Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013: Thats All She Wrote (?)

With the models showing nothing but intrusion after intrusion of arctic air, I think I can finally say the fat lady has sung for my 2013 storm chasing. Though I say that with a question mark, because that is what I thought after October 4th, then those awful wannabe setups trolled us around Halloween and then I thought THAT was it, then November 17th happened. So I guess its never really a sure thing until the clock strikes midnight on Jan 1st 2014.

So, here are the stats:

Chases: 19 (Average to slightly below average)
Tornadoes: 11 (Slightly below average)
States: IL, NE, CO, KS, OK, AR (Way below average)
Tornado Days: 9 (47% success ratio - slightly above average)

And some Milestones:

- New record for consecutive chases with tornadoes: 6 (April 17th, May 18th, May 19th, May 20th, May 27th, May 28th)
- First rear windshield blown out (October 4th)
- Latest tornado of any season (November 17th)

2013 was certainly the year of quality over quantity. Overall 2013 was a very slow year for tornadoes, quite possibly one of the, if not THE slowest on record. When tornadoes did occur though, they were significant and made headlines. With the exception of the Lawton Tornado on April 17th, every catch I had was a photogenic/significant tornado, and while the overall tornado count was only par (11) many of these tornadoes will be some of the most memorable of my career and tough ones to beat.

I did very well on all the big days, the only real big fail I have for the year was missing the El Reno tornado. A couple events I could have played a bit better such as the Moore tornado. We let ourselves get stuck on the wrong side of the river and were unable to pursue it due to lack of crossings and police roadblocks. Next year I am going to be very tempted to just go around those, as they are getting increasingly annoying. Are they really going to follow me and arrest me? Maybe...maybe not.

The year came on the heels of my worst chase season ever, and the agonizingly slow start only helped me spiral deeper into my own mental insanity. Finally, on May 19th that awful streak was ended with Rozel and I was reborn. I entered the year with a new outlook and a new strategy in my mind. No more packed sardine marathons like in 2012, which I attribute to my distraction and overall awful year. Fewer people in the car yelling at me to do things their way, keeping my head in the game, not stopping every 2 minutes while 10 miles away for structure shots and simply just getting up to the tornadoes and getting the video I want. It seemed to pay off. Agressive is my style.

I began to toy around with a riskier plan, aiming to be north of tornadoes more than the tradiotnal south/southeast. I like the view north better. It is often higher contrast, and you dont have rain wrapping around as far as you do when storms go HP. Of course there are downfalls to this, with the obvious being the risk involved of being more vulnarable to the tornado itself. Also, if you dont time your moves well, hook echo precip will cut off your view...something I still have yet to master, but after a few good examples now under my belt I think I can better accomplish this in 2014. If you don't fancy this type of chasing, its probably better you dont follow me next year, because its not going to stop. If your goal while chasing is pretty pictures, dont even bother asking to chase with me because I dont want to stop so you can take pictures of anvils while the storm is maturing and could potentially drop a tornado. My goal is video. I do plan to have an SLR camera next season and will occasionaly do the artsy photo thing, but only on days where tornado threat is minimal or non existent.

After many years of toying around with differnt chasing styles, trying to take in different things and give everything a shot at least once, I think I finally have my style nailed down and what it takes to accomplish the things I like. Providing favorable weather patterns, 2014 should be an amazing year.

Back to 2013, there were some memorable and unique moments including being able to drive the TIV for a string of chases in early April, sadly those setups were not big tornado producers, but that was still an awesome experience I would love to do again so hopefully the Caseys trust me enough to make me the offer next year.

Sadly 2013 was also the year it finally happened. We all know what I am talking about. I still cant listen to the song I was listening to at the time I found out that awful news without thinking about them. That song is "Whataya Want From Me" By Adam Lambert - not an overly sad song, or a song remotely about chasing, but probably forever until the day I die, when that song comes on I will think about those 3. I miss them, as Im sure many do.

Anyways, that sums up 2013 in a nut shell. Winter approaches, and so does a time of more active blogging and chase related off-season projects. For everyone who followed and supported, thank you! For all my chase pals, see ya in 2014. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Monday, October 21, 2013

DVD Review: Distance to Empty

Veteran storm chaser Shane Adams offers his latest DVD this year, titled "Distance to Empty." The official release date is Halloween, but as part of a trade for my latest DVD (when I am done with it) I was able to snag it early and get the jump on everyone else.

DVD info/purchase page: http://www.passiontwist.com/distance.htm

Like with any Shane Adams DVD, it is purely raw chasing, something I love. The title is unique and has personal meaning, something I also love and much prefer over something cheesy like "tornado alley adventures 2013." No fancy covers or case here. I personally like having the black DVD cases because I like having something to stack into a shelf to look at and say "this is my awesome storm porn collection," but Im just weird like that and in the grand scheme of things it doesnt really matter so onto what matters most, the meat.

The DVD starts quickly with a short segment from 2011 documenting a rare February tornado in Oklahoma, a rather insignificant event tornado wise as the funnel didn't fully condense and was short lived but given the early time of the year for it to occur seeing any shot of it is a treat.

We move onto another event not many chasers covered, April 3rd 2012 which saw a local tornado outbreak near the Dallas/FT worth area. Mostly local chasers on this event, Shane gets a brief look at a tornado in its rope out stage as he tries to battle metro traffic. Coming from someone who lives in another large metro area (Chicago) I can emphasize the frustration. Earmuffs recommended for children. Still, this is a shot you won't see anywhere else.

The next chapter ramps up big time and accounts for more than half the tornadoes on the DVD. 2012 was a disgustingly painful year for many chasers, but it did offer one major event which many chasers scored on. April 14th. Shane did about as good as you can and nabbed 10 tornadoes of all shapes and sizes, during the day and night. One shot shows twin tornadoes on the ground. Great chapter, great chasing, great tornadoes. Many of the tornadoes in this chapter are not well known as most chasers were in Kansas, a great plus since many of the shots I saw were new to me. Awesome nightime footage of a tornado with quick transitions. A series of video stills set to music follows. Something that offers a nice change of pace on the DVD, but fits in well with the chapter. On a personal note, I failed this day big time so it was bittersweet for me to watch.

Jumping to 2013 we find ourselves on May 15th which was another "surprise" event in TX few people chased. Again, and this seems to be a recurring theme on this DVD, we are given tornado video you wont find anywhere else. In the modern chasing area it is hard to have a unique catch that 40 other chasers don't have, but this DVD is loaded with them and this chapter is no exception. When I first watched it I thought "May 15th, what the heck happened on May 15th?" Well done.

May 18th follows which brings an amazing, well documented long lived EF-4 tornado near Rozel Kansas. It doesn't get anymore classic than this. The entire tornado life cycle captured on tripod from a single spot.

A brief tornado on May 19th, which again is footage from an event I didn't even know happened closes the DVD and the credits role.

Final thoughts:

Definitely a buy or a trade. I am one who loves the raw style, classic chase footage DVD, even the parts that drag out a bit along with the pointless crotch shots from inside the car. As a storm chaser myself its great to see these as well as the same frustrations, and early on intense "CMON FULLY CONDENSE ALREADY!!" type moments that I experience while chasing. There is very little editing in the DVD. You get a chapter title and thats it, the tornadoes take over, and there are lots of them.

One thing you can always count on with a Shane Adams DVD is wall to wall tornadoes. Lots of language on the DVD, which I find hilarious, but is not exactly family friendly. No in car shots of the chasers screaming and yelling at each other (something growing in popularity these days that I personally can't stand.) Just weather, the way it should be.

Do buy if: You want tornadoes and only tornadoes. You enjoy the classic, raw, pure chasing style. Enjoy having a large collection. Want to see footage form lesser events you wont find anywhere else. Have been a life-long fan of Shane.

Do not buy if: You are offended by strong language. You are a fanboy and want to see in car shots of the chasers having emotional moments with each other. Only enjoy up close and near death experience video.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lacking the time

Its been forever and a minute since I've rambled onto this page. I miss it. The truth is, I simply don't have the time lately to engage my audience like I wish I could. My work schedule is quite hectic and most days involve me waking up at 545am, and not getting back home until 6-7pm. My day job is physically demanding, and I am just too tired to put much thought into things when I get home. I eat, ramble on facebook for a few moments and go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat the next day.

The good part is on the financial side, Im making more money than I ever have in my life, and have exceeded some already aggressive goals I set for myself, including paying off my truck 10 months early.

The bad part is I miss being able to dive deep into my nerdy passion that is the weather. Luckily for the most part its been a boring summer storm wise, so I haven't really missed much, but just because the weather is boring here doesn't mean there aren't things going on elsewhere. My facebook page likes started soaring earlier this year, but those have died off since I make 1 or 2 posts a week now. Its amazing how fast you fade away without constant new content.

My job itself is not one I can really post updates easily. I don't work on a PC, and things take too long to do on the phone. Plus I try to actually be a good worker at my job instead of fumbling around on my phone all day. I've always loathed technology and peoples lust for needing it 24/7 - sadly, its a necessity for me to get the things I want in life. If it weren't for me trying to whore myself out as a chaser I would not be on facebook, I would not have a smart phone hell I don't even know if I would have a computer, which brings me back on topic....

On my weekends and when I get free time, I would actually rather be out fishing, spending time with friends/family or doing something fun instead of sitting on my rump online all day. Its a conflict of interest and one I've always had a hard time balancing. I know if I want to expose myself (not in that way you perverts) that I need to utilize these evil machines...but I don't particularly enjoy sitting behind a screen all the time. Some of the best weekends I have are the ones I go out fishing or something and just leave my phone behind. I've gotten into a better habit of not constantly checking it all the time.

Im not miserable though, I am the happiest Ive been in years and for the most part stress free. While my situation is not the ideal one I want for myself, I feel Ive gotten myself to the point of "next best thing." My job, while demanding, gives me really good flexibility to actually get out and chase, and that is the first and most important thing. If I have to sacrifice online time to actually be out in the field, well...thats a no brainer right there. Getting myself from "next best thing" to "best thing" is going to be a real challenge though, but so far everything Ive done has kept me in that direction, though on a slower pace than I would have preferred. There isn't much I can do about that though and sometimes it just is what it is. You've got to learn to adapt.

Alas though, the days are getting shorter, and that evil W season is around the corner. My seasonal work will go on its yearly 4 month hiatus, and then ill have more free time than I know what to do with. I will be back in full swing...just because you haven't seen much from me lately, doesn't mean the wheels have stopped turning and the ideas have run out. Nope, I've still got lots of things forthcoming and big things I want to do.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

The slow start to this chase season is eating me alive. It wouldn't be so bad if it was actually warm out, but with the exception of the past 2 days, the past 6 weeks have been below normal around here. We had no storm days at all during March. Pathetic. January actually saw 4 tstorm days in Chicago!

So what is one to do when not chasing? I actually created my own silver lining to the slow start by aggressively doing vehicle maintenance. I made a long list of things that needed to be done in order to get the thing running in tip top shape. The major burden was a catalytic converter replacement required by the state of IL in order to pass the emissions and legally renew my registration. That was a nice 900 dollar, unecessary repair. I figured as long as I am doing that I might as well just do everything.

It has been very costly, and while not all the work was needed, it will benefit me in the long run with a reliable vehicle that will easily go 200k miles and beyond. I have one thing left to do, and it is road ready. I go back to work in just a few days, so while I have completely exhausted my budget, the money will soon start piling up again.

Another thing I have done, and some may have noticed this is I have upped my self promotion to the point of almost being one of those annoying people who whores themself out. For years I told myself I would let myself be discovered through my own hard work, and while that has indeed happened, I was lazy in actually making a strong effort to put myself out there. I just kinda did my thing and let people find me. It worked, but as I did this, people were blowing me by, and getting the things I want for myself.

I also didn't want to deal with people turning their nose at me for "whoring" myself out. There was a time I didn't want to upset my peers by coming off as some whacker noob in it for the wrong reasons. Those days are over and I am now of the mentallity that if you dont like me or what I do, you can piss off. This is my life, my dream, and Ill be damned if I let someone else and their opinions try and tell me how to run it.

So this year I have sent out emails, I have branched out and made new contacts. I finally have a real logo to identify my brand with. I finally figured out the direction I want my facebook page to go and how to engage my followers. It took me a year to reach 650 likes. In the last 2 months I have tripled that simply with a new plan. I scored myself a couple small sponshorship deals which include some free stuff and free mobile internet. This makes chasing easier on myself financially and opens up my work to a wider audience.

As they say in Twister, "The days of sniffing the dirt are over." There is nothing else I want more in life than to have chasing be my full time gig. Ill work a normal job to support a comfortable living for myself, I have no problems with that, but if I really want the freedom to chase wherever and whenever I want I need to figure out ways to make that happen.

No more sitting around and waiting for things to fall into my lap, its time to grab the bull by the horns and make it happen for myself. I've come too far, and put way too much effort to quit now. I believe I have too much skill and good things to share with people than to just sit in the shadows and let people pass me by.

..and THIS is how one keeps busy during an abnormally slow start to tornado season. Im feeling really confident right now after all I've struggle to do in the last couple months. Hopefully the pattern picks up and I get a chance to back up my claims and show my worth. Cmon mother nature...send a bull into my rink.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


We are a week into March. Woo Hoo chase season, Spring!!! But wait...something isn't right. Thats right, Chicago just received 9.5" of snow yesterday making it the largest snowstorm since the GHD blizzard back in February 2011 as well as a top 4 March snow event in all of Chicago's 128 year weather history.

The start of March is an exciting time for most people. Spring is just around the corner, warmer weather, better times, sunnier skies and stormier days. No group of weirdos on the planet await this time of year with more anticipation than storm chasers, which I consider myself to be (a subjective definition if ever there was one, but I believe I fit the bill in my own biased eyes.)

So...where the hell is spring?!?!?!? Lets turn the trustworthy forecast models. (click to enlarge image)


While fluctuations like this are normal, especially in the long range, these are pretty radical. Overall the trend has been colder than normal though, with only brief spells of mild weather. Every now and then we'll get teased by a few runs that look warmer and more spring-like, only to be followed up by more runs showing colder than normal temps.

So we can't look there. Where else can we look? While I don't consider myself an expert and noone should view me as such. Over the years I have become a huge fan of the teleconnections, especially one known as the NAO (North Atalintic Oscillation.) Basically it has to do with ocean currents and how they affect the jet stream. Like all weather patterns it fluctuates.

A positive pattern promotes west coast troughing, a pattern more favorable for severe weather while a negative pattern promotes east coast troughing and generally cooler weather across the US. Not good for large scale severe weather patterns. I have been observing this for a couple years now, and found it to be pretty accurate (but like anything with weather, it isn't 100% garauntee) Taking a look I am not seeing much love here either, but a low trend towards hopefully a positive phase is better than nothing. I have also marked 2 recent noteable tornado outbreaks and both correlate with a positive phase.

Notice in February we tanked into a negative phase, and suddenly winter arrives and take a stronghold for many in the heartland. The forecast seems to go along with the general cold trend seen on the models, another sign I am not a fan of.

All of this is hard to digest for a severe weather lover such as myself as I am not seeing many of the signs I normally would like to see come spring time. It is far too early to sound the panic alarm though. This type of pattern is not unheard of this time of year, and sometimes things get off to a slow start. 2008 was the only year in my chase career I didn't chase in March, and 2008 set a record number of tornadoes for the country. Anything can happen.

All it takes is a sudden pattern change and BAM, things light up. Unfortunately, such a pattern doesn't look to be in the cards just yet. There will be marginal setups along the way though, and even slow patterns have their fare share of severe weather producing setups, just not the kind to lure someone like me from Chicago to Kansas.

My advice to those eager to get out who can't sit still is to take advantage of what appears to be a slow start. Fine tune your projects, double check all that vehicle maintenance. Put in some overtime at work to stock up on time off for when things do decide to change. 

It will happen...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tornado Days

Been on a stats kick lately so I decided to check out all the calendar days I have seen tornadoes and discovered something funny. I have never seen a tornado on the same calendar day in different years. Out of 365 days in a year I have seen tornadoes on 31 of them, but each date is different.

Perhaps that will be a fun little goal I can try to hit in 2013, double up on a calender day to make that my "statistically best tornado day"

Anyways, here are the tornado days:

2nd (2012)
22nd (2011)

9th (2011)
13th (2012)
14th (2012)
19th (2011)
22nd (2010)
27th (2011)
29th (2010)

5th (2007)
10th (2010)
12th (2011)
13th (2009)
21st (2011)
22nd (2010)
23rd (2008)
24th (2011)
25th (2008)

5th (2009, 2010)
6th (2007)
7th (2008)
10th (2010)
14th (2009)
15th (2009)
17th (2010)
19th (2011)
20th (2011)

26th (2011)

12th (2012)
18th (2007)

7th (2011)

Side note - further illustrating how much 2012 sucked, it is the first year since I started visiting the plains in 2007 that I did not see a tornado in May or June. Sad...

Edit* - It turns out the entire context of this blog is false. I just remembered I saw tornadoes on June 5th, 2010 as well which makes that my "best tornado day" Whoops...

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Thunderstorm of 2013 for Chicago

Well here is my obligatory first thunderstorm of the year post. A very unusual winter we are having this year. It is January 11th and the city's official snowfall so far is an almost non existent 1.3" - which is about a foot below normal. Numerous snow records have fallen including latest first date for measurable snow, longest consecutive days without measurable snow and longest consecutive days without an inch of snow. We also tied the latest date for the first sub-freezing high temperature as well broke a couple of other odd anti winter weather records I can't remember off the top of my head. For people like me who hate winter and snow, its been a dream pattern!

The next record to be threatened is the latest first date of an Inch of snow, which is January 17th - but a system tomorrow threatens us with an inch or 2 of snow so well have to see if we can dodge yet another bullet.

Anyways, the lack of snow isn't due to lack of precip, but rather a mild pattern. We have picked up a good deal of rain in the last month which is helping to ease the drought some. Yesterday another good dumping of rain came with a brief period of thunder and lightning and I was able to log the first thunderstorm for the local area. Quite unusual to have it so early in the year, but not unheard of. In fact last year in January we had an even better event with actual individual convective cells containing numerous CG lightning.

This event was more CC lightning embedded in a large shield of rain with only a couple CG. Still though, lightning is lightning and thunder is thunder. I will take it over snow anyday! I wasn't home at the time so the only radar shot I saved was from the app on my cell phone. A CG icon can be seen near Palos Heights.

Naturally, this only makes me long for more frequent and stronger storms and gets me excited for the upcoming season. Preliminary thoughts see it being much better than 2012 for the pure fact I won't be as financially stressed as I was during 2012 and now that I am better established at work I can get more time off to chase, so those two facts alone should increase my success.

Now the weather cooperating is another story. Its too early to tell. Many are worried about the still ongoing drought but I am not as big of a doomsday sayer since much of the country has seen a good snowfall over the winter. Even parts of west Texas which were bone dry managed to get more snow than Chicago. It seems moisture is returning to the US, albeit slowly. So as always, we'll just wait and see...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

DVD Review: Storm Snob

Storm chaser and good friend Ben Holcomb has released his 3rd DVD this year, titled Storm Snob

Ben is one of only a couple chasers to release DVDs this season. The title derives from the notion that storm chasers who live in tornado alley refuse to chase anything outside of those boundaries while scoffing at others who choose to do so. Given the fact that every second of video on this DVD comes from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the title is very fitting.

2012 was a tough year for chasers, but Ben was one of the few who had a good success ratio, so the expectations when viewing were higher than others. This year Ben seemed to have a special knack for finding that needle in a haystack storm that would produce on a day where 20 other storms wouldn't. Despite his success compared to other individual chasers in 2012, there probably still wouldn't be enough content from 2012 alone, so it begins with events from fall of 2011 (which followed his already completed second DVD release.)

The DVD opens with September 17th and covers a marginal, but rewarding setup in Oklahoma. Video shows 2 different tornadoes on the ground at the same time, and some neat funnel rotation directly overhead. The video is good and stable despite parts of the tornado managing to sneak out of frame for a bit. A very nice, solid opening to the DVD.

Things ramp up big time in the next chapter which covers November 7th 2011. This was a big day for many (including myself as you will see since I am riding along with him.) Footage shows many tornadoes of all shapes and sizes from all different ranges. Beginning with the dramatic Tipton EF-4 (which is the cover image of the DVD) and ending with an impressive 3 tornadoes on the ground at the same time 4 hours later. In between there are numerous other tornadoes including one that travels right through a wind farm. This is the longest chapter of the DVD and is jam packed with tornado action. This day could be a DVD all on its own and is well worth the price of purchase.

We finally move into 2012 with the plains' first good tornadoes on March 18th. Another solid chapter showing 2 tornadoes with little "fluff." Its intro, then tornado time.

April 13th follows and shows Ben and his chase partner attempting to view a tornado that went through their hometown of Norman, Oklahoma. Footage is mostly them driving shouting the tornado is there, but it is almost impossible to make out given the position. Some damage footage follows proving a tornado was there though. Later in the day they witness an odd looking cone tornado near Saddle Mountain, OK as they intercept a beastly HP storm. Nothing knock-your-socks-off dramatic as the view was far, but any tornado shot in 2012 is a bonus.

April 14th, the big day of the year follows. Unfortunately there are no dramatic shots of the amazing Langley tornado like many would expect, but there are still several tornadoes to be had, including a non-condensed one in a nearby field. A pair of cone tornadoes near dusk and after dark follows. As a bonus you get to see a turkey get blasted to smitherines, though if you are an animal lover, this might make you queezy. Its only low quality dash cam footage so no need to throw any graphic content warnings.

A chapter covering April 30th follows and shows Ben's big unique prize catch of the year. A beautiful, strong tornado near Medford, OK. As far as I know, the only existing footage of this tornado comes from Ben and you will have to get this DVD in order to see it. Unfortunately, it is after dark so all you are allowed by nature are glimpses in between lightning flashes, but at least the frames are frozen so you can see it longer than a tenth of a second. Still, for night time video it is awesome, and Ben throws in some great still photos as well of this awesome tornado.

May 25th was a decent day for many chasers, including Ben. Another chapter with multiple tornadoes, but again unfortunately they are after dark so all you are allowed are brief glimpses from far away and some still shots.

We fast forward to fall and find ourselves in October chasing a supercell north of Lubbock, TX. The chapter starts out with some large hail footage, which adds a nice variety to a DVD where every other chapter follows a -daily intro-tornado time- format. I for one appreciate variety in a DVD and like to see something other than tornadoes once in awhile. A weak tornado spins up later, and the group was in position to get good video of it. Lightning photos follow to conclude a solid chase day turned solid DVD chapter.

The DVD wraps up with a photo montage chapter showing various structure, lightning, tornado and even random humorous shots throughout the year.

Overall thoughts:

This is about as good as it gets for a single chaser highlight DVD covering 2012. Every chapter features tornadoes, and there is almost no filler or fluff. Little bonuses like radar images are a nice addition to the shot to show how the storms evolve during the chase. Most of the video is tripoded and very stable even though a few moments are plagued by auto focus. This is a definite buy for every level of DVD enthusiast. A great addition to your collection, even if you are the hard to please, must be loaded with tornado video DVD type of person. I highly recommend it.

Check it out and order it here: http://www.benholcomb.com/store/dvds/stormsnob