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Times you almost blew it

Are there times that you almost ruined your chase, but a last-minute decision, a strange circumstance or the weather being extraordinarily cooperative helped you out or gave you a second chance? I might think of more of these, but here are three to get started.

May 18, 2013: I was on the Rozel storm shortly after it initiated near Kinsley. It seemed to be struggling to take off, however. The northern target storm up near Hays had been going for some time, and I'd already written it off as an option. The southern target was firing now in an area with much greater instability, and radar showed those storms intensifying much more rapidly than the Kinsley cell. I decided I liked the environment to my south better, and started the drive down Highway 183 toward it. I took one more look back at the Kinsley/Rozel storm to my northwest and saw its base now with a nice bell shape that said "hold on a minute". I pulled over to take another look at it, and couldn't bring myself to leave it. I turned around again and headed back north on 183.

The result:


May 28, 2013: After waking up in Concordia and doing my morning chase forecast, I was disappointed in the day's prospects, as well as the ones following. I decided to just go home, and see if an area of better flow in northwest Missouri would provide an opportunity on the way. As I headed east, I stopped every 30 minutes or so to look at data. At Junction City, I had a feeling I needed to stop and reconsider what I was doing. The Corning storm then fired about 80 miles to my east, and I had the impulse to go after it. I hesitated for a few minutes, saw the now-very-clear triple point situation, then decided to turn around and head back toward Salina.

The result:


June 30, 2023 - After postponing departure for a family get-together, I had planned, as usual, to stay close to downtown St. Louis for the expected severe storms later that afternoon. My "pet" subject is lightning over the city skyline and the Arch (with direct Arch strikes as my primary goal), and I thought today had great potential for that. After initial disappointing storms fizzled altogether, I pulled a "Twister" and went home for dinner in the middle of the chase. I went back out for a new storm that had gone up just outside of my town at sunset, 30 miles from downtown St. Louis. This storm was producing great lightning, and I let it distract me from what was happening to the west. When I came to my senses and looked at radar, to my horror a supercell had gone up right behind the city. I could see the tall, vivid, ahead-of-the-precip bolts from 30 miles away. I knew it was hopeless, I but I got on I-64 and raced west anyway. I was missing a once-in-10-years quality nighttime lightning event over the skyline, and there was nothing I could do about it. I arrived at my normal spot across from downtown as the precip core arrived overhead, all of the lightning now east of the city. It was all over in a crushing defeat, all my fault. I turned around to get back on the interstate toward home, and saw the first CG from a second storm that had gone up just behind the first one in the exact same spot.

The result:

Lightning striking the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

When I saw the topic, I immediately thought of the Rozel day. Then read your post. My story is almost identical to yours, except that I started toward the southern storms twice, then turned back each time. I think it was you who had mentioned a fishing friend saying "don't leave fish for fish" in a chase report a few days earlier, and that stuck in my head. SO glad I stuck with that storm!

I have many, many stories that go the *other* way - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

But the one that comes to mind that fits the topic is Campo, May 31 2010… My chase partner and I began the day in Lamar, and were having lunch at a great Thai restaurant that has since closed. We were thinking of not even chasing that day. If I remember correctly, the forecast was not particularly exciting. We were in the mood for a day off, and my friend had some work he wanted to catch up on. I wasn’t completely convinced we should blow the day off, but after lunch I went back to my hotel room without any clear chase intentions and just a vague notion of keeping an eye on things to see if anything might develop that changed his mind. I think we had already committed to our hotel rooms for another night, but maybe a local chase would present itself and I would just go out and back alone. Well not too long after lunch, I’m in the bathroom and my friend calls me about a tornado warning on a storm south of Springfield. We both bolted from the hotel and caught up with the storm 90 minutes later, including a stop for gas that added to the torturous feeling of an eternally long drive… I don’t think there had been a touchdown prior to our arriving on the storm. It held together all afternoon and we were finally rewarded in such a way that we didn’t at all mind having to drive back to Lamar when it was all over.

I have many, many stories that go the *other* way - snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Same...and nearly all of those chases where I didn't blow it, are ones where I almost blew it!

As I mentioned in a long-winded comment on @Skip Talbot's recent upload of his April 4, 2023 chaser impact presentation, on March 31 of last year, after being fixated on east-central to southeast Iowa as the synoptically obvious target in the northern mode threat region for the prior 36 hours, the morning of I was strongly tempted to switch my target to near Galesburg, IL when the HRRR appeared to be plotting a longer-lived discrete mode in that area compared to Iowa; as well as simply Iowa's long reputation among Midwest chasers as "Lieowa," busting while Illinois produces things like 6/5/2010, 4/9 and 6/22/2015, etc.

However, I had blown great chances (had I just stuck with my original target that I'd locked in over multiple model cycles in the preceding couple of days) to catch prior significant tornado events (Pilger 2014 and Benkelman, NE 5/26/2021) in identical fashion, not being confident enough in my original target selection and deciding at the 11th hour that I was being "clever" by adjusting to new data. I decided that this time, I was going to do or die based on my gut and "synoptics 101," and the result has been my avatar for the last almost-year.

Another one happened later in the season last year, when I was chasing in northern Illinois on July 12th. What had gone from a "no risk" forecast for tornadoes day abruptly to a rather ominous forecast of potentially significant tornadic supercells near the Chicago metro, for a time appeared to be petering out again due to some sort of unforeseen thermodynamic fly in the oinment. I had been following a storm that fired near Byron for over an hour while it struggled to take off, remaining rather benign and sub-severe. When I reached Sycamore I strongly considered breaking off, letting it go and starting for home. However a nagging feeling came over me telling me I should stick with the storm, part the fact that I had previously seen visual cues in the cloud motions hinting at the presence of strong low-level shear in the area, and part the memory of how past events in this region had played out. While of course due to my hemming and hawing I managed to be a little bit out of position and not get some of the closer/dramatic shots that others did, I was able to get a few minutes' glimpse of the concurrent tornadoes that occurred from Campton Hills/Plato Center to South Elgin.

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I found myself in Lubbock at 10pm on April 29, 2012. The next day had a 5% risk in the same area. Unfortunately, I had to be to work at 9 am in Norman.

So I headed home. Got home at like 3:30 am. Got to the office at 9..15 lets be honest. Worked all day and saw a possibility of tornadoes in the northern portion of Oklahoma. Left work and headed north, eventually getting a tornado near Medford after dark while most other chasers busted in the Texas panhandle.


Chase Recap: April 30, 2012
I have two examples of that nearly bit me. One was botched execution on my part, the other dictated by circumstances from work. First one, I don't have any really good pics of, second one I have one of my better pics that I've gotten over the years, especially considering the glare I was dealing with.

24 Feb 2016

I had just been laid off from the final factory job that I worked, and was still a few weeks out from starting my CDL training. So, with the severance package that I got, I took a trip through Kentucky and Tennessee to see friends, and ultimately to North Carolina to see my mom. I'd been eyeing the risk for the 24th for a few days, knowing that I was planning to go to NC that day. Left at 3am, aiming to be past Atlanta and outbound on I-20 before rush hour. Rather than take my usual route along I-40, I decided the southern route would give me a better play on storms that day. Where I nearly botched the execution was when I stopped at a truck stop about 30 miles west of Augusta. What was meant to be a half hour nap ended up being an hour and a half, and by the time I cleared Darlington and made the turn north onto I-95, storms were ongoing. Fortunately, I was able to get ahead of a particularly interesting storm paralleling I-95 that was southeast of Fayetteville, NC, and turned east on NC-24 to get closer to the path. Just east of Stedman, I got in one of the few spots where there weren't a ton of trees blocking my view. Wasn't able to confirm touchdown visually, but there was a pretty distinct funnel and the structure actually wasn't bad for a storm in that part of the country. All in all, I recovered nicely after napping too long, and it paid off for me.

17 May 2019

This was a day that I'd had my eye on, knowing I was supposed to get home that morning after hauling freight back from Indiana. Unfortunately, rather than the drop and hook that I'd been hoping for, I had to stay and be live unloaded. I'd been planning to chase with Adam Reagan that day. Not knowing when I was going to be done, I told him to go without me. He decided to head for the northern target and did very well up there. I wasn't convinced the southern target was going to fire, but decided to go for it anyway. Headed to Woodward, where I planned to reevaluate and decide if I wanted to drive all the way up to Kansas or not. I have TERRIBLE luck in Kansas, so I wasn't particularly eager to drive all the way to Dodge City just to bust yet again like I'd done multiple times (including three weeks before this day). Got to Woodward, topped off on fuel, and was seriously considering heading for home when I noticed a tower coming up out of the Texas Panhandle that was seeming to hold together. At that point, the race was on. Angled up to US-64 and cut across the Oklahoma Panhandle, and was somewhere between 10 and 12 miles away when the Forgan tornado touched down, and immediately pulled off onto the shoulder to get pics while I could. I was far enough away that the sun was still above the tower of the storm, so I had to get creative with my sun visor to cut down on glare, and of course had to crank my 28-200mm lens as far as it would go. It had lifted by the time I got to OK-23 (which turns into KS-23 as it crosses the state line), but I still turned north and followed that storm. Managed to see a brief tornado I think near Meade, the much longer lived EF3 near Minneola (actually stopped and got some video of that one but never took the time to edit and post it), and then one more tornado after dark before I finally headed for home. That was the first tornado in the Titan that I now drive; I had traded in my previous Titan on this one in July of 18. To this day, it's the only time I've seen tornadoes in Kansas. Never been able to get off work for the slam dunk days, and the more conditional days never panned out in my favor, except in this case.


17 June 2009 - almost blew this one twice.

Targeted SE Nebraska...Beatrice mainly. Arrived in Beatrice after 5 PM and noted what appeared to be a cap bust taking place. Decided to head towards home (Ames, IA), so drove up to I-80 in Lincoln and checked data one more time at a hotel (no mobile WiFi for me back then).

Saw the big ass supercell west of Grand Island. However, it was 120 miles further away from home and only moving east very slowly. Given the cap-py environment over us, I did not feel good about going after it. Thankfully one of my chase partners basically said, "What was the point of coming out if we're going to just give up when there's something to chase?" I still didn't like the prospect of such a late night, but caved and we booked it west on I-80 averaging about 85. Actually beat the meso to the U.S. 34 exit in GRI (by several minutes, in fact...enough to see some poor attempts at weak tornadoes on the south side of town).

Once the meso started to leave town (again, we had no mobile radar) we didn't know what 34 east of town would be like with the hail, so instead we went back down to I-80 to get east.

Typical: construction down to one lane eastbound, and of course an 18-wheeler who must have been performing a licensing test or something, as they did not go above 60 at all. Got off at exit 324 10 miles east and could see the discoloration in the sky below the cloud base, but it wasn't until way later and we had finally gotten back to U.S. 34 that we could confirm a tornado. By then it was hitting that manufacturing complex (Sanderson?) on the far west side of town.

We were able to get closer before it covered itself in dust, and still had a great chase eventually (didn't get home until 3:30 AM and had to sit through a severe wind producing bow echo just outside of Ames), but boy did a lack of information and courage almost screw the pooch for me on that one!
Laverne, OK on May 15, 1991.

I had only been tornado chasing for 4 years and my confidence levels were still very low. I started out at the NWS Office in Amarillo, TX. Despite conversations with two very well respected chasers / scientists, I stuck to my plan and targeted the Gage, OK area while they headed towards DDC.

I drew a quick baseline surface map and outlined my own "red box." I still do this when I draw maps.

A second near diversion from the target occurred on Highway 60 near Canadian, Texas, when a research truck from the NSSL passed us going south. We pulled over and decided to watch the sky for awhile. I stuck to the plan.

The rest is history.


One more to add to this thread.

May 24, 2021: I headed down to the obvious target at Leoti along with everyone else. Turning east off of Highway 25 on the county road grid, I moved in close to the storm's updraft base and was in a great position to just stay with it eastward. But the dirt road got worse the farther east I went, with increasingly-long muddy sections. Two miles east of the highway, I said "no way am I doing this" and turned around to get back to pavement. I barely made it, as the RFD precip had already saturated the dirt road behind me in the short time I'd been on it. I was frustrated that the muddy roads cost me such a great position, and were going make me miss whatever the storm would do in the 30-45 minutes it would take to get back in front of it on paved roads. I then saw the tornado warnings near Colby. I decided to let the Leoti storm go, and turned north on Highway 25 toward I-70.

The result:

Quakenado, November 2011... I had been dinking around with the hailers further west when the Snyder cell went to town. I turned tail back to the east and my saving grace was my relatively new Subaru and it's all wheel drive. Had I stayed on pavement, I would've probably been detoured about 15 minutes, thus missing my show, but I took a chance on a mud-rutted road north of Snyder and managed to get through the road (while watching one tornado off in the distance) and over to OK-49 just in time to see the second tornado plant on the road immediately in front of me. I managed to pull a couple other tubes out of that day. While I did miss the big show, I salvaged the day quite well.



The Rozel day was another day I saved... again, missing the big show as I was again dinking with storms further north along I-70 that were absolutely sucking. I made a wise decision to leave when I did and caught the very end of Rozel, but the beautiful pink Sanford tornado was my consolation prize.