Perennial favorite: When should I chase?

I think the SPC has one of the cooler graphics around about this very issue.

Tornado%20Trend2.jpg


Now what this graph shows are some interesting inflection points. An inflection point is a point in the graph where the data stop being "smooth" and move up or down abruptly.

Looking at the yellow (2004), there is an undeniable change in the slope of the curve starting mid-May with the curve then resuming a normal rise starting the first week of June. A second point is clear in early September (the so-called second season). But I would advise some degree of caution in this regard: autumn, '04, was--as anyone with a pulse will recall--the busiest year for hurricanes in recent memory. The second season spike could be explained by the higher-than-average numbers of tornadoes brought about by land-falling hurricanes. By most people's recollections, myself included, 2004 was a more "typical" year. However, this graph shows that last year was one of the busiest tornado years on record.

Looking at this year (red line), there is no doubt that the season was slow in May compared to 10-30 year averages. And, as anyone who was out this May will confirm, in fact there was virtually no inflection point until the beginning of June. Note that the June inflection point is very steep and actually has now brought 2005 in line with the 10-30 year averages. Surprisingly, these data show that this year is a more "typical" year in terms of tornado number, though the inflection point was shifted rightward into June.

In 2003 (blue), I chased the last two weeks of May. You can see exactly when I arrived on the Plains--there is a plateau in tornado number--and when I left--in June there is a sudden new inflection point. This confirms that my frustration from the timing of my trip in '03 wasn't just because I chased the wrong storms: instead there were definitely fewer storms during my trip :).

Now, look at the 10 and 30 year averages (harder to see as easily-->look for the faint gray and faint blue lines). They show a much more smooth line structure (as you'd imagine--far more many points to make up the line), but show--very clearly--that there is an inflection point which shows a brisk uptake in tornado number starting on 5/1 and spanning until 7/1 before returning to its normal asymptote. Also note that the "second season" does not appear to be as noticeable on the longer term records.

Based on the longer term data, there is no doubt the highest spike in tornado activity occurs starting in early May and begins to wane by late June. These graphs are not location specific, and since we're looking at nationwide reports, many of these tornadoes may not have occurred exclusively in the Alley.

I think the important thing to those of us who can only chase during a single window period every year is that we be out there when the highest numbers of tornadoes are likely to be out and about. Per these data, our "typical" chase season of May/June is perfect. And I seem to remember Rich Thompson (I think) compiling an article about this in the old StormTrack magazine (when it was in print!).

The reason I am pointing this out is that this year was tough for most of us who came during the lull before a spectacular June. That has forced a lot of us to rethink our vacation timing. But after looking at the data, all things being equal, most of us should probably continue to take our vacations at the same time we usually do--whether you prefer early May, late May, or early-mid June. The data are clear: if you're out there enough, it will always end up averaging out.

And I for one, have no intention ever of giving up this hobby. Aye, Nature, she's a frustrating friend, but I always saddle back up for more. And next year is bound to return the curve back to the middle. Keep the faith :)

Jason
 
This question has no absolute answer. In 2000, everyone started planning chasecations in early May because of one outbreak in Oklahoma. By 2003, Oklahoma was chaser kryptonite and South Dakota lead the North Plains explosion...people planned to chase the Northern Plains instead of the more traditional Southern Plains. After last year, Kansas and Nebraska became everybody's darlings. Already this year, I've seen more than a few people state they're planning next year's chasecation entirely in June, no doubt because June got hot early (not so common) and May was pretty much dead. The answer to "when should I chase" lies in the previous years' behavior, because that's what people want to (and will) believe is true.

I just hope the current stigma of "Oklahoma sucks" lingers on even after it finally starts to get hot again, which it of course will. Evidence of this being true lies in the fact that several chasers who were nailing tornado day after tornado day in early June weren't even in OK June 5.

I've always found it interesting how chasers follow trends in regions, regardless of long-term climotology. For my money, I'm content to continue living in OK, and just take whatever Nature throws at me, be it 10 backyard chases yielding 20 tornadoes (like about 80% of all other Plains chasers outside of OK got this year), or 10 out-of-state, 500+milers (which I got plenty of this year).

States don't care about chasers and their vacations, neither does the atmosphere. IMO, making chase vacation plans based solely on the previous year's activity is a mistake. The only exception being Nebraska, which it seems has been proven the one place that always shows up, per H and Deason and others who seem to just hang around up there and just kill every year.

I don't mind "working" for my catches, that is to say, driving 500 miles every time to get to the good stuff. But I must admit, it would sure be nice to be able to drive an hour from home (or less), nail a half dozen tubes, and be back home in time to catch the 10pm news. You chasers in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri.....how's that feel?
 
You chasers in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri.....how's that feel?

Pretty good, Shane... our summers here allow us to chase literally from our front yards! While they're not giant Plains tornadoes, they're tornadoes none-the-less. We pay our price in traveling early in the season, but we'll get our dues here! Besides, traveling for me is half the fun, so 500 miles means nothing to me anymore (my June 12 906 mile in 18 hours oughta show that one).

I will not alter my chase vacations cause of a previous year. Fact of the matter is, my scheduling allows it in May; I really can't change that. You take what you get and scrap whatever you can afterwards. My scheduling isn't too bad in June and beyond as long as Nature breaks out on my days off (unlike this year).

Change you chasecations every year if you must, but I'll stick with May. One season here in the coming few will explode like many Mays have done before. As Shane says, Nature or her states don't work around a chaser. You gamble with this hobby, and if you have the time to chase for three weeks, you take it when you can!
 
I don't mind "working" for my catches, that is to say, driving 500 miles every time to get to the good stuff. But I must admit, it would sure be nice to be able to drive an hour from home (or less), nail a half dozen tubes, and be back home in time to catch the 10pm news. You chasers in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri.....how's that feel?

Maybe if you live in the central part of the state(KS, NE, TX anyway....no clue why IA or MO are even mentioned). Eastern NE last I checked isn't an hour from much very often(less often than I bet OUN is). The hot spots of NE for me are basically 3 hours one way, give or take 1 hour(that is just central NE...not even talking panhandle or sw NE...or oh my....traveling to other states). That is when NE is having a year. NE's had JACK this year..had jack in 02 and much of 03 really). How far does 3 hours get someone from OUN? TX Panhandle? You act like OUN is so far from things yet are happy there? I can say without a doubt I'm not crazy about eastern NE and where it is from the typical better action. I don't recall places other than OKC area having an F5 go nearby only to have 2 violent tornadoes back to back nights a few years later. All those tornadoes in sc KS last year were really a long ways from OUN too. TX panhandle stuff this year. But I guess everyone else just has it so easy.
 
Shane and Mike, mention about miles, the geographer in me, did some research and came up with some mileage stats from Norman to various cities. Note, using Mapquest, so actual mileage will vary, depending on the route you take.

NORMAN TO SELECT CITIES IN KANSAS
247 miles -Chanute, KS
316 miles -Concordia, KS
276 miles -Dodge City, KS
500 miles -Goodland, KS
295 miles -Great Bend, KS
361 miles -Hays, KS
334 miles -Lawrence, KS
276 miles -Liberal, KS
333 miles -Manhattan, KS
253 miles -Pratt, KS
267 miles -Salina, KS
311 miles -Topeka, KS
179 miles -Wichita, KS

NORMAN TO SELECT CITIES IN NEBRASKA:
512 miles -Blair, NE
433 miles -Hastings, NE
360 miles -Hebron, NE
455 miles -Lincoln, NE
505 miles -Mc Cook, NE
504 miles -Norfolk, NE
567 miles -North Platte, NE
481 miles -Omaha, NE
566 miles -O'Neill, NE
760 miles -Scottsbluff, NE
697 miles -Valentine, NE

NORMAN TO SELECT CITIES IN OKLAHOMA
134 miles -Altus, OK
083 miles -Ardmore, OK
131 miles -Elk City
118 miles -Enid, OK
283 miles -Guymon, OK
081 miles -Lawton, OK
136 miles -Mc Alester, OK
123 miles -Ponca City, OK
084 miles -Stillwater, OK
124 miles -Tulsa, OK
159 miles -Woodward, OK

NORMAN TO SELECT CITIES IN TEXAS
331 miles -Abilene, TX
279 miles -Amarillo, TX
236.miles -Childress, TX
190.miles -Dallas, TX
399 miles -Lubbock TX
481.miles -Midland, TX
135 miles -Wichita Falls, TX

Source: Mapquest

May and June are the best months climatologically for a lot of states.

Mike
 
Maybe if you live in the central part of the state(KS, NE, TX anyway....no clue why IA or MO are even mentioned). Eastern NE last I checked isn't an hour from much very often(less often than I bet OUN is). The hot spots of NE for me are basically 3 hours one way, give or take 1 hour(that is just central NE...not even talking panhandle or sw NE...or oh my....traveling to other states). That is when NE is having a year. NE's had JACK this year..had jack in 02 and much of 03 really). How far does 3 hours get someone from OUN? TX Panhandle? You act like OUN is so far from things yet are happy there? I can say without a doubt I'm not crazy about eastern NE and where it is from the typical better action. I don't recall places other than OKC area having an F5 go nearby only to have 2 violent tornadoes back to back nights a few years later. All those tornadoes in sc KS last year were really a long ways from OUN too. TX panhandle stuff this year. But I guess everyone else just has it so easy.

I complimented H in my original post. I'd hate to see the reply if I'd slammed him.
 
I thought I was simply standing up for all those you made it sound like had to work less hard than someone from OUN as well as stating my thoughts on all that...that is all.

The only exception being Nebraska, which it seems has been proven the one place that always shows up, per H and Deason and others who seem to just hang around up there and just kill every year.

I don't mind "working" for my catches, that is to say, driving 500 miles every time to get to the good stuff. But I must admit, it would sure be nice to be able to drive an hour from home (or less), nail a half dozen tubes, and be back home in time to catch the 10pm news. You chasers in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Colorado, Missouri.....how's that feel?

I mean to say "just hang around up there and kill every year"....followed immediately by words like "working for my catches"....and "...nabbing tubes an hour or less from home.....how's that feel... ". You used my name in it and then asked me how that feels and I said the truth. Over the years stuff for me hasn't been any closer and easier on a whole as it has been for someone from OUN.

I didn't really take it as a compliment when it was followed by a hint that we have it so much easier and OUN area folk just have it so hard. That is what I thought sorry if I was wrong in that take.
 
Despite completely busting during the last two weeks of 2005 (and a similar situation in 2003) I will still take my two weeks during the last two weeks in May. I think those years were unusual when compared to recent years. My only change is that I will not fly out during a death ridge and hope for something. Instead, I will stay at home, try to keep some vacation time and fly out when the next trough is approaching. With some notice, I can move patients. The extra cost for a last minute flight is worth it compared to the cost of sitting in a cornfield or driving from South Dakota to Southwest Texas chasing marginal stuff. I am glad that the main 2005 season is almost over and I am looking forward to 2006.

Bill Hark
 
Since this is a civil discussion, I'll just post it in here...

H, what I was saying with my "H just hangs around and just kills up there" comment was that because of you, Deason, and a few others, people are now seeing what has always been in Nebraska - awesome storms. I was showing how, with the help of you guys, Nebraska seems to be the only state in the Plains that consistently produces great storms.

As for the "how's that feel?" comment, that was earnest. I have no clue what it's like to see tornadoes close to home. I was honestly just saying "wow, dudes...what's that like?" I wasn't trying to hint that chasing is any easier anywhere. I used quotation marks with the word "working" because I was using it tongue-in-cheek, because driving further distances isn't any more "work" than driving a short distance for a storm. That's what I meant when I said "I don't mind working" for my tornadoes, talking about how OK did little this year and we drove to other states most of the time.

So basically, no one has it easy, but some got tubes close to home, while I didn't, and I'm just like "man, what's that like?"

Oh, and I was trying to compliment you and D. Maybe I didn't convey that well.
 
I remember in the 1990's that SC KS and NC OK seemed to be the hot spots for tornadic storms. Between 1950 (or whenever they started counting, I forget when) and the late 1990s, at least four of the top 5 counties with the most tornadoes were Sedgwick (Wichita) and counties touching Sedgwick county, with Butler county (lucky me) having the most at the time. Butler county probably isn't in the top five now.

We haven't had many since the late 1990s in the Sedgwick-Butler county region (maybe it was a break from the 4/26/91 and 5/3/1999 tornadoes), but southern tier KS counties touching Sedgwick (Harper, Sumner, Cowley) have always done better as far as number of tornado days. The obvious hot spots last year in KS were Republic, Harper, and Sumner counties (including the day I was at a wedding in a town that nearly got hit, but was home an hour to the east when it happened. Also was at a wedding before the Mulvane tornado two weeks later).

I don't go far unless it's near the end of the season (450 miles roundtrip on June 12th). I've only had three chases this season (mainly because there hasn't been much between US 281 and US 75 this year, but each one at least presented some element of severe weather or danger. And just by staying home, I saw the largest hailstones in my life on one evening this year (tennis-ball size).

I'd always say choose sometime in mid-May (starting the on or around the 10th) because there is usually something somewhere if you're lucky enough. The widespread outbreaks seem to steer clear of that period (recently), but there are still some good opportunities in that time period for long-lived supercells and localized outbreaks (May 12th in Harper/Sumner counties last year and the Hastings-Grand Island area event this year).
 
Climatology and a preferred target area should determine this for the most part, but I've decided I do not like chasing over MemDay weekend. I particularly did not enjoy being pulled over on MemDay for "weaving" when I was doing no such thing at 10 am when peeps are least likely to be drunk. The sheer number of police out for three days (prolly Friday too) made driving annoying instead of enjoyable. No more MemDay chases for me unless scheduling forces it.
 
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