May 17-21), but both climo and model data suggest that setups improve during the latter part of next week and into the final week of May.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Thanks @Dan Robinson @ScottCurry @Jeff Duda @Mark Blue @Jeff House @Alex Elmore and any others I forgot for responding to my lamentations yesterday about not being able to chase this upcoming setup. Dan I agree with what you said about conflicts with family events (“FE”), I have the same view that I do this a lousy 2 weeks a year (4% of the year) so nothing should be allowed to interfere with that. But it’s all about how important the FE is, and this one involves my young girls performing in a play; so it’s not like family scheduled something disregarding my needs, and kids can’t reason like we do as adults about why dad wasn’t there...Mark thanks for sharing your own constraints, I empathize with your situation, sounds like it affects you much more than this one particular week of chasing I am whining about. I hope it all works out.

I have decided not to try to do an out and back type of thing; the combination of personal and business commitments would make it impossible to catch both Fri and Mon, and to do just one is simply not worth the time, expense and aggravation. In my mind there is almost always more downside (i.e., stuff that can go wrong) than upside in these types of events.

I have not looked at any models myself yet. I don’t want to drive myself crazy, and I don’t have time anyway. But based on what others are saying, my impression of next week is coming back down to earth. Even SPC seems to have slightly walked back the strong language in its Day 4-8 compared to yesterday - no more talk of 100 knot 500mb jet streaks or “impressive” shear. Not saying it won’t be an active period, and if I could head out now I certainly would, but I figure I will at most miss two good days in prime chase territory; I don’t care about stuff in the hills and trees east of I-35. I can live with that. As @Paul Knightley said, a good chase day is chaseable weather in chaseable territory. As long as it doesn’t shut down with a death ridge immediately after I get there.

Like a married man temporarily distracted by a hot woman, I was ready to cast all my plans aside just to get out there, but I now have a more balanced view, thanks largely to all of you that either directly responded to my post or just by providing insights about the coming pattern. My only decision at this point is whether to head out at my earliest opportunity (the evening of 5/22) or if that’s going to put me under a ridge for days in which case I would rather spend Memorial Day Weekend at home with my family and save the days to tack onto the end of my trip instead.