A Long Day for Little Pay


Tail End Charlie

Drove over 600 miles on Tuesday from La Junta, New Mexico to near Mission, South Dakota.  We zeroed in on a developing storm at the tail end of a line of strong thunderstorms including supercells.  Our storm, known as a Tail End Charlie by storm chasers, had all the ingredients to potentially become a tornadic supercell except one…not enough moisture.  Still, it had some nice structure to it and I was able to take some interesting cloud formation photographs.  Also, the drive through the Nebraska Sandhills country is always nice.  Active as recently as a few thousand years ago, this region of vegatation-stabilized sand dunes (once referred to as The Great American Desert) covers about a quarter of the state of Nebraska and is the largest dune field in the Western Hemisphere.

Speent the night in the romantically named town of Valentine, Nebraska.  Plans for Wednesday are to target southern Nebraska and north central Kansas.   Increasing moisture might help the formation of supercell storms in this general area.


Opening Act

Wind farms consisting of arrays of gigantic wind turbines dot the Great Plains. Here is one of the blades on its way to becoming part of a new wind turbine. One doesn’t appreciate how large the blades are until close to one

A series of three mature thunderstorms form in SE Colorado.

It’s late. I’m tired.  However, yesterday was a great chase day.  From Lubbock, Texas we  targeted an area where the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado meet.  Storms began to fire around mid-afternoon, and we were treaded to an LP supercell near Clayton, New Mexico (see photo).  LP stands for low precipitation, and the lack of heavy rain and hail gives the storm chaser a clear view of the storm’s amazing structure.  I will add additional photos when time permits, but we need to be on the road early to reach our target area for Tuesday.

LP Supercell

A Swing and a Miss and a Solar Eclipse

Drove from Oklahoma City to the Texas Panhandle on what was a very marginal day for severe storm development.  Nothing of any significance developed, but we were treated to the spectacle of an annular eclipse which brought the day to a happy close near Lubbock, Texas.  The chances for severe weather ramps up in the central Great Plains by mid-week, so Monday is most likely going to be a positioning day.Image


This morning’s model runs now indicate the possibility of supercells forming in SE Colorado, NW Texas, and W Oklahoma.  Might turn out to be a good chase day afterall.

Back in Tornado Alley


You know you are in Tornado Alley when the restrooms at Will  Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City serve double duty as tornado shelters. Both Kansas and Nebraska saw tornadoes today which is frustrating for me as I spent much of the day flying from Mobile to Oklahoma City.  Oh well, perhaps I should take this as a sign of things to come.  Tomorrow will likely find us in theTexas Panhandle or western Oklahoma. Conditions for tornadic storms look marginal for Sunday with chances of severe weather improving by mid-week.  Still, the best tornado I ever saw took place on a marginal day so there is hope.   

The Chase Begins

Storm Chasing with Steve Carey

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.

Cloudy Skies

Storm Chasing with Steve Carey

Thursday, May 26, 2011

There was a decent chance to interect an LP (low precipitation) supercell today in northeastern Colorado; however, a persistent cloud cover prevented the formation of supercells.  It seemed like a long day today…lots of driving, not much too look at, and no payoff at the end.  Many chase days are like that.   I did have a great dinner at Toby Keith’s (he’s some kind of country music singer I think) restaurant in Denver.  The Rocky Mountains are calling me, but it’s off to Amarillo, Texas tomorrow.

A grain elevator complex in Goodland, Kansas. When driving on the Great Plains, you can tell you are coming to a town by seeing the grain elevators in the distance.