New frontiers: The rise of year-round, all-USA chasing

Dan Robinson

One thing I've noticed after years of actively observing and paying closer attention to weather patterns is that the USA never really has a severe weather 'off season'. After you see year after year of outbreaks in October, November, December and so on, it becomes apparent that there will be convective things to 'chase' all year. As I sit here looking at models, SPC outlooks and reading discussions in chaser circles, it is easy to forget that it is near mid-November. This is the fifth year in a row that I have either considered chasing or actually chased during this month. It isn't surprising or 'hard to believe' anymore. It is beginning to reshape my ideas of what chasing is - that is, an activity traditionally confined to the Great Plains in April through June.

The fact that we have forecast threads starting up in late fall, dozens of chasers taking to the roadways from September on (and being successful to boot), makes me wonder if we are entering a new era of 'year-round', all-USA chasing. Of course, we know the weather is not changing - but it seems that we as chasers are beginning to. Our awareness of this 'whole new world' of chasing is increasing. We are beginning to notice things like cold core setups and cool-season midwest/southern outbreaks. Sure, we've always known about Xenia and Palm Sunday - but rarely ever gave a thought to actually giving east of the Mississippi before April or after June a try. I, like most of us do, used to put all the gear away once the first strong cold front of fall scoured out all of our summer moisture. And I didn't give chasing much thought until the first rumbles of spring convection began appearing in March. But now I never put my gear away. I haven't even deactivated my WxWorx data subscription, though I first planned on doing so in August. I'm now on 'standby' mode for chasing all year. Now that we are expanding into this new frontier, and are having decent success at it (seeing tornadoes), how is this affecting your view of chasing?
 
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Just last year in November, we had several Tornadoes here in Iowa. I don't ever remember Tornadoes in Iowa in the month of November. Nothing yet this fall for severe weather here in Iowa but who knows what next late winter/early spring will bring. I sure hope next year will be good for storm spotting.
 
When I first started chasing I was the same way. I would disassemble my chase vehicle and return it back to "civilian" status once June 25 rolled around and didn't break the gear back out until late February, early March. Now I have it on 24/7 365. In fact the last couple of years I was out on chases in November, and I had a few in October. Well, I guess I shouldn't really count the last one in October when I chased low level convection and had a possible sighting of a tumble weed north of Bartlesville, Ok.
 
I agree that in reality the chase season never ends, ask the people in Evansville, Indiana where they had the F3 hit at 2 AM, the 1 year anniversary was this week I believe. 24 people died. Also, my chase partner, JFarrer, caught a nice tornado in Texas last month.
 
Dan is right. Chasing has expanded beyond the traditional time of May/June in the Plains and the occasional fall season that would last about a week. I used to pack up my equipment in early Fall and reactivate sometime in April. There are a number of reasons for this change in perspective. Firstly, we have initially been biased by when many of the early chasers spent their vacations. Many of them rarely chased beyond the "high season." As the hobby of chasing grew, there were more people with an interest in chasing who lived outside of Tornado Alley. The need to chase is a powerful force and many of those new chasers attempted to chase outside of the traditional season especially in their local area. When more chasers (and locals with video cameras) encounter tornadoes in the off-season and outside of the Alley, their results are publicized and that encourages more chasing. The study of other types of tornadic weather has also played a role including cold core set ups as previously described.
Finally, the advancement of technology has made chasing safer in marginal areas with less visibility. I am certainly more inclined to chase in the East with XM, cell phone and Wi-Fi.

As encouragement to think outside of tradition, below are some images from my Eastern Fury collection of tornado video. Although taken by amateurs,these were chaseable set ups in unusual areas and times. Please note the dates!!

Williamson, GA Jan 2,2006
WilliamsonGApromo.jpg
Norman Park, GA Jan 13, 2006
Lake Murray, SC Jan 13, 2006
ef29.jpg


ef28.jpg



Zebulon, GA Jan 2, 2006

ef27.jpg


In Janaury, the SDS is miserable and we are looking forward to May, yet some chasing is possible especially in the south.

Bill Hark
Eastern Fury Tornadoes of the Eastern United States
http://www.harkphoto.com/EasternFury.html
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Bill's video examples really drive it home. Fast-moving storms in difficult terrain happen around the Plains too (ie, eastern OK and Missouri), but they're still doable. May 4, 2003 is a classic example - 11/10/02 was a 5/4/03 several hundred miles east in many respects. With the technology and tools (like WxWorx and GPS) that we have now, fast storms and bad terrain are becoming less of an obstacle. Case in point, I had my first 'real' supercell intercept in the state of West Virginia this year (in October no less) thanks to having the data, despite arguably being in the absolute worst chase terrain in the USA.

Those January tornado photos say it all. A bona-fide chase day in December or January seemed like a fantasy a few years ago - but is something I might actually end up doing this year.
 
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Why limit it to just chasing? I do other video work that can be just as fun as chasing to get that perfect video or image.

I think I blew my right ear drum out today on a shoot on what could have been one of my more dangerous video shoots. More dangerous the my solo scuba dives or driving into tornadoes. Worse then undercover stake outs in high crime areas. More dramatic then shooting video inside court rooms and crime scene video.

What could be so bad? I was at the Mall Of America to shoot video this afternoon and lost my most of my hearing for a few minutes and my ears are still ringing.

Why? "One Tree Hill" stars James Lafferty (Nathan Scott) and Lee Norris (Mouth McFadden) will be at Mall of America for an appearance and autograph signing. Show creator, writer and producer, Mark Schwahn, will also make an appearance. I was on stage with them and a few other local news photogs and it was nuts with all of the insane screaming fans. 2000+ screaming girls and about 15 - 20 dudes (talk about a good hook up ratio) all screaming at the same time when they walked on stage.

But back on topic, Chasing does not have to be your only gig if your into doing video work. There is a lot of stuff to chase if you are looking at shooting video for looking for a chase of sorts. It does not all have to be about the weather. Besides, paparazzi work pays way better then storm chasing these days.​
 
I enjoy almost all forms of dangerous meteorology, so I'm easily amused. From snowstorms and windstorms to severe thunderstorms. I just pity those that have to lock themselves up and bicker about the "off season" the entire winter ;)
 
Old thread, revisited

I thought it was curious reading this old thread. Some of you talked about the January set-up possibly happening this year (back in 2007), and this year (2008) it happened.

The original idea from Dan was on point, and we see it expanding still. Not everyone can chase year round, due to work or home base (like me in the DC suburbs), but with hundreds living in chase-able areas that have more frequency of severe weather in off months, there's plenty to do and chase.
 
One thing I've noticed after years of actively observing and paying closer attention to weather patterns is that the USA never really has a severe weather 'off season'....Now that we are expanding into this new frontier, and are having decent success at it (seeing tornadoes), how is this affecting your view of chasing?

My view of chasing has never changed; I've always been aware of chase opportunities year 'round. My problem is and has always been money. You don't see chase reports from me about the huge outbreaks in the southeast or the one day a year South Dakota actually has great storms/tornadoes, because I can't afford to be there. It's not because I'm unaware or chose to sit it out. It is what it is.

I agree that chasing is in a phase of change. I mean look at the Twister Sisters. It's become big business, and it's not about the weather anymore, it's about image, niche markets, and "reality" sensationalism. Chasing is merely the backdrop now, not the focus. And that's just the media aspect of it all. I'd liken it to the decline of TWC regarding actual weather information.

As far as actually chasing, that's been changing too. I've joked about it for years but it's true, it's becoming like golf. White males with money are dominating the activity now, and this is before you consider the "all year" aspect, which will segregate chasing even more into that exclusive "money" club, those who can afford to be out 24-7. This group is taking chasing into that next frontier, because they can pay for it. The "traditional" chasers (Plains March/June) tend to be the ones with limited income. I've never seen it as a choice so much as 'the way it is'.

It's interesting though. The faces that are splashed all over television are the relative newcomers to the activity, but America's perception is they are the veterans, the experts. Meanwhile, many of the actual veteran chasers could walk through a typical chaser gathering and not be noticed by half the people there. And then there's everyone in between. What you have are two very different dimensions: you have the chasing world as it actually is, as it's known and recognized by chasers and enthusiasts (reality), and then you have the chasing world as it's seen on television by America (perception, which 99% of the time is reality).

If you were to step out of one dimension into the other (having no knowledge/perception of the other) the "reality" changes would blow your mind.
 
Money's going to keep everyone from chasing every event all year - unless a TV show decides to do a year-round all-expense paid docudrama about a chaser doing it. I can afford one or two reasonable off-season chases - but I have to be careful as it is easy for one of those to eat significantly into my spring travel budget.

Spring in the Plains is without a doubt the premiere season, and always will be the most 'bang for your buck'. But I do feel a draw in catching tornadoes in unconventional places at unconventional times.
 
Spring in the Plains is without a doubt the premiere season, and always will be the most 'bang for your buck'. But I do feel a draw in catching tornadoes in unconventional places at unconventional times.

Amen to that. It's like a dog that kills a chicken or some other animal and gets the taste of fresh blood, they have to have it after that. Same thing with me and October tornadoes, although I'd not be opposed to November-February :D
 
I enjoy almost all forms of dangerous meteorology, so I'm easily amused. From snowstorms and windstorms to severe thunderstorms. I just pity those that have to lock themselves up and bicker about the "off season" the entire winter ;)

A great point because if chasing includes tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, supercells, severe weather at sea, wildfires, many forms of severe events would be included. With just tornadoes and lightning alone in the US, you can do April-June in the Plains, have a 2 week break for travel, then do July-Sept for lightning, flash floods and microbursts in the Southwest. Fires in the west can be chased over all those months as well. Then, hurricane season in the Gulf states starts and soon thereafter, off to the northeast for the Witch of November then the Oregon & Nor Cal coast for December Pacific gales ("storm watching" as they call it in those parts). In Jan & Feb, the deep south for more severe weather or blizzard conditions up in the northern Plains. You could become nomadic pretty easily :)
 
If you're privileged enough to live in OK city or another chasing mecca in the regular season you can work until 5pm and still have 3 hours of daylight to chase after work. In November its dark at 430pm.
 
Why limit it to just chasing? I do other video work that can be just as fun as chasing to get that perfect video or image.

I think I blew my right ear drum out today on a shoot on what could have been one of my more dangerous video shoots. More dangerous the my solo scuba dives or driving into tornadoes. Worse then undercover stake outs in high crime areas. More dramatic then shooting video inside court rooms and crime scene video.

What could be so bad? I was at the Mall Of America to shoot video this afternoon and lost my most of my hearing for a few minutes and my ears are still ringing.

Why? "One Tree Hill" stars James Lafferty (Nathan Scott) and Lee Norris (Mouth McFadden) will be at Mall of America for an appearance and autograph signing. Show creator, writer and producer, Mark Schwahn, will also make an appearance. I was on stage with them and a few other local news photogs and it was nuts with all of the insane screaming fans. 2000+ screaming girls and about 15 - 20 dudes (talk about a good hook up ratio) all screaming at the same time when they walked on stage.

But back on topic, Chasing does not have to be your only gig if your into doing video work. There is a lot of stuff to chase if you are looking at shooting video for looking for a chase of sorts. It does not all have to be about the weather. Besides, paparazzi work pays way better then storm chasing these days.​


i like this idea! lets chase people around simply because they have a talent that pays better than any of ours!!! :rolleyes:



the whole idea of celebrities is insane.



anyways, i chase pretty much any mediocre set-up within a few hundred mile radius. why? i would rather be out on the road chasing crap storms than at home doing nothing.
 
Loving lightning as I do, I will chase any storm within reasonable driving distance so long as there is a good possibiltiy of a good juicy show.
Thus, I enjoyed a fulfilling chase into E.Texas just before Thanksgiving, and an extra night stay in Houston to see another kickbutt show last month.

In 2002, my girlfriend from then and I drove from Dallas to within 70 miles of Houston to intercept a vort max swinging around a powerful Southern Rockies low and heading for SE Texas. It was a moderate risk day, 12/21 or so, and we drove from arctic chill of 30's and falling into 69 or 70 DWPT bouyant air, with tornado-warned supercells hurtling towards the Interstate from the West. We saw no tornadoes, but the lightning and wind was spectacular as was the thrill of intercepting cells that visibly rotated on radar loops. We ended the day with a game of catch using the golfball hail that rested on the ground.
Definitely a wonderful brief vacation. Tornadoes? No; Excitement, drama and beauty? Yes.

One of the most spectacular lighting shows I have ever seen was again around 12/21 near Tyler TX. a few years ago. It was night, and I stood a couple miles from a line of thunderheads that arced from horizon to horizon beneath a star-filled sky. Frenzied lightning danced across the entire line beneath stars and a moon that ascended from behind the cloud bank.
 
My stunt of catching a flight to chase Alabama and Mississippi the first week of January likely signals the beginning of my all-year chasing. I am only chaseless in November and December now that I have popped my January virginity.

I think so long as I am able to maintain the flight connections, its likely you'll see me out more on those setups. The fairly inexpensive price of the trip makes it about the same as a normal chase to Kansas. Hard to pass up such an opportunity.

I look forward to getting out and experiencing the challenges "off-season" chasing has to offer. December may be the toughest to pull out, but I envision one day catching a major outbreak in my homestate of Ohio in November. Afterall, it was mid October 1999 when an F-3 raked my hometown of Circleville, Ohio.
 
If you're privileged enough to live in OK city or another chasing mecca in the regular season you can work until 5pm and still have 3 hours of daylight to chase after work.

That sounds great on paper, but the fact is most events are well underway by 5pm, and they're rarely within an hour of home. Living in a "chasing mecca" is no benefit whatsoever if you can't leave when it's time to leave.
 
As much as I love Thunderstorms and capturing lightning the months April-June sound great. Unfortunately for my Area we are still thawing out or experiencing snow well into the end of April or even May. Typically the storms fire up from the end of may thru October, sometimes an early November storm as well. But that doesnt mean my photography opportunities are out the door. I look forward to all seasons cause every season the Landscape changes. Currently in winter and I am loving the snow and freezing drizzle and rime. When spring comes I look forward to seeing things turn green again and being able to walk anywhere without fear of slipping. I miss the lightning 100% during the winter and frequent all of your websites to get inspired on how to capture my lightning next but luckily the snow is exciting enough to keep me going till Spring arrives. Then when Summer passes I will be back to shooting Fall colors and then winter again. I do sympathize with those that experience 1 or 2 at most seasons. I experienced that in Southern California and hated it. Now that I experience all seasons I have learned what I have been missing for soooo long.

-gerrit
 
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