Tips for chasing in the heart of "Tornado Alley"?

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Dan Ross

EF0
Jan 8, 2016
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41
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Fort Collins, CO
Hi everyone, I've been chasing for the past decade when life and weather allows. I've had the privilege of seeing tornadoes in IL, IA, SD, CO, and a couple in far western KS (on slight risk days only). This May I might finally chase for the first time in the heart of "Tornado Alley", and I'd love any advice those more experienced in this region (TX, OK, KS) might have to give. About anything really - road networks, terrain, chaser convergence, great places to eat, sight-seeing, etc. Especially regarding chaser convergence since I've never really witnessed it full-force... Whatever real-world/experiential knowledge you have would be appreciated.

Thank you, and happy travels everyone!
Dan
 

Todd Lemery

Staff member
Supporter
Jun 2, 2014
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Menominee, MI
The only place I would worry about convergence, or just lots of traffic, is around large cities. Avoid the big cities like the plague and everything else should be cake. Jus remember to pull as far off the road as you can and keep an eye on the rest of the traffic and people, making sure you don’t run any stop signs or pull out in front of anybody. The traffic around even a well attended tornadic event can move as smoothly and safely as a balllet when everyone does their part.
One more thing I say all the time and end up not listening to myself is to stick to the paved roads as much as possible. There’s a big difference in “county roads” around there than the rest of the country!
 
Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
Welcome to the main event!

Road networks across most of Kansas are great. As @Todd Lemery said, be cautious on dirt roads, especially if it's raining or has recently rained. Terrain is favorable throughout much of the state, but there are some hills and trees in eastern Kansas, especially east/southeast of I-35. Oklahoma is split. Use I-35 as the rough dividing point. East of there features a lot of trees, while areas to the west are mostly open. Climatology says if you chase in Texas, you'll most likely be in the panhandle, West Texas or North Texas. Texas near the Red River has mixed road networks and some trees. Terrain is more favorable out west and in the panhandle, but road networks can be spotty. Since the visibility is usually good, this can make up for some of the gaps.

Reference this thread for a great map by @Jeremy Perez about road networks, terrain and forest canopies: https://stormtrack.org/community/threads/us-chase-map-project.28377/page-2

For chaser convergence, avoid chasing near bigger cities, especially anywhere close to Oklahoma City. Plan to give yourself a little bit of extra time. Convergence will rarely slow you down from getting to a target in the morning or early afternoon, but once storms fire, it should at least be a consideration.

If you're staying at hotels, I compiled a list of affordable, yet reliable hotels around the Plains. If you're looking for luxury, this might not be your list, but it is selective and factors in cost and comfort. http://www.quincyvagell.com/2016/03/01/affordable-lodging-midwest-plains/ I need to update that list and fix permissions for the Google Map, but I'll have that done within the next 24-30 hours.
 

Dan Ross

EF0
Jan 8, 2016
32
41
11
Fort Collins, CO
Thank you both for taking the time to answer. Great info! I'll keep that in mind about the unpaved roads, though I rarely use them in my little car. And my lodging standards are about as low as they come so that list of budget hotels will be helpful, too.

Quincy Vagell - I see you worked for WREX-TV? I spent most of my life in Rockford, IL. Small world!
 
Jun 1, 2008
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Chattanooga, TN
www.linkedin.com
Central OK convergence can get tough, even outside OKC. I have heard of escape trouble even in Kansas if everyone is on 1-2 cells. We hang back a little bit anyway; so, we've never had a traffic safety issue. Knock on wood!

Dan R did a somewhat scientific study; and, he will tell you traffic convergence is not a problem. Truly there are still days where I wonder, where are all the chasers? Eventually as the cell wraps up, you see them!

Kansas and Oklahoma visibility is almost as good as that in SD/CO. No reason to get super close, which can lead to unforced errors (roads, LEO blocks, debris). We've always had positive interactions with LE and Fire.

Visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson on a down day, a space race gem. Down days in Wichita: Exploration Place, Old Cowtown, Mid-America All-Indian Center, Art museum. Down days in KC: Union Station, Arabia Steamboat Museum, KC Museum, Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Country Club Plaza and surrounding fountains.

Wichita restaurants for a little ethnic flavor include Saigon, Vietnamese and N&J Cafe, Lebanese and Mediterranean. Yup, the Plains has diversity too!

Celebration steak in Wichita: Scotch and Sirloin. Celebration steak in KC and Overland Park: Hereford House (2+ locations).

Sports teams: KC Royals, KC T-Bones, Sporting KC, FC Wichita.
 
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Oct 31, 2013
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Eastern TX Panhandle
TEXAS PANHANDLE CHASING:
Pretty darn flat in most areas.
Decent road network until you get in the northern panhandle. I-40 south is pretty good.
Usually dryline storms which are usually (not always) isolated and either LP or Classic in nature
With a heavy slow moving storm, some farm to market roads can get flooded pretty quickly.
Big attraction if staying in Amarillo is eating at the Big Texan. It's way overrated in my opinion, but the atmosphere is great.
Palo Duro Canyon State park located SE of Amarillo is nice, but don't plan to hike if the temp is over 75 or 80. The canyon floor is 10-20 degrees warmer.
In May, if there's a storm, you chase it!

I'll let some others from the area chime in.
 
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Jun 16, 2015
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Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
I updated the Google Map with my picks for relatively inexpensive hotels that are also clean/comfortable. It's up to 29, but they're fairly clustered. This is not a comprehensive map, as it has limited locations in the High Plains. Many are clustered in Kansas and western Iowa, but I included places from as far west as New Mexico and as far east as Ohio. Every state
https://drive.google.com/open?id=17tmenjiG9ueuLlPx8TGrBizPQ6ADiVar&usp=sharing

If anyone is interested, I reviewed all of the locations in the map on Yelp and I only included hotels that I gave four or five stars. Again, these aren't luxury places, but it's nice to know a place that's been vetted and doesn't have any bugs or other glaring issues. I will give a hotel a good rating if it was clean, comfortable, reasonably priced and had friendly/helpful staff.
https://www.yelp.com/list/affordable-comfortable-plains-midwest-lodging-shenandoah
(It's kind of weird how it adds Shenandoah to the URL, but I guess it's because one of the hotels on the list that is in that town)

My best advice is to simply Google search a hotel/motel before staying at it. Skim through the reviews and make sure there are no red flags. Sometimes places have a rating that seems low, but when you read the reviews, recent ones are good, suggesting it was recently modeled or has new ownership. I've very rarely had issues with hotels, but then again, I do my research beforehand and since I'm usually just looking for a clean bed and a good shower, so I'm not overly picky.
 
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Dan Ross

EF0
Jan 8, 2016
32
41
11
Fort Collins, CO
Yeah I'll likely steer clear of OKC area then, I don't even like cities when I'm not chasing haha. Hopefully I won't have to resort to too much sight-seeing... On that subject, just saw "Carhenge" in NE for the first time. Wow. Anyway you guys are super helpful!
 
Aug 22, 2015
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Hastings, Nebraska
Nebraska Chasing: For the most part the road networks, especially in the central part of the state are very good and predictable. One thing I will warn is that it is often a maize of seemingly unending gravel roads with the occasional minimum maintenance. Though I suppose it is like this in every plains state. When you get up into the sand hills the cell service gets pretty awful unless you have a cell signal booster. On the flip side it is equally as bad near the KS border where you will find many canyons. Chaser convergence is pretty much only noticeable on big risk days and otherwise only the few guys that actually chase here plus all of the fire stations and small town rednecks. But out of all of the states I have chased in Nebraska hands down has the absolute most amazing post storm sunsets you will ever see. If you venture out into the sandhills four wheel drive is a must because gravel and dirt roads turn into soup very quickly and help is very few and far between. Also cops here are fairly cool unless you have flashy warning lights or light bars, they DO NOT like those, especially the state patrol here. As far as places to stay, nearly every town with over a thousand people has a decent motel of some sort. GOODLUCK!!