Chasing in hilly areas???

Joined
Mar 10, 2005
Messages
27
Location
Cincinnati, Ohio
I am a beginning storm chaser who just happens to live in a somewhat hilly area. I live along the OH KY border and basically the topography is flat to the north of me, and hilly to the south. Here you cannot see storms until they are almost on top of you and the roads do not follow a straight line or grid pattern as many do out on the plains. This obviously is a safety issue, but I guess for some of us it would add to the thrill of the chase. Do any of the veteran chasers here have any ideas on what they would do if they found themselves operating in hillier, more densely forested areas??? Thanks for your tips.
 
I live in East Texas, which is somewhat hilly in spots, but densely forested. Sometimes if the storms are moving so quickly that chasing effectively becomes impossible, I will position myself ahead of the storm under a strudy cover (car wash, etc) to at least experience the weather that comes with it. It's not the safest thing to do, but if it's been a long time since I've chased, I can't help it.
 
Many "veteran" chasers absolutely refuse to chase anything but the plains. There are a few non-vet's though that will chase anywhere there's a storm. To me, it doesn't really matter - It's not about getting the tornado 100% of the time. I usually enjoy the storm structure, the scenery, gust fronts, etc., but of course, a tornado is wonderful, and the ultimate prize. I myself chase in MI/IN/OH and sometimes IL. I really can't afford to go much farther than that, but those states still have quite a bit to offer, if you're in the right place at the right time. Obviously if I had the money, I would hit the plains in early spring, and make my way back home through the summer... Then hit hurricane season in the late summer/fall...

Given that, I am not sure just how hilly your area is, but southern MI/IN/OH and IL aren't really all that bad...
 
Brian,

I live south of you and can attest to the hilly and forested landscape you describe. I am in the foothills of the Appalachians, so chasing here is almost out of the question since you can't see any distance for the terrain and due to the roads being made as if a snake's path was followed during construction. If I head west of I-75, things start to improve a bit. But in my immediate area, chasing is a no go. If I want to see storms here, I don't chase, I intercept. With good data (a smart nowcaster....or WxWorx, whatever you have), you can try to get to a safe point in relation to an approaching storm in which to observe it's passing. In the process, you hope you see something cool as it comes by. If you have time to reposition somewhere else, then great. But the speed of the storms, the poor roads and the terrain often mean it would be impossible to actually try to follow a storm or get too close to it's path. It's just too dangerous.

But all is not lost. Much of western Ohio, the northern half of Indiana and much of Illinois is flat and has fewer trees. If you want to chase without driving 800 miles to get to a target, I'd look at venturing into these areas when the opportunity presents itself. And as far as your local area around Cincy, I'd stick to more static "observing" by positioning yourself S of approaching storms at a safe distance but where you have a good view. That's about the best we can hope for in hilly areas. It's like spotting, except you also have a cam. Hehe. But remember lightning and stay inside your vehicle. The advantage elevated positions provide in visibility also put you at greater risk for those lightning bolts that come crashing down.

-George
 
Partial to plains here ... like Morgan said, I can't help it. Once you've chased in Nebraska or Kansas there is no going back. I live on the state line between Kansas and Missouri, so heading to the plains is a quick trip for me ... but the thing is, we also see TONS of stuff these days over NW Missouri ... most chasers won't touch Missouri with a ten foot pole, and I can't blame them. The hills are literally like roller coasters (and seem to be a lot more efficient than coasters to make you carsick), and there are more trees and wildlife and farm equipment. But like you, I STILL WANT TO SEE THE STORMS. So I go anyway when the weather is to the east. I end up just cursing the terrain, praying for a clear spot on top of a hill with a good view, and going from there.

My only suggestion - if you chase in hills/trees - PLEASE have good access to information - whether it be onboard internet with radar, or a terrific nowcaster who can put you in the right spot. My brother chases occasionally on the Piedmont in NC, and I cringe everytime he does it (and give him a big speech about being safe), then do my best to nowcast for him with his safety in mind. I can't blame him for chasing out there, though - last summer I was in Greensboro when a beautiful supercell came through! - Had a wall cloud for a bit, and then morphed into a gorgeous gust front as we watched - it was really electrical and dramatic - I had to say that it was a blast to see.
 
I live about a 120 miles north of Cincy and have chased in both the midwest and the plains area's. I have chased a couple of times in Missouri which is very hilly especially south of I-70 in the Ozark region with absolutely no luck and basically a waste of time- same for NW Mo.
S.E. Mo / S. Ill is a little bit better and seems to be a minor hot spot for tornadic mid west storms. I've chase several times in In/Oh/Ill area with better luck at catching storms but no tornado's except the Van Wert tornado just 15 miles from me but that was a case where I knew it was coming and was able to see it at least from far off. Central Illinois seems
to be a good area from I-70 north up to Davenport/Peoria/Bloomington and thereabouts. The land is very flat and open prarie like similar to eastern Kansas and they seem to get more watches and warnings then here in Ohio. Indiana gets a fair number of tornado's especially in the central section and northward but is like northern Ohio - too much woods and vegitation.
By far the BEST area to chase is the PLAINS - northern Texas up to Nebraska to Iowa. My own preferance is Kansas, Tx/Ok panhandle north up to eastern Neb to northern Iowa. They're easier to predict than midwest storms and generally great for viewing and I've had the best chasing experiences there. Won't be going this year because of unemployment and $$ concerns sad to say.
Jon Miller
 
I am a beginning storm chaser who just happens to live in a somewhat hilly area. I live along the OH KY border and basically the topography is flat to the north of me, and hilly to the south. Here you cannot see storms until they are almost on top of you and the roads do not follow a straight line or grid pattern as many do out on the plains.

Hey! You and I are practically neighbors..actually we might be neighbors.

I have a page discussing exactly what you bring up:

http://www.allisonhouse.com/chasing/
 
I can't stand to chase in hilly terrain. Here in the TX panhandle it is about as good as it gets and I guess I may be a bit spoiled because of the pancake flat terrain we have here. I will not chase anywhere east of I-35 because for the most part the terrain just sucks.
 
Originally posted by Jason Boggs
I can't stand to chase in hilly terrain.

Yeah..it sucks..but when you get dealt those cards you either take your toys and go home or you stick it out and see what you can get.

Only time will tell if the right choice was to take the toys and go home :)
 
Yeah, I would certainly base myself in KS if I could, that way you have quick access to just about everything... But, being here in MI... That's just not possible. Quick access to anything means driving thousands of miles just to get to the "target" (if it's TX). Given the price of gas, being unemployed, etc., that's just not possible for me. Like Tyler, I take what I can get, even if it is crappy terrain or a boring bow echo...
 
Well I guess I have alot of exp. in hill chaseing. We chase in wv,va,e. ky. We have spent days searching out spots to set up. static spotting is no where near as much fun as flat land chaseing. And as everyone has pointed out a very good grasp of what is going on around you is very nessary. If you do chase in hilly areas be very careful . don't want to come home with this look on your face... :shock:
 
When chasing in hilly areas I try to find to the highest vantagepoint possible if I can - and hope others haven't found it first. I don't think this would be as much of a problem though the further east you get from Tornado Alley.

The Plains aren't as flat as a lot of people who live elsewhere might think - it's more of a gently rolling terrain...generally not much of a problem, but there are a few areas you won't get a good view of storms unless you have a vantagepoint slightly higher than surrounding terrain. The Glass Mountains near Woodward, the Wichita Mountains near Lawton, and the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas are three areas where I've run into terrain problems while chasing.
 
Originally posted by Morgan Palmer
I live in East Texas, which is somewhat hilly in spots, but densely forested. Sometimes if the storms are moving so quickly that chasing effectively becomes impossible, I will position myself ahead of the storm under a strudy cover (car wash, etc) to at least experience the weather that comes with it. It's not the safest thing to do, but if it's been a long time since I've chased, I can't help it.

I do a similar thing. I live in central IL which is as flat as any other place in America...but I frequently vacation a summer house in Wisconsin...which is home to some great storms over the months of June-August...but is covered with trees and hills. So generally, I'll find the flattest clear spot possible...and pull off, and basically just spot from there. That way, you can see around you, giving yourself plenty of reaction time should something dangerous arise...and can also get a decent show. It sure beats driving around blind, and risking something sneaking up on you.
 
Originally posted by Jeff Wear

The Plains aren't as flat as a lot of people who live elsewhere might think - it's more of a gently rolling terrain...generally not much of a problem, but there are a few areas you won't get a good view of storms unless you have a vantagepoint slightly higher than surrounding terrain.

Except up on the caprock in west Texas, flat flat flat with only an occassional tree. I would love to chase out here again someday if the storms ever come back home.
 
Hilly? LOL You could say that. I live on the southwest edge of the Tonto National Forest, 3 million acres of ridges, v-canyons and desert that climbs over jagged peaks to the southern edge of the alpine Colorado Plateau. Everything is huge as well as rugged. The National Forest alone is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut and varies from Sonoran desert (giant saguaro cactus habitat) to alpine. The rough and steep alterations in terrrain make for interesting chasing, but believe it or not, it is easy to see long distances due to lower vegetation in the desert regions and the ability to get up on a high vantage point. I enjoy chasing lightning in the entire state...terrains vary widely. The Plains too are only a day's drive, so I like to drive out there in the springtime.
 
I moved from NE to ND last summer and I can honestly say the Red River (of the north) Valley is by far the flattest terrain I've ever seen. Trees are a scarcity. This area has got to be the most ideal in the country for viewing storms but with less than half the frequency of the central plains. I have chased in the NE sandhills which was entertaining as getting on top of the larger hills offered breath taking views. Not many trees to deal with there either. I would think chasing in trees/hills is managable if you can find a clear line of sight on top of a hill. Having lived in the heavily forested northern MN many years ago, I can vouch that it would be chasable from a line of site standpoint, but very far from ideal. You would likely not get a lot of video time of a tornado but you could capture it for atleast a brief period if positioned properly. Lake shores offer nice open areas. Capturing vid of pine trees getting stewn would be pretty wild. Your larger problems would be roads and a tremendous number of trees that are available to fall in high winds. If there is a solid chance of tors up there this summer than I'll give it a shot and report back.
 
David,

What a great image. This is what I consider "excellent" chase territory. When pics of storms or tornadoes include trees or hills or both, you know it was *not* taken on the Caprock or the Colorado Front Range, the two most amazing areas for chasing in all Tornado Alley.

These spots feel as if they're designed for what we do. Not only are they perfectly flat and unobstructed, but they slope gently upwards for a boost of orographic lifting, and the caprock adds the bonus of canyons east of the escarpment which forecasters like Al Moller believe may channel and enhance SRH for nearby storms.

The most recent tornado-day climatology research from Drs. Doswell and Brooks show that the tornado-day frequency around LBB has almost no variability when measured in five year subsets. What that means is you get as close as possible to a climatological guarantee of tornadoes near the end of May and the beginning of June.

My guess is that we'll see some awesome sights filling that vista in David's image soon.
 
The caprock really is a magical place when it comes to storms ... I wish every state had a region just like it. The other thing I really enjoy about Texas is the PEOPLE ... last year when I chased down there my car broke down and a very helpful guy helped me fix it. Turned out he was a local spotter and really interested in storms and we had a great conversation. As I was chasing a tornadic cell near San Angelo I had pulled off into the driveway of a lady who came up to me when she saw what I was doing and said "we love storm chasers! - Why don't you come in when you're done and have some lunch with us?" How often does a person get that kind of response? I'd have a spring home in Throckmorton if I got the chance.

As far as terrain goes, I really like the area from Salina north to Republic Co., KS up into Nebraska on hwy 81 ... you can see for miles and the gentle roll to the countryside really makes for beautiful chase territory.
 
I live in North Central Missouri which is probably the most hilly area of missouri north of I-70.... I grew up here and know all the roads like the back of my hand, so this is my preferred area to chase in. I know you other chasers just hate my area, but its not so bad if you are used to the terrain and know the road networks.
 
Chasing in hilly terrain can be dangerous....especially in this area (southeast U.S.) where you must deal with lower cloud bases, trees, and often rain wrapped tornadoes...in addition to the hilly terrai. In the southeast many strong and sometimes even violent tornadoes occur during the darkness....after dusk or before dawn. Also, in this area, when intense tornadoes occur, they tend to move very rapidly....50 mph or more. These factors combine to makes chasing risky at best (and even storm spotting a challenge).

I chased quite a bit more while living in central Mississippi (1995-96) than I've ever chased here in northwest Georgia....the terrain near Jackson, MS is flat, but even so, utilized extreme caution when chasing there...didn't take chances (and still observed two tornadoes while living there).
 
Thanks Perry, I thought this string was dead and didn't bother to check till now. You have a similar situation to mine. Hilly areas present a whole new dimension to chasing and an element of danger. I've been caught by storms in hilly, densely forested areas and I'll admit this has given me butterflies in my gut on occasion. Falling trees don't help either. Stay safe down there in GA.
 
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