It’s the end of another school year and time for me to again travel to Tornado Alley in search of severe storms and maybe a tornado or two. As in previous years, I will be a guide for Storm Chasing Adventure Tours () which specializes in offering storm chasing vacations for those seeking a different kind of vacation adventure. I’m always curious about who our clients will be. Many are from different countries and have diverse backgrounds. Over the years, I learned quite a lot about the customs and cultures of other countries and have made some wonderful lifelong friends. Spending a week chasing severe weather, riding in a chase vehicle for hours on end, eating questionable food, and facing some of the most violent and extreme weather nature has to offer forges a strong bond among all those who chase together.
I will be chasing for two weeks this year. My first week begins on Saturday, May 19 with a flight to Oklahoma City. My second week begins June 9 with a flight to Denver, Colorado. Why the change of cities? It has to do with where severe weather and tornadoes are most likely to form. In late May and June, the action typically shifts from the southern Great Plains to the Central and Northern Plains, thus Denver provides a convenient starting point for later in the chase season.
I’m often asked where I will go during a chase trip, and the answer is where ever the storms are. It’s not unusual to drive 500 miles or more in one day to reach a specific target location. As a scientist, I enjoy the challenge of predicting where severe storms will form. Despite the best computer models, weather-related computer software, and years of experience, Mother Nature more often that not throws us a curve ball. Nothing is more discouraging than arriving at your target area after a long day’s drive only to have the storms fail to develop or arrive too late and miss all the action. Sometimes it’s a question of which storm to chase. Make the wrong choice and your day is a bust. All you can do is view the storm photos and watch the tornado videos of other chasers who made the decision. Yes, storm chasing can be quite frustrating at times. It is nothing like what is portrayed in most Hollywood movies and TV shows. However, on those days when you do make the right call and get a front seat to the most violent weather on earth all the frustration fades away.
While on the road, there is a good chance of meeting scientists involved with the ROTATE 2012 project (). ROTATE employs a fleet of specialized vehicles including Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile weather radars to learn more about how tornadoes cause damage, how strong the winds are near ground level, and why some tornadoes become huge and violent while others do not. This information can help design more resistant homes and buildings and ultimately help save lives.