When and where to chase most photogenic storms

Hey guys,

first glad to see the forum back again. Well done, Tim!

Ok, let me say something more about what my question is regarding to...we have some topics and articles about "when to chase" or "when is the best time" etc which are usually based on statistics. But now I am wondering when is the best time to get those impressive storm structures and such phenomena? I am not talking only about tornadoes, but everything.

I am sure its not always somewhat similar. Probably it depends also where are you, like in LA, AR, MO, GA in the early spring or later in Panhandle.
And where are the best places afterall? Exclude "the jungle" besides the Plains, even it has a big effect on it.

So would it be early spring with low LCL's over the jungle or later for example over CO, NE, SD with higher LCL's? Probably storm movement has some effects here, etc.

I am wondering about your thoughts. Thanks!

Looking at your website and the quality of photography work you do, I think the best bet for the "fine art" type of imagery in storm chasing you may be seeking is anywhere on the high plains from west Texas through western KS/eastern CO, into the Dakotas and far southeastern Montana. When? That is a little more broad, but southern high plains climatology for photogenic supercells begins as early as the 1st 10 days in April in west TX and the Oklahoma Panhandle... then the season slowly shifts north into the central High Plains by early May and especially by mid-late May and early June. The time period from roughly 20 May to 10 June, you could find yourself seeing photogenic storms anywhere from Midland, Texas north to Alzada, Montana. After 10 June, the focus shifts more to the northern plains as the jet shifts north...

My favorite areas to chase for the "fine art" storm photography? There are a number of them... but my top picks, in no particular order would be:
-Southeastern TX Panhandle caprock
-Northeastern NM stretch from Clayton to Raton
-Palmer Divide in Colorado
-Anywhere in South Dakota, particularly the western half of the state
-The buttes of extreme southeastern Montana near Capitol and Ekalaka.

I'm finding out more and more that fine art storm photography is a different kind of storm chasing. Some of the most photogenic storms are the ones seldom chased that are non-tornadic. In the upcoming Weather Guide 2007 calendar, a monthly main image chosen was one of my shots of a supercell that developed in a really marginal pattern in early April. From pattern recognition, I realized that one isolated supercell may develop and could be spectacular, photographically. One is all you need. Outbreak days tend to be less photogenic with so many storms everywhere with lots of moisture, lower LCLs, etc etc. Lower LCLs -- higher relative humidity -- means more lower clouds and the greater chance of obscuring mid level storm structure. It stands to reason that fine-art stormscape photography and tornado chasing do not go hand in hand. It's really rare to get a spectacular tornado photograph in excellent light. Some of the most photogenic tornadoes are the more rare tall high plains tornadoes (like Amos Magliocco's 2005 June 9 Trego County, KS shot), that develop in higher LCL environments that one would normally expect, particularly along active drylines or quasi-stationary "Pacific" cold fronts. This is why the high plains, generally west of 100W longitude are preferred for stormscape photography. In stormscape photography, it's about chasing the light, not necessarily the tornado.
The pervasive haze problem

Excellent response from Mike. Let me add a few more comments.

The atmosphere produces its best photogenic lightning in the absence of tropospheric aerosols (pollution). That is why some of the best sky and landscape photos are taken in normally haze-free areas of the world such as deserts and the tropics. Anthropogenic sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the main culprit over the central and eastern US. Many a storm chase experience has been ruined by this pervasive haze.

The haze problem has grown much worse over the central and eastern US since the end of World War II as shown in this illustration (from Husar 1990):


Steve Corfidi (SPC) has written a few good articles which discribe the haze problem:



In the second linked paper (above), Steve wrote:

"Anthropogenic SO2 is produced in great quantity during the large-scale combustion of sulfur-bearing fossil fuels in power plants, oil refineries and steel mills. Lesser amounts are produced during the manufacture of pulp and paper. In this country, SO2 emissions are concentrated along the "industrial crescent" extending from the mid Mississippi Valley east into the lower Great Lakes and Mid Atlantic states (Figure 3). A separate SO2 source region is associated with oil production along the upper Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coasts."

Imagine how much better visibility and storm photography would be if we stopped burning coal (and refining oil) in this country. Another good reason to become an environmentalist!

Another man-made pollutant that affects storm chasers during spring is the "Mexican smoke" caused by southern Mexican and Central American farmers when they set fire to their fields to clear the land and and also return nutrients to the soil for planting. The smoke often advected northward into the US with return flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. This smoke can be quite bad during periods of drought when the fires rage out of control and burn large areas of tropical rain forest. May 1998 was a particularly bad period. However, this smoke problem is nowhere near as pervasive as the haze caused by
anthropogenic sulfur dioxide over the US.

The best conditions for storm photography occur within airmasses that contain a minimum of these pollutants. In general, the haze problem worsen the further east you chase from the Rockies and the closer you move towards summer. That's why many of the cleanest, sharpest, most colorful storm pictures occur from early season events over the high plains.

Look for haze and smoke on visible satellite images. The best time of day to find them is during periods with a low sun angle (i.e., the first few hours after sunrise and the last few hours before sunset). Look at surface to 850mb layer winds, streamlines and trajectories to estimate where they will move. In general, recycled polar continental (Pc) air with a source region over the SO2 "Rust Belt" is the worst, while tropical maritime (Tm) air with a source region over the Carribean Sea is best.

I believe the true "golden age" of storm chasing will occur when we finally stop releasing these aerosols into the atmosphere (i.e., buring fossil fuels) and before storm chasing becomes too easy (i.e., still a challenging forecast problem). This will probably happen 50 to 200 years from now. The uncertainty of climate change (due to global warming) and political considerations (e.g., wars, etc.) are the two biggest wild cards.