Book Review: Severe Storm Forecasting by Tim Vasquez

Beginning with his Weather Forecasting Handbook, which I purchased years ago at a College of DuPage severe weather conference, I’ve collected one-by-one nearly all of Tim Vasquez’s books on storm chasing and weather. The only exception is Tim’s most recent, 2011 publication, the Weather Forecasting and Analysis Handbook, and that’s next on my list.

The owner of Weather Graphics and the well-known storm chasing forum, Stormtrack, Tim is a widely acknowledged guru of storm chasing and operational forecasting, particularly in the severe weather arena. The man possesses more convective knowledge in his left pinkie than most of us do in our entire bodies, and in this fairly recent publication, he organizes information that is most relevant to chasers and severe weather junkies.

In Tim’s words, “Severe Storm Forecasting was a project started in 2007 to serve as the perfect companion for intermediate forecasters and a refresher for experienced forecasters. It maps the current state of severe thunderstorm forecasting from an operational framework rather than a research or academic perspective. Equations, physics, and lengthy citations have been kept to a bare minimum.” (From the preface.)

In other words, the book is intended to provide up-to-date, practical information that storm chasers can readily apply in forecasting and in the field. Since its release in 2010, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this book. A while ago, I finally shelled out my $29.95 and purchased a copy, and I’ve spent the last several weeks chewing on it. It’s nutritious fare: thoughtfully organized, as current as is possible in a field shaped by rapid technological advances, and accessible to anyone who wants to apply him- or herself to developing severe weather forecasting skills.

Severe Storm Forecasting is divided into 10 sections as follows:

  • The Forecast Process
  • The Thunderstorm
  • Mesoscale Convective Systems
  • Tornadoes
  • Hail
  • Lightning
  • Stability & Shear
  • Radar
  • Satellite
  • Diagnosis
  • .
    An appendix contains additional information on the WSR-88D radar and the more commonly used diagnostic tools in severe weather forecasting, and also supplies blank, reproducible hodograph and skew-T/log-P charts.

    While the topics covered will be familiar to chasers who do their own forecasting, I’ve found plenty to broaden my scope, ranging from brand-new insights to discussions on topics with which I was only vaguely acquainted. For example, the section on QLCS tornadoes is the first time I’ve seen the subject given more than a casual nod. Here in Michigan, linear systems are far more common than isolated supercells, so it’s nice to encounter a book that spends a little time looking at their role as occasional tornado breeders.

    A strong asset of Severe Storm Forecasting is the way it aggregates the broad array of elements that are relevant to severe weather and then expands on them in one tidy package. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t one-stop shopping. One book simply can’t cover everything in depth; pick any chapter and you can make a further study of its subject. But this book does much more than skim the surface. It is by no means a mere primer; it is a text that will equip you with a broad and substantial grasp of severe weather forecasting, and you shouldn’t conceive of it as a one-time read that you move through linearly and then “finish.” There’s too much content for a reader to absorb all in one pass, and much of it needs to be connected with field experience in order for it to gel. So look at Severe Storm Forecasting as a reference that you will process bit by bit. Once you’ve accomplished your initial read, you will return to it again and again.

    In the style of his other books, Tim has made ample use of sidebars to provide interesting asides that range from the historical to the technical. Just riffling through the pages, I find, for example, a call-out on page 75 that consists of material written in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs that sheds light on the origin of the word “derecho”; then a few pages later, on page 80, I read a smaller sidebar that discusses the term “swirl ratio”; and still further along, on page 95, I come across a fairly extensive personal communication from Paul Markowski on the contributing factors in warm versus cold RFDs.

    Three recommendations for improvement:

    1. 1. I’m surprised that a glossary was not included in a work of this nature. It is the one area in which I consider this book to be lacking, and I hope Tim will address the matter in his next edition.
    2. 2. An online supplement would add value. This could feature graphic, possibly interactive, examples of such topics as lifting and modifying forecast soundings, radar interpretation, and so forth. The supplement would be accessible only to purchasers using a code included in the back of the book. It could be used with other of Tim’s books as well, so one supplement could serve multiple purposes.
    3. 3. I have the sense that the editing was grassroots. The result is quite good, but speaking as someone with a background in publishing, I think the book could benefit from further proofreading or perhaps a light edit.

    With these things said, Severe Storm Forecasting is an eminently useful and well-done resource that belongs in a storm chaser’s library. If you’re a new chaser, I would recommend that you start with Storm Chasing Handbook, also by Tim; then purchase this book to expand your knowledge. Those with a bit more experience can jump right in. Regardless of your level of expertise, get this book. At some point, you’re either going to be glad you own it or else wish that you did.

    Purchasing Information

    • Severe Storm Forecasting by Tim Vasquez, 262 pages.
    • $29.95 plus shipping, available from Weather Graphics.

    NOTE: This is a non-paid, unsolicited review. I’ve written it as a service to my readers because I personally appreciate Tim’s book and feel that it provides a valuable and well-organized resource for storm chasers and severe weather buffs.

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