Location: Grass Lake, Michigan
Started Chasing: 2010
Web site: http://www.nicknoltewx.com/
Bio: I am originally from Atlantic, Iowa but have lived in Michigan for most of my life. I graduated summa cum laude from Central Michigan University in 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Geographic Information Sciences. I am currently employed with the County of Jackson, Michigan as a Geospatial Analyst. My first chase was a solo venture on May 10, 2010 where I intercepted the Wakita/Medford tornado and I’ve returned to The Great Plains every year since.
Favorite Storm Chasing Photos
Favorite Chase Video
How did you realize your love for weather?
I remember being scared of storms when I was little, but over time grew to enjoy watching lightning out the bedroom window. I distinctly remember when I was 12 or so in the early 90s, one night we had anvil crawlers all over the sky and I went outside and laid in the grass and just watched them. I think that was probably when my interest took off.
When did you decide you wanted to storm chase?
I won’t be ashamed to admit that Twister probably was the first time I was like ‘man that’d be cool to do’ but I was only 14 when that movie came out so it’d be a couple years before I could drive. It was quite a bit longer before I started to actually chase. A few times while I was up at college I’d chase squalls after they came through, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. It wasn’t until the winter prior to the 2010 season that I decided to put forth all my effort in reading all the books I could on severe weather and forecasting so that I could put it to use the following chase season. I did the met-ed courses, I started reading AFDs and SPC outlooks, I bought all of Tim’s books (red, blue, green, etc.) and read them a couple of times, started learning how to do hand analysis and what to glean from the maps I drew. Then in the spring of 2010 I took 2.5 weeks off of work and headed to Oklahoma and jumped in.
How long have you been actively chasing?
Since May of 2010
Do you chase for a reason?
I enjoy most of the facets of chasing. Personally witnessing a tornado or a powerful storm is the ultimate goal of the whole thing, but the other parts that come with chasing are just as important. I enjoy putting my knowledge to use and trying to forecast a good target area. I enjoy driving. The drive out to a target area is always fun and brewing with anticipation. Sometimes you’ll run into friends waiting for the cap to break, that’s probably the best of the ancillary events that come during a chase day. Nothing quite like sitting beneath the scorching sun on a blue sky bust with friends from around the country!
Do you see passion as a good or bad thing?
I think passion is essential for engaging in a demanding hobby like storm chasing. You can go months or even years without seeing a tornado. You have to live with your targeting decision which might cause you to bust while your peers are witnessing epic, career making storms. Those kinds of things are going to happen if you’re in the game for any length of time, there’s no way around it. If you don’t have the passion for the chase, those kinds of things will drive you insane.
Do you prefer to chase alone or with a group?
I prefer to chase alone, but will frequently caravan with others I might meet up with on the chase.
Have you ever considered going on a storm chase tour?
No. I wasn’t even aware they existed before I went out solo in 2010.
How do you feel about the current state of storm chasing?
I don’t know. There’s a lot of people out there now and the number might ebb and flow depending what’s hot on TV or social media. I’ve only been around since 2010 and was influenced by Twister, so I think some of the older crew might lump me in as being part of the problem, that’s ok. As long as chasing becomes increasingly accessible, more people are going to do it. That includes people who probably shouldn’t. None of that is in my control, so I don’t worry about it, I just do my thing.
Which era of chasing would you prefer to exist? Old-school or new-school?
I don’t have a preference, you do what you do. I am definitely a tech chaser. Some of the well known old school chasers are big influences for me like Davies, Doswell, Hoadley, Marshall, etc. The amount of research and knowledge they’ve shared is priceless. I’ve wondered if I could have chased the way it used to be. Could I have stopped by a local weather office and grabbed a copy of the teletype and made my own hand analysis and make a forecast for the day and stick with it? Then be right? Maybe I don’t have enough faith in myself, but I don’t think I could have done it. The people who learned how to chase before the days of mobile internet and constant data access learned integral skills that some of the new tech generation, including myself, might be lacking.
How far are you willing to travel for a good set up?
I don’t know if I’ve found my limit yet. I think I’m more limited by what the terrain in the target area will be like. I am more willing to drive to western North Dakota for a northern plains chase than I am to Alabama for a Dixie Alley chase where I have to dodge trees and hills. I’ve driven from Michigan to Montana and New Mexico, so I think if a setup looks really good, I’ll go for it.
What are your favorite areas to chase? Least favorite?
Favorite areas to chase are definitely The Northern Plains. I love anything north of I-70. I’ll chase South Dakota all day if I was able to. Colorado and Illinois probably come in a close second. I love Colorado for the types of storms you get there and Illinois for its fantastic road grid and awesome chase terrain as long as you’re not too far south. My least favorite area is probably Eastern Oklahoma. Osage County, man. I hate chasing there. In fact that whole area of OK east of Ponca City and Tulsa north of US 62, I would just prefer not to chase there haha.
What is you favorite type of set up to chase? Least favorite?
I tend to prefer playing warm front and triple point setups. Being from Michigan, I end up chasing those kinds of setups more often than a southern plains dryline scenario, so I think I’m more comfortable in that situation. I won’t let that bias deter me from chasing the dryline, however, if it looks like the better target.
What is your most memorable chase? Least memorable?
I have a few memorable chases but I think April 14, 2012 is probably the best. That day I caravanned with Jonathan Williamson and we intercepted three tornadoes on three separate storms. It was one of those days that seemed to go really well despite starting off way north of where the storms of the day were going to be. We were initially looking at the warm front in Nebraska where those 60% tornado probabilities were hanging out on the day 2, but as the morning wore on and that area stayed socked in clouds we started moseying south where storms near Russell erupted that we intercepted south of Tipton in one of my most hair raising events chasing. We were on the outer fringes of the circulation of a rain wrapped tornado with winds buffeting and rocking the car back and forth and zero visibility. After heavy rain and flooded roads caused us to abandon that storm we got down to the Langley storm in time to see tornadogenesis and follow that for quite a long time before it pulled away from us. We then blasted south and ended up catching the Moundridge tornado to round out the day.
Least memorable? I don’t know, there’s a lot of chases that end up as busts that I suppose count as not memorable where you end up wandering around a target area for six hours beneath blue skies before you head home. If this is really asking about your worst chase then I’d say my whole Pilger, NE debacle as describe in painful detail here: https://www.stormtrack.org/forum/showthread.php
Have you ever feared for your life?
I don’t know if I’ve feared for my life on a chase yet but I can think of a couple situations that made me really nervous about my predicament. The first is the aforementioned Tipton, KS intercept on 4/14/12 and the second was probably on El Reno. I think it was one of those ‘oh sh*t’ moments when we realized that thing was heading right down the road for us. Then while we were driving east at 40 to 50mph realizing we weren’t gaining ground trying to outrun it. Eventually, it started that turn to the north, but that seven miles of blasting east was probably one of the most nerve wracking of my chase career.
Are you afraid to make dangerous maneuvers while chasing? (I.E core punching/hook slicing/living in the bears cage)?
If the situation presents itself, I will try to get as close to a tornado as I feel comfortable with. I am extremely hesitant to do anything like hook slicing especially when visibility is an issue, even then I try to avoid hail. Some people love driving into the hail or finding the big stuff, I’m not really interested in hail so I tend to try to avoid it. I don’t want to have to deal with a busted windshield or broken car parts or other issues that might end a chase prematurely.
Do you have any superstitions?
My only superstition is a SPC outlook issued by Broyles, but that’s more tongue-in-cheek than anything lol
Would you sacrifice a salaried job with full benefits, but only 2 weeks out of the year to chase for a paycheck to paycheck life with unlimited chasing?
I would love to chase every time all the time, but I think the path to that is more accessible later in life when you might have a reserve of wealth built up before or after retirement. I think having a restricted amount of chase time forces you to be more selective and maybe improves your forecasting a bit. At the same time, you’re going to miss some of those sleeper 5% days if you’re not already out there. I feel living paycheck to paycheck just to chase 24/7 would cause serious issues later in life and I don’t think I’d abandon my current job for that. Besides, I get 4 weeks of vacation anyway 😉
Are you currently doing anything job related to the weather?
Have you ever been to ChaserCon?
Yes, I went in 2014
Are you more likely to hang out with other chasers while waiting for initiation, or sit alone on a country road watching the sky?
I’m happy either way, but a lot of the time I’ll end up running into others out there.
What is your favorite storm chase and why?
I mentioned 4/14/12 in a previous answer as most memorable that probably qualifies for favorite as well. If I select another one I think the Howes, SD tornado on May 24, 2010 was one of them. That tornado was such a serene site as it trundled through the fields and then I got closer and felt the power of its inflow as it crossed the road a few hundred yards west of me.
What date burns in you (think bust) and why?
I think my two biggest busts are Canton on 5/24/2011 and the aforementioned Pilger event. Pilger because of what I detailed in the post here: https://www.stormtrack.org/forum/showthread.php-30884-What-Did-You-Learn&p=341785#post341785 and Canton because we tried to place ourselves between the two target areas so we could pick one once it fired, but in reality it just left us woefully out of position and we missed the show.
Do you always know why you made the wrong or right decisions to chase a particular day?
I don’t do post-chase analysis as often as I should, but I find when I do the write-up on my blog for an event it becomes clear why I messed up or why the event didn’t pan out as I thought. Sometimes when I chase high risk events I don’t put full effort into it and find myself on auto-pilot. That’s something I’m working on.
How did you learn what you know about forecasting and meteorology?
Stormtrack (the archives and forecast threads), TimV’s books, Met-Ed, a meteorology class in college, SPC outlooks and AFDs from various weather offices. Those are probably the main sources of my initial and ongoing knowledge as well as stuff that I’ve learned from other chasers that I end up around on chases frequently like Skip Talbot, Rob Hurkes and others.
Do you consider the day a success even if you don’t witness a tornado?
Absolutely. I think there’s even things to learn from a blue sky bust. That might be the only time I consider a chase a failure, but there’s always something to take away from it.
Do you feel short changed if you see a tornado from a greater distance to you than you prefer?
No. I’ve never regretted not getting closer.
How do you feel about the post “Storm Chaser” generation?
I don’t really have an opinion about certain groups or classifications of chasers. I’m out there to do my thing and I do it. If some guy wants to outfit his car with all the mesonet gear and skywarn magnets, go for it. If you want to chase low key without any markings, that’s fine too. If your goal is fame and fortune from chasing, give it a shot. That’s out of my control, I don’t think about it.
Do you feel like the scientific community should get the same respect as emergency vehicles around storms?
No. While they’re out there for research purposes they are definitely not on the same level as emergency responders, but I’m not going out of my way to interfere with what they’re doing.
How you do you feel about the media in regards to the weather and chasing?
I think there are two sides to the media spectrum. On one side, you have those that are responsible and well respected, James Spann comes to mind. These types engage their viewers on TV or social media and explain situations in plain terms. Then, on the other hand, you have those who like to dramatize things beyond a reasonable level. Examples being naming winter storms; the whole New York City blizzard thing recently where on camera reporters were trying to make a huge deal out of 3″ of snow because they wanted ‘NYC blizzard’ to be the story instead of going northeast where the real snow ended up. Or a certain Oklahoma personality who has gained notoriety for his May 31, 2013 on-air advice.
Who are the most influential people to you out in the field?
In the field, I think the chasers I run into frequently (like Skip Talbot, Jenn Brindley, Jonathan Williamson, Brad Goddard, Rob Hurkes, James Seitz, etc) are probably most influential to me. We spend a lot of time sharing stories and knowledge before and after chases and that goes a long ways. I have a separate list of chasers who were influential in my early career that helped me get interested or learn more which I listed earlier in the old-school question.
Would you considering getting your children into storm chasing?
If they were interested, sure.
If you didn’t know anything about storm chasing, how would you react if your child said they wanted to be a chaser?
I like to be open minded, as a parent I guess my biggest concern would be their safety. As such I probably wouldn’t want them to dive right in solo like I did, but rather go on a tour or find a mentor so they can learn the ropes first.
What do you fear most about a storm?
Lightning. No question.
What type of storm do you prefer to chase (Ugly HP/sculpted LP/classic/squall line)?
Give me a nice classic supercell every day. Is that too much to ask?
Do you stop your progress toward a storm for a great photography opportunity?
Sometimes I overlook the distant photogenic opportunities more than I’d like to admit. On a few occasions after the chase I’ll see shots of a storm from a few miles further back and you get some jaw dropping structure shots with a tornado below it. I enjoy seeing those shots, I think it’s great to see shots of storms you were on from different angles.
How do you feel about law enforcement immediately around a tornadic supercell?
I would assume they are in their spotting and response roles at that point, in which case I absolutely appreciate their presence.
Should storm chasers feel more entitled to be around storms than law enforcement or locals?
No. Just no.
Do you have a job that supports storm chasing?
My job is pretty flexible with getting time off on short notice and as long as I’m not gone for weeks at a time or running up against a deadline for a project, it is usually not an issue.
Do you have a family that supports storm chasing?
How long do you plan on chasing?
Until the passion is gone.