State of the Chase Season 2021

Feb 19, 2021
42
67
6
Wichita
Actually, we saw this in the late 80's. You couldn't believe how few tornadoes there were in Kansas and Oklahoma.

That said, the great Dr. Ted Fujita hypothesized that tornado alley shifts with time. Here is his paper: There Is Nothing New About the Hypothesis Tornado Alley Has Moved East




Jason N said:
I feel like a pessimist!
You shoulda seen the post I wrote up last night and decided not to post! :oops:

It had something to do with seeing enough evidence to be convinced of some sort of hemispheric or climatic shift that has caused tornado alley to become effectively dormant over the last five years. Each year seemingly brings new lows. Until I see a pattern shift that says otherwise, I'm just going to assume there will be fewer than five chase opportunities in the Central Plains each year and nothing before mid-May.
 
Oct 10, 2004
1,206
277
11
35
Madison, WI
You shoulda seen the post I wrote up last night and decided not to post! :oops:

It had something to do with seeing enough evidence to be convinced of some sort of hemispheric or climatic shift that has caused tornado alley to become effectively dormant over the last five years. Each year seemingly brings new lows. Until I see a pattern shift that says otherwise, I'm just going to assume there will be fewer than five chase opportunities in the Central Plains each year and nothing before mid-May.
Yep. 2017 and 2019 tried but even seemingly high-ceiling days couldn't deliver with storm-mode issues and bizarre 11th-hour failure modes.

I've been interested in severe weather since childhood, finally started chasing in earnest in 2014, botched two golden opportunities to catch spectacular tornadoes (three, if you add the day AFTER Pilger) over two years, got a brief glimpse of a couple tornadoes...and have had exactly TWO opportunities to get out on what seemed like legit, quality tornado setups after 2016.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff Duda

Jeff House

Supporter
Jun 1, 2008
606
656
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
I consulted the Dr. Fujita paper before moving. Not really!

No denying that all guidance has faltered for the week of May 10. Actually it's quite common for blocking to last a couple days longer than first progged. This is not the 2020 assault of the closed lows. We can patiently wait for GL trough to ease.

Tropical forcing remains out there. EPS and CFS (one ensemble one weekly) both have another West/Rockies trough attempt toward May 15. I know I know, always Day 10+. However the 11-15 day is closer to super peak climo.
 
Dec 17, 2017
13
16
1
St Louis, MO
I'm currently watching the GFS concerning May 19-20 on some consistent 500mb SE flow near the NE/CO/KS border. Reminds me a little of 2019 with a less aggressive tilt on the trough. I'll be taking off on the evening of the 13th to catch a few events I believe may occur between then and the 20th.
 

Warren Faidley

Supporter
May 7, 2006
1,933
1,997
21
Mos Isley Space Port
www.stormchaser.com
Not too excited about things after this weekend. Models can no longer be trusted beyond 7-10 days because of EGWPC or "Excessive Global Weather Pattern Constipation." Lots of zonal flow in the extended NCEP forecasts. That little window of opportunity is slowly closing as May 15th. rolls around, as there are generally about 3 weeks remaining of enhanced possibilities. With the modern drought patterns, the EML firewall is a major concern as we close in on late Spring. I'm still maintaining hope for the second half of May, or early June in Colorado. If not, it's Arizona duststorms in July and hurricanes in 3-4 months.
 
Oct 31, 2013
451
376
21
Eastern TX Panhandle
I think Mother Nature is just running a little behind. Seems that most of the recent events have been in Dixie Alley and North TX with little to show for in the TX Panhandle and neighboring areas. I have a gut feeling Late May into (especially June) will ramp up around here and in the typical areas of tornado alley (CO and KS).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Jeff House
Jul 5, 2009
1,216
1,143
21
Newtown, Pennsylvania
This year is a little different for me in that I don’t have flexibility in when I chase. It’s 5/22-6/6 for me, maybe less (if nothing‘s happening) but not more. So I’m not too worried about what the long range says. Feels rather liberating, to be untethered from that, I will get what I can get, enjoy the time away from reality for better or for worse, and that’s it!
 

Jeff House

Supporter
Jun 1, 2008
606
656
11
Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
I'm locked in chasing during the K-12 school year. Easier for wife when kids are in school. Thankfully school goes late this year. Sorry kids!

Euro ensembles continue bullish. Not just 500 mb anomalies but lee troughs are abundant on surface spaghettis. However the GEFS is meh. Keep in mind average is active in late May. GLAAM continues to rise and is forecast to keep doing so. That's not good through mid-May, less of a problem late May.

Chasers should hope the tropical forcing gains momentum in spite of the GLAAM. -NAO won round one. Perhaps the MJO can win May 15+
 
Apr 10, 2008
501
255
11
Tulsa, OK
www.facebook.com
I am going to attempt to provide a much needed dose of optimism to this otherwise downtrodden thread. While extended robust tornado seasons on the plains are apparently a thing of the past, at least this year we are seeing quality supercells/tornadoes with almost every significant system that comes through. Sure these end up being mesoscale events, and yes the majority of the activity so far has been in the southeast, but Texas has been active as well over the past few weeks.

It may not be the most condusive pattern for chasecationers, but right now we are averaging one or more decent chase opportunities per week. As we enter the climo peak, individual opportunities should become maximized. Hoping the never ending ne CONUS troughing fades by month's end and tropical forcing remains favorable. The high plains of Colorado have experienced a very wet April so perhaps the central high plains will become active before long.

Regardless this year has already exceeded 2020 (which isn't saying much), and we still have the rest of May and June ahead of us. Keep your heads up. At this point all we can do is accept this "new normal" of reduced plains tornado activity and make the most of what we do get.
 
Apr 5, 2015
87
97
11
Norman, OK
There's no sugarcoating the next 7 days (minimum). Like Brett, I've come to hate any long-term look that features a prominent New England cyclone. The immediate impacts of a wave like that evolving in the near-term is a frontal intrusion into the gulf. It doesn't take a pure wiping into the Caribbean to kill any upcoming setups; just intruding into the northern gulf can be enough if the wavelength is short enough (like for Saturday) to kill a robust setup.

What ends up happening is you get this half-baked modification of the Cp airmass in place, and end up with sky high LCLs *if* you even get CI.

To make things worse, this vortex sure loves to hang around and phase with /shear out any waves attempting to amplify west of the rockies.

While initial model forecasts suggested below normal heights across the intermountain west, there were early signs of this situation playing out. Over the last decade or so, this seems to be the norm.. So it's simply impossible for me to get excited about these patterns anymore.

Later in May it's less of a problem, so chasers have that to look forward to. Me on the other hand, I'll just have to settle for very low-topped convection in Germany as I finish up the last three months of a deployment with the Air Force (in support of the Army). A2331FAE-8B69-4856-814A-66337EA16FFF.jpeg
FFD7AE16-DA6F-47E5-8734-ED0B762ECC6C.jpeg
 
Aug 9, 2012
432
853
21
Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
My chasecation is scheduled from May 15-23 this year, still holding out some optimism for chase ops during that period (it's still 10+ days out). Even then I have plans to go out for another couple short trips in June/July this year. I haven't done a lot of chasing this year, but I've managed to see some form of tornado on 3 out of 4 chases I've been on with the other chase netting a photogenic supercell and other picturesque scenes. June/July are my best months for chasing up here in the Midwest, so I'm not at all worried.

Meanwhile for the upcoming system, I've been watching the ECMWF which throws out an interesting warm front setup on Sunday in Southern IL. Still days out, so I'm hoping this changes for the better (shifting northward into better terrain and not as saggy with the cold front). I remember back in 2014 though, we had a similar pattern of New England blocking and we had snow showers as late as Mid-May (5/16) here in Illinois with highs in the 30s and 40s. Everyone knows what happened come June that year (Pilger, Coleridge, Alpena etc) and even to a lesser extent a top tier chase event in early July (7/6/14) in Iowa (Traer, IA sunset stovepipe). So every season has its diamonds and this one is still early and I think the diamonds haven't quite developed yet all the way ;)
 

Jason N

EF1
Mar 2, 2021
57
51
6
South Carolina
Brett Nickeson,

hahaha yeah I'm sure that a lot of us are trying hard to balance it all. We want to see good setups , we don't want damage to anyone's life or home/livelihood. and with that in mind I think some version of Hamlet is appropriate -- enter stage left (I have the skull of a tornado in my hand staring intently discovering my own philosophy) : "To Swirl, or NOT to swirl, whether it is more noble in thy quest for CAPE and SHEAR fortunes! .. or to take arms against the MJO and opine of the decay of spring - to wither , to die.... to sleep and to dream.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Greg Rutland

Jason N

EF1
Mar 2, 2021
57
51
6
South Carolina
There's no sugarcoating the next 7 days (minimum). Like Brett, I've come to hate any long-term look that features a prominent New England cyclone. The immediate impacts of a wave like that evolving in the near-term is a frontal intrusion into the gulf. It doesn't take a pure wiping into the Caribbean to kill any upcoming setups; just intruding into the northern gulf can be enough if the wavelength is short enough (like for Saturday) to kill a robust setup.

What ends up happening is you get this half-baked modification of the Cp airmass in place, and end up with sky high LCLs *if* you even get CI.

To make things worse, this vortex sure loves to hang around and phase with /shear out any waves attempting to amplify west of the rockies.

While initial model forecasts suggested below normal heights across the intermountain west, there were early signs of this situation playing out. Over the last decade or so, this seems to be the norm.. So it's simply impossible for me to get excited about these patterns anymore.

Later in May it's less of a problem, so chasers have that to look forward to. Me on the other hand, I'll just have to settle for very low-topped convection in Germany as I finish up the last three months of a deployment with the Air Force (in support of the Army). View attachment 21579
View attachment 21580
Boy there's a site I am familiar with lol, well at least from Graf and Sembach lol... but the clouds are the same!
 
May 1, 2011
180
237
11
40
Colorado
www.lakefx.net
It is May 6, and there have been 120 Tornado Reports (LSRs). obviously very few of these were in classic chase territory nor were they all particularly predictable. This puts us just 13 short of "Above Average" with 9 days left in my arbitrary forecast period.

An area of interest exists on Saturday May 8 in classic chase country (capping issues due to moisture starvation abound though), followed by several days of opportunities in the south and south Texas. Not ideal territory but some chasability exists.

There are subtle hints that the period around May 15 could yield some results. However long range models are still being just terrible lately with only a good 5-6 days worth of confidence even in ensembles!

Good Luck everyone. And I hope I'll see you out there soon!
 

Warren Faidley

Supporter
May 7, 2006
1,933
1,997
21
Mos Isley Space Port
www.stormchaser.com
Finally have a "tentative" departure date set of May 15-16. Target will be the Texas Panhandle vicinity on the 17th - with a classic four-corners low forecast. Could be 1-2 premium days of chasing -- although the usual 200+ hour model error disclaimer applies. The Hudson Bay, anti-gravitational vortex (yes, the region actually has lower than usual gravity), is forecast to magically appear following this event, so that's a monkey wrench to watch for.
gfs_2021050812_204_34.25--102.0.png
 
Jan 7, 2006
573
725
21
USA
www.skyinmotion.com
At this point, I suspect we may be looking at a worse peak season than 2020. The psychology and sociology of the chase community during dire times is nothing if not fascinating, and surely worthy of an NSF funded study! (And by the way, I'm hardly exempting myself or my screed below from that proposition.)

Over the past week, there have been only occasional NWP cycles with a plurality of solutions offering hope for more than a seasonably modest tornado setup in the 7-10 day range. The tenor of some discussion on social media seems markedly more optimistic than that, though. We have been in a Groundhog's Day loop with vague, tenuous hope of a pattern shift in the D10-15 range since at least mid-April, and I don't see anything more convincing now. The opportunity for this coming weekend into early next week (5/16-5/18) is already devolving into full on split flow with broad western ridging and a weakening, detached upper low spilling out onto the Plains amidst bulk shear characteristic of July. Beyond that, it's the usual high-spread potpourri of solutions that perennially lean, on the whole, toward Rockies ridging and eastern Canada troughing: like midsummer, but colder.

The 00z GEFS now integrates out to 840 hours (35 days, for those keeping count at home), and essentially every run asymptotes toward an upper high over Chihuahua and trough over Quebec as the primary NA features at 500 mb throughout weeks 3-5. Time-lagged CFS output is qualitatively similar. I suppose (OK, OK, I know) I'm going out on an ill advised limb saying this on May 10, but my synthesis of the available dynamical guidance combined with the MJO already in phase 2 leads me to think the ceiling on peak season 2021 is a smattering of fortuitous mesoscale accidents and 5% type days... maybe a more coherent decent period somewhere between the last week of May and mid June ala 2005/2009, if things break our way. The floor may be worse than the same period in 2020. That may sound absurd, but late May into June 2020 was more active than historical examples like 2006; the setups were just fatally flawed, one after another. Sometimes, there aren't even setups, exempting upslope cells you hope can make their own shear and channel enhanced streamwise vorticity through topographic features.
 
Last edited:

Warren Faidley

Supporter
May 7, 2006
1,933
1,997
21
Mos Isley Space Port
www.stormchaser.com
I think if people are seeking "outbreaks" with big HP wedges, then it looks very bleak. If you are seeking isolated, long-shot tornadoes, lightning, storm structure and maybe a landspout or two, then it's not looking too bad. The GFS has acceptable RH in the Southern / SW Plains from Sunday through the remaining hours. If the RH is there in mid-to-late May, you chase. The slim-appearing pickings will also keep the crowds down -- especially those who don't like long shots. The same global models that were hinting of a busy May have flip-flopped several times and I simply don't trust them this close to peak season. Then again, if shear completely vanishes, it's going to a boring season as noted.
 
Nov 13, 2017
28
116
6
Illinois
My goodness. One would think based on these conversations that Oklahoma on fire again.

Brett, you are an incredible photographer and chaser and I have followed your work for a long time, and you're a damn good forecaster too. But look at your profile photo on here and tell me that "a smattering of fortuitous mesoscale accidents and 5% type days" - or, perhaps, a synoptically boring, poorly forced, highly capped setup with little aloft to speak of can't produce something amazing. Tell me that you haven't seen monsters under a big EML with a split flow regime, characterized by slow moving, sculpted mesocyclones that cycle in and out with little competition until the low level jet hits and everything goes nuts. You've seen it all in both the good and bad years, and given that I'm surprised to see you so down about a year that, despite your insistence otherwise, shares very little in common with bad - or good! - years of the recent past.

Here are the things that we don't have that have marred most of my chase seasons to this point in one way or another:

• Plains drought. ENSO may or may not be overrated (we can have that conversation another day), but it's not really arguable that this winter and spring hasn't behaved like the typical weak-to-moderate first Niña years of the past, which generally saturate the southeast and leave the plains begging for a drink. Take 2011, the one everyone was talking about this past winter, for example. Nobody wants the dryline mixed into Tulsa County, and so far we haven't had that! That's a huge plus, and that's why we have seen (and will continue to see) western Texas, western Oklahoma, and western Kansas drylines for the foreseeable future. This, for what it's worth, takes 2018's biggest problem off the table too.

1620690937545.png

• Lack of flow aloft. Do you like jet extensions? I like jet extensions! We've had a couple (we're wasting a pretty nice one right now) and we're likely to have a couple more. This is where your 2020 comparison falls flat. While cutoffs and western ridging and all that nonsense can and probably will at some point take over, we've got some juice to kick the crappy patterns out of town. Does that guarantee greatness? Of course not. Does it assure you that these troughs will all amplify correctly, moisture will be there, and storms will form? Nope. Does it promise that the western ridge won't play like a Hall of Fame offensive lineman that doesn't let even the nastiest wave through? Sadly, no. But unlike last year, we're not waiting around playing the "if we can get some flow aloft" scenario. This year we've had it and we'll have it again.

1620691824423.png
1620693372985.png

Here are a couple of things that we do have that, in my limited experience, can help us out:

• Big EML in the source regions. How much is too much? I don't know the answer to that, but if it stays in the desert, I'm okay with a little heat on my dinner plate. Sure, we might get a sunburn. I'm the palest white person on this planet, so I'll get a sunburn anyway. We might cap bust. We might watch our 18z 81/71 loaded gun soundings turn into 88/62 inverted V hailers by the time the dryline circulation pops off. But we might get dry air infused into our late evening storm, lighting up the land with bolts and stacking pancakes on pancakes. We might find our classic supercell a little less rainy and a little more hail-y, opening up the views from all kinds of angles even if we don't all have the stones to take baseballs (I don't!). We might find initiation waiting until 6 PM, storm maturing by 7 PM, backlit cone by 7:30 PM, and beers and crappy steaks at Applebee's in Salina by 9. Sorry for my obsession with drought, but another first Niña that got some attention was 2017, which was a great season if you liked being to your hotel before the sun went down. I don't. Initiation before noon is no bueno.

1620691593978.png

• Clueless models. Is this good? It's good if you only look at the operational GFS, which seems to be at least one of the prevailing methodologies among storm chasers as of late, for your daily dose of emotional distress. These things are performing awfully! (I don't think I could do a better job, but I'm also not a supercomputer funded by the US government.) Here are just a couple of examples that I stole from a few friends of mine today of the operational GFS in particular being incredibly bad:

1620692659412.png

Is it odd that the control runs a higher PNA than its entire ensemble and falls well on the opposite side of zero as its ensemble mean? It should be.

1620692707119.png

Is it odd that the jet is supposedly heading into Canada and a western ridge is supposedly roasting Billings when the ensemble spaghetti plot could provide us more information if a three year old drew it with crayons and stuck it on the refrigerator? It should be.

I am hopeful that this post provides no new information to anyone because it shouldn't. Likewise, I don't intend to portray myself as some hyped up, wildly optimistic nutmeg who only looks at what he wants to see and blindly follows it, ignoring all signs to the contrary. I simply see signs of hope - and plenty of things that could yet trip us up, just as these Great Lakes troughs and scouring fronts already have. To me, that makes the doom and gloom hard to fathom. Why write off a season when we have seen so many seasons that appeared bad in numerous ways but had glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel turn out great? There's time left, and it is clearly possible that we use it in a favorable way going into the height of peak season in late May and into June. Maybe it works or maybe it doesn't, but there's no writing on the wall either way, and that alone is reason to keep your head up and eyes open in the coming weeks.
 

Jeff Duda

EF6+, PhD
Staff member
Supporter
Oct 7, 2008
3,430
2,357
21
Broomfield, CO
www.meteor.iastate.edu
At the risk of speaking for Brett...
I got the impression he was talking more about the predictable synoptic scale type events that are pretty clear 3-5 days out (or more) so that everyone has a solid shake at comfortably setting up the day before (rather than having to make a 300-mile drive in 3 hours...do the math). That is, he was speaking as much on the medium range trends as he was speculating using the 35-day GFS forecasts. On the other hand, Spencer, your outlook focused almost entirely on the S2S scale and using analogies. That is by no means invalid, but it is not the same scale to which Brett was referring. And the signals we are seeing on the medium range/synoptic and S2S scales don't seem to be lining up.

Case in point...we just had a MASSIVE 8-1-2 MJO progression that resulted in pretty meager Plains severe activity:
Screenshot_2021-05-10 Climate Prediction Center - Daily MJO Indices.png
I mean...this map should have had all of us salivating grotesquely!

And even though there was a spike in tornado reports during this period, (1) a huge fraction occurred on one random day in MS (with nearly no other reports), and (2) the majority of tornado reports occurred in areas either far removed from typical synoptic forcing or just flat-out east of the Mississippi River, where most of the terrain is less favorable for chasing. The Plains have once again been very quiet so far, whereas in the 2000s you could almost set your watch to solid dryline setups every 3-7 days somewhere between I-80 in NE and I-20 in TX. Those days seem to be almost extinct at this point.

Also, landspouts.

Spring severe weather activity in the Plains the has become so abjectly pathetic the past few years that I've stopped memorizing specific event days. I used to have a pretty impeccable recall of specific big Plains days (e.g., 23 May 2008). But I have almost none from 2018-2020, and 2021 only has the TX PH double-wedge day that I recall as memorable so far.
 
May 28, 2011
77
143
11
Omaha, NE
The Plains have once again been very quiet so far, whereas in the 2000s you could almost set your watch to solid dryline setups every 3-7 days somewhere between I-80 in NE and I-20 in TX. Those days seem to be almost extinct at this point.

Also, landspouts.

Spring severe weather activity in the Plains the has become so abjectly pathetic the past few years...
This. I'm not sure when Spencer started chasing, but each of the last five years in the Plains would just about qualify as the worst year from any stretch from about 2000 to 2016, and there were some horrendously slow years in there. Almost every year has those diamond-in-the-rough setups that overperform, but what the last five years have missed are the prototypical longwave or even multi-shortwave troughs that bring southwest flow over good moisture several days in a row. Those just don't occur anymore in typical chase areas. Severe weather has been relegated to south of the Red River and Dixie Alley. If you don't chase those areas, you've been sitting on your hands and complaining - like I have - since 2016.

All of this is not to say that there won't be a rogue career day in June for some of us, but we're looking at the overall pattern. And the overall pattern is enough to make you choose a different hobby.
 
Nov 13, 2017
28
116
6
Illinois
Prototypical longwaves, eh? May 1, 2018 (and the day following if the ejection hadn't been screwed up) may have been a bona fide synoptic outbreak across the southern plains if not for dramatic plains drought that contributed to excessively mixing out the atmosphere in the early hours of the afternoon and the daytime capping further south down the dryline from advecting masses of dry air since there was nowhere without dry air to advect from at that point in the year. That was a background state problem, not a setup problem.

1620764804037.png

I don't know much about the mid-May sequence of 2017 - I was working until the end of the month that year and couldn't travel to the plains that spring - but this looks great to me. It's no wonder a high risk was issued here even if it did not turn out to be warranted.

1620765613316.png

2019 was, of course, a record breaking sequence that did not meet its ceiling in the way chasers would like because there was no EML to speak of after an incredibly wet spring in the desert but it was an impressive sequential wave train that would make chasers of the good ol days drool too.

1620765644412.png

2002, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014, and plenty more years have suffered from poor this, bad that, or just downright dreadful everything even in the past. Is climate change affecting chasing? Absolutely. Is it eliminating chasing? I don't know, and I'm far enough removed from my studies to call myself an expert anymore. Regardless, in no world have we ever been able to without fail "set your watch to solid dryline setups every 3-7 days somewhere between I-80 in NE and I-20 in TX" and I don't know where this nostalgic lore comes from. The fact is that if you chase the plains, you are going to experience a below average season fairly frequently. My arbitrary numbers for your generic overall chase spectrum are 20% good, 30% terrible, 40% average or below average, and 10% exceptional. I don't have any data to back that up, but I bet Brett Roberts does. Either way, you can pull incredible stuff out of the average years, and I would argue that 2016, everyone's favorite year ever, barely sneaks in as average looking at the number of landfalling troughs alone.

No matter, I will enjoy having 283 to myself since you guys are sitting this one out. Surely you are, right?
 
Last edited:
Feb 19, 2021
42
67
6
Wichita
Clearly, with warmer global temperatures, violent tornadoes are less frequent. See nearby graph. violent tornadoes are less frequent 2020.png

The increasing number in the South and Southeast are likely temporary and part of the somewhat cyclical pattern first documented by Ted Fujita. There Is Nothing New About the Hypothesis Tornado Alley Has Moved East



"Is climate change affecting chasing? Absolutely. Is it eliminating chasing? I don't know, and I'm far enough removed from my studies to call myself an expert anymore."
 
Feb 19, 2021
42
67
6
Wichita
Using Kansas as a proxy for the central Great Plains, here is a graph of tornadoes ≥F/EF-3. It is the most recent I can find. The 1980's was an exceptionally low period for strong tornadoes in the region. Screen Shot 2021-05-11 at 10.24.53 PM.png


We all know that the number of "all" tornadoes has been highly influenced by both Twister and the installation of the WSR-88D network. If we use numbers before 1992 (the first year of NEXRAD installation) we see lulls.
Screen Shot 2021-05-11 at 10.29.11 PM.png


After the extremely active period from 1971-74, the bottom fell out until '80. Then, there was another exceptionally low period in the late 1980's. So, given what seems to be the cyclical nature of "all" tornadoes in the central Plains, it seems premature to be attributing the recent paucity of tornadoes to global warming. As I posted above, however, there is a very clear trend toward fewer violent tornadoes.

If one considers the classic global warming hypothesis, it is not surprising that violent tornadoes are fewer in number. It was hypothesized that the polar regions would warm more quickly than the tropics. If so, that would mean a weakening of the jet stream which would imply fewer violent storms.
 
Last edited: