Failures, Frustrations and Wild Successes –
   What I did on my vacation

Dr. Charles A. (Chuck) Doswell III
Research Meterologist
NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory

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A radar echo of a supercell north of Petersburg, TX. 5/25/99

Ups and Downs
    This year, my chase vacation was filled with tornado chances, if not tornado successes. In case I needed it (I hope not!), the atmosphere humbled me on several occasions. I need no reminders that I am not among the elite storm chasers ... my luck and skill puts me well below the level of the real expert chasers (Gene Moore [who gets my vote for #1 chaser in the country!], Bill Reid, Erik Rasmussen, Al Pietrycha, Tim Marshall, Gene Rhoden, etc.), but Vickie and I managed to catch two tornadic events, anyway ... as well as missing some others. We had a lot of fun chasing storms together and I enjoyed my outdoor photography on several days when there wasn't much happening. My biggest disappointment, apart from missing three tornado events I probably should have gotten, is another year with relatively few lightning photography opportunities.

    Kansas chasing was better this year (less construction!) and I finally ended both my Kansas and Nebraska tornado jinxes ... my first decent tornado intercepts in both Kansas and Nebraska. There is still a lot of construction going on in Kansas and Colorado construction continues near Springfield, not all that far from where Al and I first encountered it two years ago! Ugh.
   "Chaser convergence" is occasionally getting rather out of hand, although it's clear that nothing can be done about it. In a couple of cases, there probably were 30-40 vehicles dashing about. It was pretty bad on the 03 May day, where about 30 chasers (including me!) played leapfrog along I-44 for most of the tornado's track. Other chasers were everywhere.
One of the DoWs blocking I-44 on 3 May 1999

   The DoWs attract a considerable set of tag-alongs and have produced some rather dangerous situations by the way they park their vehicles (and the retinue exacerbates this by adding a string of vehicles parked behind them!). We saw one chaser who lost it on a dirt road and had crashed through a fence into a field. It seems that many new chasers are not behaving very responsibly, as they are not pulling their vehicles off the road and are engaging in various forms of erratic behavior. It's still possible on some occasions to have a storm to oneself, although there may yet be unseen chasers nearby. I have no problem with most of the old veterans, who tend to behave well and keep a low profile. At least some of the new crowd, even including professional video and film production crews, do not seem so inclined to be responsible. Ahh, the lure of money and excitement attracts an interesting bunch. I'm not yet ready to quit chasing, but some of the things I have seen in recent years are pretty discouraging, and makes me not feel very proud to be a storm chaser. What makes it bad is that I feel some measure of responsibility for what has happened .. sigh.
   Technology continues to make chasing easier. It seems the DoWs and the VORTEX-99 crews were in the right place at about the right time on many occasions this year. Old-fashioned chasers, like me, who have suffered for years by being deaf, dumb, and blind after making the initial forecast, are at a considerable disadvantage compared to those who have ready access to surface data, as well as radar and satellite imagery. I may have to upgrade my technology. I must admit that feeling of being "dazed and confused" on a chase day, and then missing events that I could easily have captured, is not a good feeling and something I think I want to minimize, somehow. The days of "going visual" are about over. The percentages of tornadic intercepts have been going up and I guess I'm going to have to catch up.

Some Impressions
    There is a lot of real estate in west central and northwestern SD with a very low population density! At least this year, the grasslands in this area are quite green and even attractive, in an empty-spaces way. This impression of emptiness probably includes areas of western ND and most of eastern MT. I suspect the reported tornado frequencies there are very serious underestimates. This adds to my awareness that big chunks of western TX, eastern CO, and eastern NM are quite underrepresented in the tornado frequency maps. Agricultural regions in other nearby regions (western KS and NE) tend to have enough farmsteads that tornado reporting is at least possible, but where it's tens of miles between houses, much less towns, virtually all tornadoes are likely to go unreported (and probably their intensity will be underestimated, even if they are reported ... there's nothing to gauge intensity by in these empty spaces), except where seen by chasers. Talking with the few folks we found suggests that they have seen and even been affected by many tornadoes that may well never have been reported.
    Northern NE is not what I expected it to be (a sandy wasteland with scrub brush, at most). The Sandhills are quite attractive, with lots of wetlands within the sandy hills and loads of migratory birds and other wildlife. The ride across northern NE on US20 is terrific. There is some tourism evident in the area, especially in the VTN area, but this region strikes me as a mostly undiscovered treasure.

Ed. Note: This is an edited version of Doswell's 1999 storm chasing vacation. To see more log entries and spectacular images you can go to his web page.

Non-Flash Journal Index Storm Chase Log    1    2

Images supplied by Chuck Doswell ©1999. Used by permission.