Storms: The BIG picture


I must say that I am not at a loss of material and information about thunderstorms and general severe weather events. However, when reading the Target Area forum, I am bowled over by the ability of people to understand the "Big picture" of the storm. I realize that this takes experience with storms, and that you ought to view what you've been reading about to put it all in perspective. Other than chasing, are there any other good ideas to help one understand the "big picture" about storm forecasting and development/dissipation?
I am probably not the best person to answer this question. I too am amazed by the talent of some of the forecasters on here. That being said, I will throw in my two cents. When I have time, I like to arm chair chase. You can make your forecast, watch things unfold, and figure out what you did right and wrong. I go back and look at surface charts, upper air,ect. and try to figure out the why and the how. I think practice on the days off really helps you to understand how the atmosphere works and it prepares you for the real deal. I believe forecasting is like anything else, you get better with practice. The other thing that I think helps alot is to ask the good forecasters questions. I PM one of the smarter guys on here every now and then to ask him about things I don't fully understand and it helps a lot. The atmosphere is incredibly complex and interrelated and it is hard to get a good understanding of it without asking someone who already does understand it. I guess what I am trying to say is that a book can only teach you so much.
The way I've learned most of what I know regarding the weather, storms, and forecasting is from dedicated research.

In my case, it began in the mid-1970's; when at age 12, I began studying every weather book in my school library, then the Douglasville public library (and public libraries in nearby communities). In addition to learning many of the basic synoptic atmospheric factors that made severe storms possible (cold fronts, low pressure, differing types of air masses), I also began to research past severe weather outbreaks.

The single tornadic event that shot my growing interest in tornadoes into the stratosphere was the April 3-4, 1974 "Superoutbreak". Within two years of this tornado outbreak, there was a multitude of information available on the causes and impact of this outbreak. I subscribed to Weatherwise magazine; then purchased quite a few back Weatherwise issues (covering other major tornado outbreaks before 1974). I even went as far as to purchase surface synoptic charts from NCDC of April 3, 1974. I also began studying tornado outbreaks as they occurred real-time (such as Birmingham, AL F5 of April 4, 1977 and Wichita Falls/ Red River Valley tornadoes of April 10, 1979). I was living in front of my tv during tornado season....taking in every word regarding tornadoes my fav meteorologists spoke; being tutored by Atlanta tv veteran forecasters such as Ken Cook and Johnny Beckman. Just watching their weather broadcasts during dangerous spring wx gave me a lot of information....why the event was happening, what was causing it to occur; signs in the maps and atmosphere to watch for, etc.

Also, during this time (1975-1982) I began searching local storm archives from various NWS offices (esp Atlanta). I wrote to forecasters at both NHC and NSSFC (now SPC) requesting information on past major hurricanes/ tornado events...and thankfully, they were more than gracious, sending me folders and boxes of tornado stats, old surface charts, and technical memoranduns/ preliminary reports (esp helpful with past major hurricanes). I also learned from a veteran NWS forecaster that the NOAA Disaster Survey Reports were available to the public, so I requested virtually every one available at that time. The Disaster Survey Reports contained all the synoptic and upper air I learned about the atmospheric parameters which spawned such tornadoes as the April 1979 Wichita Falls tornado (where I first learned about "negative tilt" upper air patterns), the March 28, 1984 Carolinas tornadoes...and November 1989 Huntsville, AL F4 (among others).

I also tried to read and study everything published on tornadoes and tornado research.....published by tornado researchers such as Dr Fujita and Dr Bluestein; not to mention some of the guys who post on this forum (i.e.- Tim Marshall).

By the time I found the internet (late 1999), I'd already developed quite a knowledge regarding tornadoes of the past, and how to forecast severe weather....both on a synoptic and mesoscale level. Since coming onboard the internet, I've been fortunate to meet some great professional meteorologists (Dave Tolleris, Patrick Core, Tony Cristaldi, Brian Peters, JB Elliott, etc) who've all been kind enough to continue the tutoring process for me, especially pertaining to my learning to interpret model data and other forecast tools real-time (something unavailable before obtaining internet service).

In fact, while my knowledge of severe weather climatology and past tornadoes hasn't increased much since 2000, during that same time I've become a vastly improved weather forecaster because of being able to understand and utilize model data, forecast soundings, etc....complimenting my years of experience and knowledge of climatology.

To be honest, young weather enthusiasts today have a tremendous advantage over me as I grew up in the pre-internet and pre-cable tv days. You can today find data and information about tornadoes and other severe storms online in moments it took me weeks....sometimes even months to locate (or await arriving in the mail). Also, I had to call and hopefully speak to a professional meteorologist in those days if I had a question (and boy did my dad hate those long distance calls I made to Coral Gables (NHC) and Kansas City (NSSFC) :D ; nowadays, you have the opportunity to meet and learn from many of the best weather minds on earth by simply finding the right weather forum and reading the thoughts and analysis of the pro's (how I met most of the pro mets I know and have learned from).

Just my 0.02¢ cents worth...