You Know It's Going to be a Bad Year When...(a thread for lamenting the long-term downturn in chase season quality)

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Mar 15, 2007
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Essex - UK
I think the last 12 Years has helped if you run tours and chase absolutely everything thereby hitting the Mesoscale Accidents of which there were numerous in the 2010-2019 timescale. I started in 2005 and 2006 learning this hobby with a Vet US Chaser and was pretty underwhelmed obviously with how those May's played out. 2005 had some nice days with the Stretch from May 10th to May 13th and some Solid Tornado Days which I missed all of them (Rookie at the time) but then 2007 and 2008 happened with some amazing Kansas Chase Days and back to back High Risk days with 3 in a little over a week. 2009 was a forgetable year but taking out 2011 the rest have been pretty decent, We do tend to accumulate around 30,000 miles in our 10 weeks out so probably have an unfair advantage when a 2% freak accident happens. Some years I have found to be too hot temperature wise and low quality moisture with a lot more Hail and Structure and other years things just click like 2010, 2013 and 2016 for Tornadoes. I will always favour the High Plains over traditional Tornado Alley though and almost said I would never chase anything over a Moderate in May again in Oklahoma after Mangum last year. I guess I have been one of the lucky few in the last 10 years but also have become a snob when it comes to anywhere east of I-35 maybe I need to change that with how climatology is going when we are allowed back.
 
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Mark Blue

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I can't understand why 2011 is taking such a beating. The Tuscsloosa to Birmingham tornado on 4/27 was an EF4. The Joplin tornado on 5/22 was an EF5 and the El Reno tornado on 5/24 was also an EF5. There's even a Wikipedia article online for the time period 5/21-26. My memory recalls that year being one of the best during the decade, but each person's mileage could certainly vary.
 
Oct 10, 2004
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I can't understand why 2011 is taking such a beating. The Tuscsloosa to Birmingham tornado on 4/27 was an EF4. The Joplin tornado on 5/22 was an EF5 and the El Reno tornado on 5/24 was also an EF5. There's even a Wikipedia article online for the time period 5/21-26. My memory recalls that year being one of the best during the decade, but each person's mileage could certainly vary.
Despite the impressive nature and (unusually for the region) spectacular visibility of the 4/27 tornadoes, racing these monsters when they move 60-70 MPH through the hills and trees of Dixie isn't most chaser's idea of a good time.

May was mostly a dud outside of that 5-day stretch (rather like 2013 and 2019) and so was June apart from 1 or 2 days. Joplin was too wrapped and too catastrophic for an enjoyable chase.
 

Jeff Duda

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I can't understand why 2011 is taking such a beating. The Tuscsloosa to Birmingham tornado on 4/27 was an EF4. The Joplin tornado on 5/22 was an EF5 and the El Reno tornado on 5/24 was also an EF5. There's even a Wikipedia article online for the time period 5/21-26. My memory recalls that year being one of the best during the decade, but each person's mileage could certainly vary.
May 2011 was pretty quiet up until the 21st, when E KS and C OK unexpectedly lit up, and then suddenly things went nuts for about 5 days. But even after that it got pretty quiet again up until mid-June, when the 18th-20th stretch happened and kind of saved the remainder of the season.

2011 was almost all April, and in less-chaseable areas (E OK, Dixie, the Carolinas). Check out the SPC event archive on this period.
 
Mar 15, 2007
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Essex - UK
Yh sorry should have clarified, for us we landed on April 28th and chased some elevated storms 1 night - Changeover day was on Joplin Day and we did get the Canton Lake and Fairview Tornadoes but other than that it was a complete dud
 
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Mark Blue

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We hit the sweet spot that year so at least for us it was a win-win chasecation. When was the last time we had 3 tornadoes rated EF4 to EF5 within a month of each other? Short of doing a bunch of research I don't recall that happening since the mid 80s when I started paying attention to severe storms and attempting to chase them.
 
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In my case I should have known something adverse was going to happen. Had arrangements where I could take a week off on relatively short notice if we came up on an active pattern. Then COVID pretty much eliminated any thought of me taking time off, not that I missed much. Next spring, I should be taking classes again, so I'm not expecting much after finals when I can break free LOL.
 
Jun 28, 2007
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Lack of opportunities doesn’t really bother me, I’m okay with a few quality set-ups and I’m still optimistic that will happen this year. There actually could have been a few very good and even potentially high end events this year given just a small change in a single parameter. A couple hours of sunshine on March 28 and the potential for long track strong tornadoes could have been realized. Increase the mid & upper level winds by 10+ knots and the previous two weeks could have provided excellent potential. And it’s not like there haven’t been decent opportunities, April had three in the plains that produced plus one in the Midwest and the big outbreak in Dixie not to mention last week saw great structure and landspouts on Thursday and multiple tornadoes Friday & Saturday. None of the above were “accidents”, for some like myself most just didn’t warrant the trip but the opportunity was there to be had if you took the chance.

Looking back on the “bad” years even those had opportunities. The previous three years have been lamented by some but each provided a bunch of days with multiple tornadoes in the plains. There just haven’t been many of those sweet multi-day synoptic set-ups or wave after wave after wave events that can distinguish the “good” years from the “bad”. Is the recent lack of those type of events a concern? I’m just a layman here but I think the small sample size doesn’t offer enough to conclude anything other than there’s been a drought in high quality chase seasons lately and as with droughts they can sustain, they could worsen, they can abate or they can be broken in fantastic fashion…and nobody here can say with absolute certainty which outcome will prevail in the coming years…or even in the latter half of this season for that matter. The silver lining for me is that I’ve always wanted to do a SD/ND/MT area chase and lacking even a single plains chase thus far I’ll probably pull the trigger on one of those when the opportunity arises…and the odds say one will arise regardless the state of the season to date.
 

Jeff Duda

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Lack of opportunities doesn’t really bother me, I’m okay with a few quality set-ups and I’m still optimistic that will happen this year. There actually could have been a few very good and even potentially high end events this year given just a small change in a single parameter. A couple hours of sunshine on March 28 and the potential for long track strong tornadoes could have been realized. Increase the mid & upper level winds by 10+ knots and the previous two weeks could have provided excellent potential. And it’s not like there haven’t been decent opportunities, April had three in the plains that produced plus one in the Midwest and the big outbreak in Dixie not to mention last week saw great structure and landspouts on Thursday and multiple tornadoes Friday & Saturday. None of the above were “accidents”, for some like myself most just didn’t warrant the trip but the opportunity was there to be had if you took the chance.
That may be true, but if you included conditional setups, then almost no year is a truly terrible year, as there are probably an order of magnitude more conditional setups that don't pan out than there are actual setups for which the potential environment is actually realized. We don't enjoy events as much when they don't reach their potential and hit those conditions you talk about. We have to judge seasons based on what actually happened, not what might have happened.
 
You could do worse (and most of us did) than just hanging out in Iowa for the past week or so. At least one very photogenic tornado there again today. That said, regarding 2011, which was mentioned several times earlier in this thread, I would take my chase season that year over this year any time. Part of it comes down to where I lived then and now and to circumstances including my ability to chase (yes, that includes COVID), but even if I were unconstrained this year, I doubt this year for me could have come anywhere close to 2011, given where I live now and the lack of storms, for the most part, on the high plains. I had lots of good chases in 2011, some of which I executed well and some of which I messed up. But the opportunities were there for me, over and over. One unforgettable chase was following the supercell that produced the St. Louis Lambert Airport EF-4, even though the storm got away from me before that tornado. Another was having a gorgeous tornado all to myself near Greasy Corner, AR on May 25, one of the three tornadoes I saw that day. Now I will admit I only got west of I-35 once that season (May 24), and I pretty much messed up that day, getting on two different tornadic supercells but somehow managing to miss seeing any of the tornadoes. But I more than made up for it the next day. I guess what I am saying is that any year comes down to your own experiences - the setups you chased and how you handled them, along with your opportunities to be able to chase the setups that came along. That said, 2011 definitely offered a lot of opportunities in April and during the short but highly active period in May, and It does not seem like since 2016 there have been so many opportunities. For sure not as many as in 2011. I could not chase much last year, but had very good chases when I did, including a year ago today in northeast New Mexico. So last year was better for me than 2017 and 2018, and certainly better than this year. But for the majority of chasers, 2019 was probably still below average as an overall chase year, unless you were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. So that makes 4 sub-par years in a row as overall chase years, IMHO. Those who say it is getting harder are probably right, though any individual's results will vary in any given year-to-year comparison.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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@John Farley that’s a good synopsis of the poor decade, all I would add though is that 2013 was also quite good, it was condensed into two weeks but those two weeks were incredible (although not for me...) I would say that 2013 at least qualifies for a similar “short but highly active period in May” description that you gave to 2011 (I know 2011 also had an active April, but outside of the traditional tornado alley and a little on the early side of our traditional peak chasing season).
 
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Jan 7, 2006
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One detail that crossed my mind while reading others' thoughts about opportunities vs. success rates: in my mind, a hallmark of what seemed to change between my first several years chasing (say, 2007-2011) vs. most of the period since is the lack of forecastable setups that produced multiple great storms simultaneously. Here's an obnoxiously long list off the top of my head:

28 March 2007 -- Brice TX; Beaver OK; Bird City KS; Grant NE
21 April 2007 -- Tulia; Cactus; maybe one more??
4 May 2007 -- Greensburg KS; Arnett OK
5 May 2007 -- St. John KS; Sweetwater OK
1 May 2008 -- Osage Co. OK; Midwest City OK
23 May 2008 -- Quinter KS; Dighton KS; Ft. Supply OK
10 May 2010 -- Wakita; Norman; Ardmore
19 May 2010 -- Hennessey; Wynnewood
21 May 2011 -- Topeka KS; Ada/Sulphur OK
24 May 2011 -- Canton; El Reno; Chickasha; Goldsby
20 June 2011 -- Bradshaw NE; Pleasanton NE; Hill City-Long Island KS
14 April 2012 -- Langley KS; Cherokee OK

The key is that all were big events you could see coming for days to clear your schedule (with one exception, 5/21/11), and more importantly, you didn't have to be on one particular storm to do well. Each of these factors alone make chasing easier, but in combination, they reduce the difficulty level dramatically.

Now, there certainly have been some days with more than one good storm since 2013... but as easily as I could think of a dozen days for the 5-6 year period above, I'd struggle mightily to do so for the 8-year period since. And if you add the qualification that the event should be synoptically obvious and warrant an aggressive SPC outlook, there's no way it's possible.

Basically, I think we've been somewhat lucky to get great days like DDC, Rozel, and Chapman in a generally dismal stretch of years from the perspective of the persistent large-scale pattern... but the cost of that dismal pattern manifests in the degree of difficulty for these more fluke-like events, meaning each of us misses a lot of them unless we're very lucky or very good.
 
Jun 28, 2007
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Machesney Park, IL
That may be true, but if you included conditional setups, then almost no year is a truly terrible year, as there are probably an order of magnitude more conditional setups that don't pan out than there are actual setups for which the potential environment is actually realized. We don't enjoy events as much when they don't reach their potential and hit those conditions you talk about. We have to judge seasons based on what actually happened, not what might have happened.
I agree, I was only pointing out that in a season that’s been a dud for many (myself included) there have already been productive days and some chasers likely have what they’d consider a good year. The other potentially great days still performed to some extent and did provide chase opportunities for anyone willing to take the chance and give the effort. I think this year is similar to the previous three in that there are opportunities but as you pointed out most are marginal and for someone like myself not worth the time, money and effort to pursue. If results determine how to judge a season for chasers like myself it’s largely sucked lately but for chasers on extended trips or for those who chase everything under the sun each year that sucked for me could have been good or even great for them. So how do you grade a year? I think the great years tend to provide great potential for everyone while the remainder can mostly cross the spectrum from poor to great depending on the chaser...meaning that we can more easily identify the great years for chasing in general but perhaps no year is a truly terrible year depending on your perspective.
 
Oct 10, 2004
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Madison, WI
Going back to my teenage years I made it a tradition to listen to the Blue Öyster Cult song "The Last Days of May" every day from May 20-31 each year as a sort of requiem for what was then without a doubt my favorite month. There have been at least a few years over the last 5-6 that I've allowed that tradition to fall by the wayside, now including this one. I doubt I did it in 2018 (didn't believe another May could match that for lack of tornado activity in the Plains/Midwest), and I can't remember if I did it last year. I might not have, since the nearly 3,000 mile round-trip marathon drive to peer into the murk as the about-to-produce supercell crossed US 62 near Duke, OK and then get stuck in the conga line and hopelessly behind as reports of the Mangum tornado poured in left a sour taste in my mouth.
 
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Jeff Duda

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I agree, I was only pointing out that in a season that’s been a dud for many (myself included) there have already been productive days and some chasers likely have what they’d consider a good year. The other potentially great days still performed to some extent and did provide chase opportunities for anyone willing to take the chance and give the effort. I think this year is similar to the previous three in that there are opportunities but as you pointed out most are marginal and for someone like myself not worth the time, money and effort to pursue. If results determine how to judge a season for chasers like myself it’s largely sucked lately but for chasers on extended trips or for those who chase everything under the sun each year that sucked for me could have been good or even great for them. So how do you grade a year? I think the great years tend to provide great potential for everyone while the remainder can mostly cross the spectrum from poor to great depending on the chaser...meaning that we can more easily identify the great years for chasing in general but perhaps no year is a truly terrible year depending on your perspective.
Given the rapid expansion of the chaser community and the advent of the "chase everything" strategy that Brett pointed out in the poll thread on a similar topic, it makes sense that someone out there is bound to have a decent year. Before the past 10 years, people weren't regularly chasing every single event east of the easternmost peaks of the Rockies to the Appalachians and the Gulf to the Canadian border. Chase territory has expanded, both spatially and temporally (there are people who chase in December - February regularly now, too). So the odds of someone stumbling onto something on one of those days that, 10+ years ago, no one even bothered to chase, have increased.

However, I would also argue that the minimum standard of quality has actually decreased for a lot of chasers. I very often see, what to me seems like a marginally photogenic supercell structure or birdfart tornado, presented as "OMFG THIS IS THE MOST INSANE THING i HAVE EVER SEEN!1!!1!" on social media (thus adding in the effect of widespread sharability and one-up-manship that accompanied the proliferation of social media). But this is a new thing; if these factors were present from 2003-2008, so many chasers and chaser groupies would be shitting themselves half to death on the bigger days from those years.

The increase in apparent chase quality since 2010 or so is fictitious IMO - people are making a bigger deal out of less. And for fair comparison to past decades, only chases in the traditional alley during the traditional season should be included.
 
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