Chasing Montana

Bobby Little

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Joined
Mar 18, 2013
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111
Location
eagle, michigan
Thinking of heading out to Montana this week or after the 4th to chase in Eastern Montana /Western North Dakota. Although i have been through there 2-3 times...mostly camping with my kids and other families... I dont really remember the terrain distinctly. I remember Jeremy Perez had put out a map and was doing some extensive studies on road networks and tree densities.
Like for others to chime in on topography, good and bad, and general chasing thoughts from chasers that have chased there.
 
Never been up to MT or ND in 25+ years of chasing. I really would like to though… I find MT particularly intriguing, especially having seen other chasers’ pictures of spectacular motherships floating over the vast prairies. I think the road network is sparse, but that’s not as important when the play is more likely to be structure as opposed to trying to get under a meso and close to a tornado.

All of my chase vacations have been in the traditional tornado alley of the southern and central Plains, and I always considered the Dakotas and Montana to be out of range. I even avoided SD most years, especially if it required going up there for just a day, only to have to head all the way back down. But if it was to go up there and stay up there, I would consider it. Doing a separate trip up there, like you are doing Bobby, would be ideal; I hope to do that sometime. This year, my only other possible week to get away for chasing is in August; but that’s not a very likely time of year for activity up there, is it?
 
I really wanted to head out yesterday for a week of chasing the high plains eventually getting up to Montana and the Dakotas. Really nice country when i vacationed there years ago, I wasnt into chasing back then so i couldnt remember the specifics. Having a few duds in the southern plains early, then missed out most of May and early June as i was on vacation, i am salivating getting back out. I decided yesterday to stay home and wait till after the 4th. Holiday traffic was the reason. Ive done that before...not good. No rooms, no camping, crowded restaurants, TRAFFIC. So i will stay here in Michigan and head out after the holidays. With the continued polar jet stream continuing west to east up north i think there will be later chase opportunities in the high plains. Even great lighting storms in the plains of Montana look rewarding. James, you may just want to get out there in August. Meanwhile i hope you jump on that 5% tornado risk in your neck of the woods on Saturday!
 
James, you may just want to get out there in August. Meanwhile i hope you jump on that 5% tornado risk in your neck of the woods on Saturday!

Thanks Bobby, I hope a northern Plains week in August works out, although it can’t be a true “chase vacation,” it will be more of a “work remotely and chase when I can while minimizing time off” situation LOL. Anyway, no local chasing for me on Saturday, that 5% risk in PA is a few hours west of me, which I know isn’t a big distance in chasing terms but it’s rarely worthwhile anywhere here with the terrain etc. The bigger issue is we’ve got family in from out of town today. But I’m right in the 2% risk for tomorrow/Sunday, so maybe we’ll get some action right at home. Family will still be here. So to be honest I’d rather our BBQ not be rained out, but I’ll be the only one looking forward to storms starting sometime shortly thereafter! 😏
 
I chased in Montana a couple times, and I will never do it again, because of the lack of roads. And, guys, please do not call the northern plains the high plains. Pet peeve of mine. "High" does not mean "at the top of your map".
 
Montana is hard. There is essentially no radar coverage in the southeastern part of the state (beams >10,000 ft) so it's all visual. There are very few roads so you pick a route and "catch" the storms as they go by. Always gas up and bring snacks because the distances are vast. Cell phone coverage is sparse. Eastern part of the state is full of hilly "badlands" which sound like trouble, but because you have so few roads and fewer trees you just keep driving until you get to an open spot.

That said, I've had some great successes in Montana. Beautiful, isolated storms where you can see everything, including tornadoes, from dozens of miles away. Very few chasers!! But I've also made the mistake of picking the wrong road and seeing nothing at all.

Western ND is OK chase country. Things are limited around Theodore Roosevelt NP and the town of Medora (though they are worth visiting). If you bring your passport that will give you more options because the best terrain is near the Canadian border. It's also decent around Bowman.

Lodging used to be a major problem near the Bakken oil field but I think that's improved in recent years. (I haven't been in the area since 2016.)
 
Lodging used to be a major problem near the Bakken oil field but I think that's improved in recent years. (I haven't been in the area since 2016.)
I've chased up there a few times since then and lodging wasn't a problem for me at all. Nice, new hotels with a lot of oil field workers (and sometimes their families) staying there (can't miss the late model white trucks). It may be a bit of drive from where the chase ends to civilization, though.
 
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