2024 Chase Season Epilogue

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As the last gasps of upper flow over the central/southern Plains pass over (with little effect, it appears), I thought it would be good to start this end-of-the-season thread. The northern Plains lives on as always - but for the vast majority of us, our spring chase seasons are over. How was yours and what are your thoughts?

I captured 23 tornadoes this year, 20 of those during Plains expeditions. Both of those totals are career highs by a good amount, beating my previous high in 2016 which yielded 17 (15 in the Plains). Unfortunately, my feeling right now is that the bad overshadows much of the good. The tornadoes I saw this year brought much death, destruction, human suffering and loss. Three of the tornadoes I witnessed were violent killers that wiped out large sections of towns: Minden and Greenfield, Iowa, Barnsdall, Oklahoma. The Waverly, Nebraska tornado destroyed a business right before my eyes, putting dozens of people out of work indefinitely.

As always, there are many things to be thankful for. I recognize that my own damage and injury incidents (on April 16 and May 21) could have been far worse - if not catastrophic - instead of the relatively minor annoyances they turned out to be. And while I suffered several daunting video documentation failures, I did manage some of my most dramatic and compelling tornado footage. Does that counter all of the bad? It feels trite to say it, but of course not. In fact, like 2013 and 2007, the human impact of the tornadoes I saw this spring puts a lot of it among events I would rather just move on from and not even speak of much of moving forward. So despite 2024's stats looking great on paper, it's not going to ever rank among what I consider to be my "good" seasons.

My stats:
  • Plains trips: 5*
  • Total days on the road: 20
  • Plains chase days: 15
  • Plains trip tornadoes: 20*
  • All tornadoes: 23*
    Including:
    • Two (2) EF4s
    • Five (5) EF3s
  • States: 8 (MO, KS, NE, IA, OK, CO, IL, TX)
  • Plains trip miles: 11,885*
  • Most miles in a day: 1,082*
  • Windshields lost: 2* (1 turkey strike, 1 hailstone coming in under the guards while driving)
* Career record high.

A montage of the more notable events:

2024tornadoes.jpg


My Plains season log page has all of my finished photos, videos and accounts:

 
What a year. I was shutout in April. I quit my job the morning of May 1st and went chasing every day I could after that. Now it's time I find a new source of income. The last 45 days have been the best days of my life. I got out 19 days this year, drove 9877 miles and saw tornadoes on 8 of those days for 19 total tornadoes. 11 of them Photogenic. Surprisingly, most of my tornadoes were over open fields, notably the absolute BEAST out by Eldorado on the 23rd of May and the Silverton tornado.

I made 15 spotter network reports this year which is under my average of 19. I notably have not chased in Kansas or Nebraska this year which is kind of odd for me. Will probably remedy that in the next week or two on these subtle days.

Lessons learned:
DCAPE of 1600 means the RFD's will be 100 mph

I say this in jest mostly. More than 1000 DCAPE is usually a no go for me. Can confirm that May 23rd the high values provided the nice 100 mph RFD winds.

The Storm Chaser Summit was absolutely worth the investment to attend
I attended cheaply the summit in Dallas this year. Had a blast and hope to see everyone at the event in KC area next year!

Apparently there are children so attention starved that they're posting people legally passing them on Twitter for attention.
I was floored to find this out and then to go find the tweets.

Reinforcing Suggestions:
Make sure you know how to change a tire and bring an air pump and tire iron with you as well as a jack.

You *WILL* have to change a tire doing this. The better you are at this, the more chance you have of seeing tornadoes on a spare (I did this DDC day, had to change a tire, saw more tornadoes). Also make sure moms altima or corolla has a spare tire in it. Some of the newer cars don't include them anymore. You know, to save the planet

Have good tires with road hazard type insurance
Chasing in a Camry on May 6th in Oklahoma I came upon a really awful road. I was in a very poor position and the road went from nice gravel to minimum maintenance at a mile-line. I didn't have a choice so I went down it and almost lost control multiple times. My excellent tires were the difference. A friend of mine had a 4wheel drive SUV with all terrain tires and was not able to get down the same road about 1-2 minutes later. I cannot stress how important it is to have good tires. Sometimes your backup route out is going to be awful. You don't want to get stuck, so get some treads.

Make sure you are treating your windshield with Rain-X or comparable product
It's going to rain. You know you will be driving in shitty conditions. Please please please treat your windshields and maybe buy wipers annually at least. There is no excuse for going 15 under the speed limit and hitting your brakes every two seconds.

You have to have multiple cell providers to have usable coverage most places.
AT&T and Verizon seem to be the two you need to have. Or Starlink if you're fancy and have income.


My stats:
Storm Chasing Days: 19
Tornado Days: 8
Tornadoes: 19
Photogenic Tornadoes: 11
Busts: 6
Largest Hail: 4.25″
Highest Wind Gust: 100MPH
Miles Driven: 9877
Windshields Replaced: 1
Spotter Network Reports: 15
Best Chase Day: May 23
States: OK, TX, IA, MO, NM


20240408-Diamond_Ring.jpg20240511-Northern_Lights_over_Panorama_Point.jpg20240519-Storm_near_183_in_Custer_City.jpg20240521-IMG_2676.jpg20240523-El_Dorado_Oklahoma_Tornado.jpg20240523-Tornado_near_Olustee_Oklahoma.jpg20240530-Muleshoe_Shelf_Cloud.jpg20240602-Cone_Tornado_near_Silverton.jpg20240602-Roping_Out.jpg20240602-Silverton_Tornado.jpg

And just an aside, the Geomagnetic storm of May 10 & 11 and the cooperative weather was a major highlight. I finally forced myself to take a few days up in Rapid City to check that area out. A highlight of my life
 
I don't have any fancy stats or anything, but all I can say is thank god for 4/26, otherwise this may have been the most frustrating chase year I've had in quite some time. 4/26 was a career day with several tornadoes and good pictures/video, but I haven't seen shit since then. I think I've chased more this year than I have in quite a while, with a whole lot of miles driven and not much to show for it. For an incredibly active year, that's obviously frustrating. Though much of the activity this year was in western TX or OK which I just can't reasonably chase.

Four moderate or high-risks busts in northern OK and southern KS, a shelf cloud in central KS on a decent looking day that turned out pretty meh, missing the tornadoes in northeast KS on 4/30 because I had to fly out of Omaha the next morning at 6 a.m., stopped chasing the cold front IA storms on 5/21 to go play golf and turned around 15 minutes before and 8 miles from the first tornado (totally my fault on that one lol), missed the awesome Nebraska structure on 6/7 as I was in SD fishing with my dad, didn't get any great pictures of the sick supercell over Omaha on 6/12 thanks to the city getting in the way, and was on the southern target in NE today (6/15) while the north target went nuts.

Not great!
 
Very subpar year for me. Mostly because since moving to the Southwest I mainly chase the Panhandles, western KS, and the plains of southeast CO and northeast NM, which have been relatively inactive this year. The map below with storm reports through June 9 and my main chase territory outlined tells a big part of the reasons why this year has been subpar for me.

severe weather reports through June 9.jpg

That said, reluctance to do very long drives except for slam-dunk setups is also part of the reason. That is not an entirely new thing for me, but at 74 years old, my tolerance for those drives is not what it used to be. I was on a chase trip from April 24th through 27th, but blew off the 26th because I did not want to drive from Oakley, KS to somewhere around Omaha and then back to central or western KS or OK again the next day. So instead of seeing the tornadoes in eastern NE and western IA on the 26th, I had a leisurely down day and did discover an interesting place in KS that I did not know about, the Monument Rocks. The 26th on paper did not look to be obviously better than the day before or the day after (probably less so than the 27th, actually), but turned out to be. However, given how tired I was when I got home after 2500 miles of driving, I don't think I really regret sitting out the 26th even as it turned out. The one and only tornado I (probably) saw so far this season was the Calumet, OK tornado on April 27, but thanks to having been caught in a massive chaser jam south of Hinton, I was in a high-speed chaser parade on I-40 at the time of the tornado, trying to catch up while getting glances of the storm through trees and hills. So no tornado pictures at all. I generally avoid chasing within 50 miles of OKC, but got suckered into that area that day because it was my only real chance to see a daytime tornado. The result was pretty predictable, massive chaser backup.

Really, my best chases this season have been on marginal to slight-risk days with little chances of tornadoes in NM and southeast CO, where at least I got some pretty storms as you usually do in those areas. Although the peak of the season is over, I have seen tornadoes in July, August, and September in years past, so I am not giving up on 2024 just yet. But for me, for the aforementioned reasons, it has definitely been a subpar year so far.
 
I have been back home since June 5, and just finally got the last of my chase reports done yesterday, so now it's time for my recap...

I have mixed feelings about this season. It was generally active, but disproportionately in the early portion of the season (late April / early May). It's not unusual for the bigger outbreaks to be in the early season, but those are usually one and done. They seemed a little more frequent this year, and there was that April 25-27 sequence and also May 6, despite three of those days under-performing (and one substantially over-performing). There were a number of consecutive tornado days in early May as well.

From a personal standpoint, I was excited about the ability to work remotely and stay on the Plains potentially for a whole month, from mid-May to mid-June, bookended by family obligations for Mother's Day and Father's Day. But my first available week beginning May 13 was inactive, so I sliced that week off the front end. At that point it made the most sense to wait for my son to be free to fly out on Sunday, May 19. If I only had my own schedule to worry about, I would have flown out on Saturday the 18th to set up for Sunday. Flying out on Sunday limited our chase range and options for that day - it's never easy to fly from Philadelphia and chase on the same day. My son had to get back on June 5, and it was an easy decision to come home with him, given how the forecast looked for the next 7+ days. I think the only thing I really missed between then, and my latest possible return date of June 15, was the Nebraska structure show on June 7. So, for the second consecutive year that I have had the remote work option, there was no reason to stay much more than my usual two weeks anyway. But at least it gave me a little more flexibility as to which two weeks were best to chase, instead of throwing a dart at a dartboard like in previous years.

The idea of combining remote work with chasing was to take the 10 PTO days I would normally use in a two-week chase vacation, and spread them over a month. The theory was to chase the better days, and pass on the more marginal ones. But this turned out to be much harder to do in practice. The stretch from May 19 through June 2 was fairly active, and I ended up chasing just as often as on any active two-week chase trip, regardless of how good the setup was. I didn't deliberately pass on anything, other than Iowa on May 21 (but that was for other reasons) and I think maybe one other day that didn't seem worth the drive. In practice, it's very hard to pass on a potential chase day when you don't know how many opportunities you are going to have before the season shuts down. Also, I knew my son didn't have the ability to stay out as long as I did, so I didn't want him to miss anything just so I could conserve PTO to use myself later.

As part of the effort to conserve PTO, I tried to just take half-days off. The theory was that I would work in the morning and take off in the afternoon. Here, again, theory failed in practice. While the morning was supposed to be about work, I of course still had to fit in forecasting time. That took a couple of hours away from work. The impact was more than just the time on the clock. I would start work at 7am, and then do the bulk of my forecasting starting at around 9. So it bifurcated the morning. Instead of having a good, long contiguous block of work focus time, it was bifurcated into smaller blocks on either side of forecasting. If I knew morning convection was a factor in the day's forecast, I would look at that first thing in the morning, to figure out if we might have a longer drive than anticipated - delaying me from starting work. It was generally distracting to switch mental modes from work to weather and back again, sometimes multiple times. And sometimes the opposite happened - work distracted me from the weather, as it did on May 28, when I had my target area already, went back to work, and failed to realize the MDs coming out, or how early a tornado watch was issued, or that storms were already popping before hitting the road at 2pm as originally planned. Even on down days, I would lose work time forecasting for the next day, and would sometimes still lose the afternoon for repositioning drives. Having to check out of the hotel made it more difficult to spend a full day working, unless we were staying there again that night, which only happened once or twice. I'm not sure if there is a better way to handle this next year; I'm thinking of starting a separate thread on this topic to share ideas and strategies.

One thing I am going to do differently next year is avoid professional and personal commitments, to the extent possible, in late April and early May. I would have liked to work remotely in the Plains beginning earlier in the season, and then fly home for family events like Mother's Day. Or, fly out just for individual synoptically-evident events, before basing myself in the Plains for my “core” trip. But I wasn't in a position to pull the trigger on any of those early setups this year, due to other commitments and priorities. In the past, when I only had two weeks to chase, I always prioritized the second half of May, which generally features more chase days, albeit mainly mesoscale setups. But it's always been the case that the bigger synoptic setups and outbreaks occur earlier in the season. I don't think it would ever make sense to try timing a two-week chase vacation for that early part of the season, but if I have the flexibility to get out and back, and/or work remotely while staying on the Plains longer, I need to optimize that next year. I think this year I was just stuck in the mindset of focusing on the second half of May, because for 25 years that was really my only reasonable option for scheduling two-week chase vacations.

As far as actual chase results, I get as frustrated as anyone when I make a bad forecast, or when a good setup craps out like on May 25. But even the professionals get it wrong sometimes. I don't even mind making bad decisions that are only bad in hindsight and were perfectly logical at the time; I can even allow myself to put bailing on Iowa on May 21 in this category. However, what fills me with awful regret and profound disappointment that takes weeks or months to shake off is making bad decisions that I don't even have good explanations for - such as stopping at McDonalds and for gas while trying to reach a tornadic supercell on I-70 all the day from KC after landing there on May 19; ignoring the developing storms in southwest OK on May 23 and continuing on to southwest KS; and heading east toward Midkiff instead of south on 349 for the Midland storm on May 30. These are actions that have little or no reasonable defense, and I simply wish I could take them back and have a do-over.

But like I said, mixed feelings: I feel pretty good about the trip, even if I maybe don't deserve to... More of the early-season events over-performed than under-performed, so I didn't miss much there (except April 26). We got a generally active stretch for the second half of May. Although there was no reason to take advantage of the nearly four weeks I had available, it was probably the first time I ever was able to stretch my trip longer than two weeks (albeit only by three or four days). I genuinely enjoyed the May 30 Midland chase and the structure show, despite missing the tornados. And we capped it all off with a successful chase in Silverton on June 2, which was my son's first photogenic tornado. There were plenty of other enjoyable chase experiences as well.

Here's a quick rundown of each day of my trip, from May 19 through June 4:


5/19 - landed in KC, only the northern KS target was in-range, got the I-70 supercell but reached it just after the tornado and when it had gone HP

5/20 - saw a couple of tornado-warned supercells near Akron CO, but all HP

5/21 - bailed on Iowa day due to distance, fast-storm motions, and expectation of rapid upscale growth into a line; I kind of regret this one, but not as much as maybe I should… But that could just be because it was overshadowed by worse mistakes later…

5/22 - briefly-exciting chase of a tornado-warned HP. It had initiated fairly early (before 1pm) further west near the triple point, but by the time we got to it, it was in Coleman. Missed the storm that initiated back west on the dryline a bit later, which produced tornados after ingesting the OFB from the storm we were on...

5/23 - one of the biggest failures, targeting southwest KS and ignoring the opportunity to backtrack to southwest OK. This was Eldorado day while I busted needlessly under a blue sky

5/24 - down day

5/25 - we all know what happened this day... Despite the OK potential being wiped out by outflow, personally I think my bigger failure was not getting to my target area earlier. I had been favoring northwest TX. (Vernon/Seymour) but by the time I got to Altus a line of storms had already formed and I was caught behind the action to its northwest. Later storms in northwest OK were moving so fast I just couldn't catch up.

5/26 - down day

5/27 - mainly a repositioning day to Midland, but deviated to Mineral Wells for potential severe. Bailed and continued on to Midland when the only storms (IIRC) were on the longitude of DFW (can't remember if they were north or south of DFW).

5/28 - fun chase of a weak LP near Odonnell TX and then a few hours on a supercell from north of Brownfield to Tahoka.

5/29 - down day, repositioned to Amarillo (which would turn out to be a waste, see 5/30)

5/30 - all the way back down to Denver City TX to play the OFB, then adjusted further down to Midland. Missed the tornados (won't rehash all that here, see Reports thread) but enjoyed the awesome structure, best I've seen in a few years.

5/31 - down day

6/1 - enjoyable chase in Fort Stockton, finally ridding myself of my aversion to the area

6/2 - Silverton TX tornado day!

6/3 - another blue sky cap bust, this one in southwest OK / northwest TX, but at least no forecast-related errors or regrets

6/4 - close to another cap bust, in west-central OK, until late (~8pm) initiation grew instantly upscale into a linear MCS

Total mileage: 5,619
 
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After Saturday in Iowa, I think I must have set some sort of seasonal record (certainly a personal one, at least) for time spent chasing tornado-warned storms without actually seeing a tornado (apart from a distant glimpse of the first Afton, IA area EF2 on April 26, and another brief glimpse as it was roping out). :rolleyes:

I need to find a way to objectively measure "time spent inside a tornado warning polygon" and add that to my chase stats, because this was the theme of my season as well. I feel like we deserve some credit for that even when the skies don't want to cooperate 😜
 
STORM CHASE SEASON 2024
March 24 - June 27

436221092_995305558637432_6764747511322068007_n.jpg


TOTAL LOGS: 33
TOTAL MILES: 19,643
CAREER CHASE MILES: 500,455
STATES CHASED: 10 (CO, WY, NE, KS, OK, IA, MO, IL, MN, SD)
TOTAL TORNADOES: 18
TORNADO DAYS: 7
MOST TORNADOES IN ONE DAY: 8 (April 26)
AVG. MILES/CHASE: 595
CHASES OF 1K MILES: 3
WINDSHIELDS BROKEN/REPLACED: 2/1

LARGEST HAIL DOCUMENTED: 4.5" (May 1)

GENERAL OVERVIEW OF 2024
I won't ramble on too much about my overall thoughts on the season as I went pretty in-depth about my headspace in another thread. I've come to terms with it thanks to letting those thoughts air out through various outlets. This not only let me come to terms with where my head was this season and accept it for what it was, but it let me kinda move through the fog and appreciate the good that this season offered me. I think what I got out of it most was how appreciated and valued I am at my network. It's hard to say that I have felt as valued at previous jobs as I do here, and through my mental struggles this season, I learned just how appreciated I am, and how much I am valued at my company. That really turned the tide for me, albeit a bit later into the season, but it was a nice outcome among all the turmoil I was burying myself in. I'm not use to it; this business is brutal, and I came out of a gig in Kansas where I gave up a lot for that job and barely got a 'atta boy' for it. I was taken advantage of, pushed beyond my limits, and in the end, tossed aside. Common in the media world, so not meant to be a sob story, but that kinda how it went down. Here though, a vastly different story. And that's the good outcome of my mental struggles this year was seeing how much the people at my network cared. I'm hopeful that next season I'll ride that more and enjoy the entire season similarly to how I enjoyed my last few chases this year.


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DAY THAT 'MAKES A SEASON' - APRIL 26 (NE/IA Outbreak)
Without question, this was the top chase of the season for me... I'm a "one chase makes a season" kinda guy, and this would be it for 2024 to this point. Ranks in the top 10 for most tornadoes I've seen in one day (8), and certainly a top 5 for intensity as our early tornadoes in Nebraska were strong, close-range intercepts. Nothing terribly wall-worthy in terms of photogenic tornadoes, though. Our best was the back-half of the Defiance wedge, and when we got a view (prestine view from the north, might I add), it was never fully condensed. An awesome sight none-the-less, but that was certainly my most "wall-worthy" tornado in a season that featured many many better opportunities, none of which I was there for. Still, this chase was a pretty incredible one, despite missing the tornado of the day near Lincoln as we were respositioning across the river after a handful of early Nebraska tornadoes. This day also marked a career highlight for me as we went wall-to-wall on the network with the Defiance tornado for nearly 30-minutes straight. Easily the longest I have been live with a tornado at one time, and it made for some incredible TV.

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IOWA WAS MY STATE OF THE YEAR
If you've followed my career for a while, you know that up until recently, Iowa (or Lieowa) was my biggest curse. I couldn't beg, borrow, or steal a tornado in that state. From 2003 (first year chasing Iowa) to 2021, I had a total of TWO, that's right, TWO tornadoes to my name in that state. And combined, they barely added up to a birdfart. I don't actually have conclusive imagery of either tornado (both were verifed by other sources). It wasn't til 2021 where I had my first conclusive look an Iowa tornado, then the dominos finally started falling over the next few seasons. The curse was stomped into submission with the Ottumwa intercept in March 2023. This year, I added NINE tornadoes to the Iowa count, thanks to the April 26 and May 21 days. This moved Iowa into FIFTH freakin' place on states with most tornadoes, a place it'll likely never move up from as the 19 I have seen in Iowa now (17 in last four seasons) is well behind Nebraska/Oklahoma's 42-count. Still, for a state I couldn't conquer for 20 years, it's crazy to me to think that I'm having such great success now. Not sure what happened, but alas, it gets the crown from me for my state of the year in 2024.

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HAILUVA SEASON
I went back to my roots this year and really got some incredible hail days. As hard as it is to believe, I've actually not smashed out many windshields in my career as a whole. Not a lie, either. This year, I took out two (still driving with the current one as the damage is on the top). There are several notable hail events, starting with the May 1 supercell in Kansas that yielded the biggest hail I've seen in years. And technically, I saw those stones falling, albeit only one at a time and very sparce. But the biggest one I found in the grass measured 4.5". I was going to do my usual core sample on the slow moving supercell when one of those gnarly stones exploded on the road in front of me. I have my limits on how big a hail I will drive into, and when you approach softball size, it goes THROUGH the windshield, and I won't play that game. So I pulled off immediately as I saw about 10 or so stones that size come down over a couple minutes mixed within more golfball-ish sized stones. Was a super cool moment to hold a stone that big in my hands, and I believe it was the biggest reported size that day. The crown jewel, though is much MUCH closer to home on May 29 when I got obliterated in one of the biggest hailstorms to impact the Denver-area in the last few years. I got into hail of golfball size, but up to baseball was reported with the storm. But it wasn't the size, it was the amount; up to a foot deep. Just absolute insanity how much hail came out of that thing. I had to take cover parking under a couple pine trees, otherwise I would've lost all my glass. Amazingly, only a small crack on the top of my windshield as the pine trees did a solid job. I documented the aftermath of damage and accumulation for nearly two hours, and there was so much hail that the ice hung on well into the next afternoon. A third, honorable mention goes to the Chugwater storm on June 20 where the hail came down so hard and fast that it buried my wipers in accumulation and I had to ride out the entire thing along the size of I-25 cause I couldn't clear my view until I could physically remove the hail after it stopped falling. It held me up long enough where I missed the good view of the landspout further down the line (although I did see it from way west).

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LIGHTNING UP THE SKIES
Shooting lightning is my second favorite part of storm chasing, and it was the main thing I did in my very very early years ('97-'02) as it was the easiest part of chasing cause I could literally do it anywhere. This year, while not overly active for lightning photography, I had one of my best nights in recent years on what was a busted daytime chase that yielded a cluster of sub-severe storms near Lincoln on April 15. I had dozens upon dozens of frames with great CG shots in them as I spent well over an hour shooting. It was probably my favorite night of year, and I have several frames which I would put on the wall. I scattered a few other good shots when the opportunities presented themselves, but the Lincoln night for sure was the best night of lightning shooting I have had in a couple years. And I wish like hell on June 10 I had my Nikon on me for that incredible sunset storm. I managed a lot of acceptable video stills off my phone as that's all I had on me coming back from the gym, but had I had a real camera, OMG haha

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BIGGEST BUST OF THE YEAR
May 23 in Oklahoma was the biggest bust of the year for me. And it really put the final straw on my little breakdown. I woke up in Salina and drove up to Concordia that morning where I had breakfast and a look deep look at the models. My target when I left Salina was going to be southwest Nebraska, but as the morning went on, I thought southwest Oklahoma looked like the bigger play. I needed a win, and I needed a big win, and I talked myself into southwest Oklahoma cause that looked like a sleeper big event. And it was... I made it out there in plenty of time, knowing that I had a good window if I left Concordia when I did. As I was westbound on I-40, my plan was to dive south out of Sayre to get in front of the southern of two supercells coming out of the TX Panhandle. I was pretty much ignoring the I-40 cell, even as I was driving at it, cause I wanted the southwest OK cell. But literally the minute I got off the interstate heading down the ramp to head south out of Sayre, the I-40 storm picked up a tornado-warning despite looking like garbage on radar. But I had a 15-minute window to get south around the core of the southern storm, so I quick peek wasn't going to kill me. Well, I drove 5 minutes west to arrive at the hardest spinning wall cloud I have ever seen (okay, not quite that crazy, but one could argue a portal was going to open out of that thing). Well I couldn't leave it; I mean it was moments away from planting my tornado of the year right in front of me. Well, this thing churned away for nearly an hour before that wall cloud literally spun itself off the updraft and the storm died, just in time for me to miss the target storm down south that went on to produce one of the best shows of 2024. I was hilariously trolled, and felt pretty crushed. And to add insult to injury, my original target in southwest Nebraska also panned out beautifully. It was a bad day.

HALF-A-MILLION CAREER CHASING MILES
On June 21, just a few miles from my home, I hit a career milestone driving my 500,000th career chasing mile, crossing that mark on the west side of Johnstown, Colorado at mile marker 10 on route 60. When I started keeping stats in 2002, I had set this as my career goal, thinking that it would take my entire career to hit that mark. I thought I was being generous, but that young in my career, I had NO idea the miles I would actually drive in a given season. While I probably don't have another half-a-million in me (I'd project myself to be about 65 years old by then), I can see myself hitting three-quarters. After driving 40K in 2023, I knew I was within reach this year and I was super excited that one of my longest-standing goals in chasing was going to happen. While it wasn't in the midst of a big chase, I am happy that moment occurred here in Colorado and I was able to document that moment.


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AURORAS AND ECLIPSE
I think when time passes, this will be what I remember 2024 for more than any storm chase I had. The total solar eclipse was the second place of the two. Having experienced the first one in 2017, I was more prepared for this, not only technically and how I was going to capture it, but emotionally. This time, I had the honor of being on air for it and sharing that experience with our viewers as it was happening. The most meaningful part for me was being able to experience it again in southern Illinois where I was for the 2017, so being able to say I was in the crossroads for both was super cool. But I can't lie, the eclipse was dwarfed by the aurora show on May 10. We had driven back home from Topeka that afternoon and after I dropped off Ed, my chase partner, I opted to haul another five hours north on a whim to take a chance on the Auroras coming through and it was EASILY the best decision I've made all year. A friend of mine and I spent hours as the auroras filled the skies around us, from directly overhead to every direction along the horizon. It was truly one of the most incredible and spiritual experiences of my life and it was made even better because I decided to do it on a whim, despite being tired and rundown from the frustrating season I had been having. Knowing what I experienced, it would've been one of my biggest regrets in life not making that drive. Easily the high point of 2024.

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So there you have it, my 2024 season in a nutshell... on paper, it was a solid season. But it was a grind, and just about every day I was out I would do over if I could and I would definitely be out on other days I missed. It'll be a forgettable season in the grand scheme of things for me as I just never got out of my own way enough to appreciate what I did see. But I learned a bit about myself and hopefully that'll let me move forward into this new, elder stage of my career with more appreciation and less anguish. Fortunately the celestial events of the season will overshadow the chasing season as a whole for me, so while the chasing part will be forgettable, those events will never be. We'll see what the rest of the year holds, and perhaps a August event in Colorado or a good fall setup will put it stamp on the chasing season. And of course, hurricanes... yaaay... fortunately I was on vacation as far away from Beryl or whatever it was :D See you on the road!
 
Great write-up @Tony Laubach . Don’t give up on that next half million mile goal - so what if you’ll be 65, you should be chasing way past that! I sure hope I will be, God willing.. I empathize with the feeling of wishing you had better appreciated what you saw in 2024, but it’s not too late - they are still your memories, and you get to choose to reframe how you reflect on them.

One way you can reframe May 23 is to realize it could have been worse - you could have been me, near Dodge City under blue skies, later sitting in a restaurant with my head in my hands after seeing Eldorado on a livestream on my iPad…
 
One way you can reframe May 23 is to realize it could have been worse - you could have been me, near Dodge City under blue skies, later sitting in a restaurant with my head in my hands after seeing Eldorado on a livestream on my iPad…
I literally would've taken being in DDC sitting in a restaurant over being an hour away getting trolled in EVERY universe haha
 
Being in Indiana now, my days of regularly chasing the plains are largely a thing of the past, at least until I can get to a point where I have 4-5 weeks of vacation to work with (of my two weeks that I currently get, 1 gets mostly eaten up during harvest; the other during shutdown between Christmas and New Year's if I want to get paid for that week). The other limitation of course being that I need at least a week's heads up to be able to take off work, and we seldomly get that kind of lead time in this hobby.

That said, this was another spring where I made the most of limited opportunities. Unfortunately, I missed out on 3/14 due to other commitments, but 5/7 was a solid day for me that took the sting off of missing the former. Had three tornadoes that day, in three different states (MI and OH were new to my list; I got one in Indiana last year), including one that was very photogenic. Not quite 5/17/19 Forgan photogenic, but I don't think I'll ever top Forgan. I'm still hopeful that there will be some more local opportunities as the summer progresses and as we get into the fall, but if this is all I got, something is definitely better than nothing, and I find myself content with what I did get.
 
MY PERSONAL SEASON

Tornadoes:
13 on 9 days
Quality tornadoes: 6 on 4 days (4/26, 5/2, 5/23, 6/15)

I think the disparity between the two lines above is the largest of my 19-year career, and somehow that perfectly reflects my subjective experience of spring 2024: a reasonably good season, no doubt, but a legendary one felt so close I could taste it on so many different occasions.

My best day in terms of photos and video was definitely the Anson-Hawley storm on May 2. Of the countless tornadic storms I chased this spring, that was the only one I truly executed well on. My storm-scale positioning and decisions have always been the weakest aspect of my chasing; apparently it requires a photogenic, largely dry storm meandering south at 10 mph on good FM roads like Hawley for me to execute well enough that I'm not full of regrets.

I also got a pretty decent show with the Clarkson, NE, storm in June, even if chasers who risked mud roads got a better show. Meanwhile, April 26 in NE/IA and May 23 in SW OK were days that I had decent views of amazing tornadoes, but better decisions in the moment could've made a world of difference.

There are so many things I could complain about, and probably would have done so publicly had I not stopped actively participating on social media mid-season. But the fact that I had quality tornado days in each of April, May, and June is a benchmark that I've always felt speaks volumes about whether a season was broadly active and enjoyable. Given that this was only my fourth season hitting that benchmark (2010, 2015, 2021, 2024), I probably should try to focus on the positive here.

I have to say that high-end supercell structure was rather tough to come by this season. The two storms that come to mind were May 19 in W OK and May 30 near Midland, both of which were impressive but also tended toward HP. As a stills-first chaser in terms of media capture, nearly all my memorable images from this season were of tornadoes or what I'd call low-level mesocyclone/tornado cyclone structure, rather than broad updraft structure.

On the other hand, having both the eclipse (4/8) and generational aurora borealis show (5/10) interspersed between chasing opportunities made this a uniquely strong spring overall for observation and photography of the skies. Much as with my decision-making on storms, I have some regrets about how I approached positioning for and photographing both of those solar events, but I'm at least glad to have witnessed them firsthand.

THOUGHTS ON THE SEASON OVERALL

  • With the ENSO profile featuring a strong El Nino peaking in the cold season and trailing off into the spring, I was cautiously optimistic about spring 2024 from at least a year in advance. Sure enough, it delivered what no one can really dispute was an active, productive season with numerous tornado days in the central US, including some big ones. It just managed to do so in a way that led to various moments of great disappointment. I suppose the old cliche about happiness being the difference between expectation and reality helps sum up why 2024 falls a bit of short of an all-time great spring, in my view.

  • Geographically, it was great to see areas west of the Mississippi come in strong for the second year in a row. On the other hand, it's hard to ignore that the most prolific tornado activity was so concentrated at the southern and eastern fringes of the Plains chase alley -- and this was doubly true if you focus on setups that were "forecastable." The true heart of chase country from the TX Panhandle north-northeastward across W/C KS and NE into SD had an average year at best, and perhaps not even that. That's disappointing for a season following a strong Nino.

  • In terms of the temporal pacing of the season, it's very hard to knock anything about 2024, other than the June slowdown that's seemingly become entrenched in our modern climate. From the photogenic, dry tornadoes all the way out near Abilene during ChaserCon to Alta Vista in March to multiple huge days in April and May, there were very few sustained breaks in chase-worthy setups.

  • I feel pretty strongly that 2023-24 has been the best two-year period on the Plains since at least 2010-11. I suppose the only reasonable competition would be 2015-16. The past couple years both had active patterns and great temporal pacing of setups, and 2023 also had good geographical coverage (at least outside the northern Plains). It's been almost impossible to get even one isolated year like that for the past decade-plus, let alone two in a row.

  • The number of very impressive troughs that were largely wasted over OK/KS from late March to late May was... absolutely staggering. I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of hypothetical "wasted trough index" could've hit its highest value in 30 or 40 years this spring. It's interesting to me how quick some chasers are to overlook or even forget this just because there were a lot of impressive tornadoes on subtler days. From the Hammon, OK, funnel 2/3 of the way down in 50 dews on March 24 to the excruciating left split vomitfest on May 25, it was like clockwork that every 10-14 days would bring a new trough ejection that could've been the best for OK/KS in years on its own... and then something would go horribly wrong. Of these 6-7 trough ejections, just 1-2 of them getting reasonably close to their ceiling during daylight could've put this spring in the conversation of all-time best, IMO. For chasers based in areas like DFW/OKC/ICT, especially those limited to occasional chasing, this was a rather large black mark on 2024.

  • Ultimately, because of the bust/waste factor and geographic distribution of activity, I put 2024 firmly in the tier below the likes of 1991, 2004, and 2010. It was certainly possible to have the season of a lifetime this spring, especially if you lived near Iowa and/or chased almost everything. But those all-time great Plains years I just mentioned offered both the potential season of a lifetime for the "never stop chasing" crowd *AND* multiple obvious days that turned out amazingly in the heart of the Plains for more selective chasers. Plus, I don't recall any soul-crushing busts in 2010, nor were there reports of such in 2004 or 1991.

  • But, falling short of 1991 and 2004 is hardly an indictment of a Plains spring, especially these days. Like last year, I'd put 2024 up there alongside seasons like 2007, 2008, and 2015 as really good if slightly flawed. And whatever its faults, there will probably be numerous seasons in the future where we'll be pining for one like this!
 
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