Storm Chasing: The Anthology: An Interview with Blake Naftel

Blake2Amid my collection of storm chasing videos is an old VHS titled A Spotter’s Guide to Michigan Convective Weather. Produced in 2000 by Blake Naftel in collaboration with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, the award-winning video is a vintage reflection of Blake’s dual passions for storm chasing and videography—a combination shared by countless chasers, but which in Blake’s case, having developed in a unique way at an opportune time, has forged a path that brings him today to the verge of a remarkable undertaking. But let me set the stage. . . . Long past are the days when storm chasing was the little-known, eclectic pursuit of a handful of pioneering weather photographers and researchers crisscrossing the Great Plains. Today, hundreds of chasers routinely pound the roads of Tornado Alley, and more are entering the fray all the time, influenced by what they’ve seen on TV but lacking any awareness of where it came from. Yet storm chasing has roots—deep roots, a legacy of personalities, events, and endeavors that deserves to be cherished but is in danger of being lost. The time to preserve that rich heritage is now, when most of those who have created it are still with us. Now is the time to honor the colorful history of storm chasing and connect it to today’s talented generation of younger chasers and weather scientists and the future which is theirs to shape. That is the vision that drives Blake Naftel to produce Storm Chasing: The Anthology. It is unquestionably the most ambitious cultural and historical project ever to focus on storm chasing. Given the grassroots character of chasing, it is fitting that an effort of such a landmark nature should arise not out of some big commercial production house, but from one of our own. Someone who has storm chasing in his blood and cares about it deeply enough to portray it with honesty; better yet, to let those who have contributed to it do the portraying on their own terms. There will be no scripting, no manufactured storyline. There will just be stories, told by those who have lived them, beginning with the very origins of storm chasing. There will be storms, of course—unadorned, historical storms as well as contemporary ones; storms you may have chased yourself as well as ones from decades past that you’ve only heard of and wished you could have experienced. There will be insights into the rise and development of tornado research. And there will be much more. That is, provided Blake can pull off a venture of such magnitude. Those of us who know him think he can. He’s immensely talented as both a chaser and a cameraman with years of experience in TV journalism, he has a penchant for the truth, and he’s motivated by sheer love for his subject. The project is huge in scope and fraught with challenges. But Blake is embracing those challenges, and the result promises to be unlike anything else that has ever been attempted. And with that, I’ll let Blake tell the rest of the story. --------------- Question: Let’s start with a bit of personal history, the stuff that has forged your path toward this project. What first got you started both as a storm chaser and as a professional cameraman? Blake NaftelBlake: My interest in severe weather, meteorology, and storm chasing developed early, just before I turned five. I recall being exposed to The Wizard of Oz­­—specifically the tornado sequence—and more importantly, to the NOVA-WGBH documentary “Tornado,” which was first broadcast in November 1985. I was determined to record the program, but my family lacked a VHS VCR at that time. Fortunately, my uncle in Detroit had one, and just after Thanksgiving 1985, I had a copy of the broadcast. The following year, my parents purchased a VCR, and the tape was played extensively—to the point of memorization. The tape found its way to  friends’ homes, where instead of children’s cartoons, the sixty-minute program on tornadoes, storm chasing, and the Barneveld, Wisconsin, tragedy was required viewing. Picking up on my interest in severe weather, my mom began telling me stories of the tornado she witnessed only a few years prior in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on May 13, 1980. Descriptions of the “twin tails” rotating around one another from her viewpoint at the Civic building in downtown Kalamazoo captivated me. The iconic Kalamazoo Gazette front-page newspaper photograph furthered my fascination, and soon I was checking out every book on tornadoes that I could locate at the Kalamazoo Public Library. Later in the spring of 1986, my mom visited my godmother in Kansas City, Missouri, where, at the time, the National Severe Storms Forecast Center was located. She returned with numerous informative brochures and spotter’s guide material, which I instantly became hooked on. Additionally that year, Mom designed a flip book with illustrations of the progression of the events from May 13, 1980­—sunshine, clouds, greenish-grey skies, lightning, the tornado’s approach, its wrath—concluding with calm, blue, sunny skies. It depicted the day just as it had transpired. I still have this little book, entitled Tornado! (“For Blake, from Mom.”) Zooming ahead about a decade, I began developing a great interest in cameras—specifically in motion picture cinematography, videography, and 35 mm photography. This was early in the Internet age, and multiple interests of mine were spanning territories that included affordable access to used camera equipment, fee-based and free weather data, and newsgroup networking with seasoned storm chasers and meteorologists across the United States and Canada (WX-TALK, WX-CHASE). Upon receiving my driver’s license, I began to actually chase storms in 1996­‒97. My chasing at the time was all local, learn-as-you-go, with my knowledge of storm structure and my chase style informed by various storm chase highlight videos which I swapped with Bill Reid, Jim Leonard, Tim Marshall, Warren Faidley, Scott Woelm, Bruce D. Lee, Roger Edwards, and Rich Thompson, among others. At this point, I also began experimenting with HTML design, early online video, and the development of a regional group of storm spotters and chasers who would gather video of severe weather events in Michigan for the purpose of SKYWARN spotter training. Eventually, after making contact with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, I created a statewide training video for storm spotters, developed though my early attempt at social networking and video sourcing. The now long-defunct website known as MSIT (Michigan Storm Intercept Team) was one of several web pages I created back then. During the same period, I began an online business buying and selling used motion picture and video camera gear. By doing so, I acquired several different types of cameras, learned about them by trial and error, and frequently focused their lenses on the weather, nature, and people around me. This approach mixed in with a “vintage” look I was going for at the time, and it eventually became a style I utilize to this day. Then in 1998, the event occurred that would lead me to a future career in photojournalism and TV. On June 11, I was storm chasing across north-central Indiana in Elkhart and Kosciusko counties. It was a very basic chase with paper maps, weather radio, black-and-white television tuned to local media for radar updates, and a general target area based on the parameters. It did not seem like a prime tornado day, although when I recall the dynamics of the system today, it now is very obvious. Long story short: I ended up successfully intercepting and documenting several brief tornadoes which struck south and northeast of Nappanee, Indiana, on SR 19. The chase had at least one nerve-wracking moment when my vehicle’s transmission temporarily gave out in the path of the oncoming tornado, which was less than a mile-and-a-half away. Fortunately the transmission kicked back into gear, allowing me a northern escape. Once in a safe position, with SVHS camcorder tripoded, I filmed the wall cloud and its attendant weak tornadoes as they continued dipping down to the northeast. The following morning, I saw the amateur video of another tornado near Bristol, Indiana—which occurred prior to what I witnessed—showcased on the morning news on WSBT 22 and WNDU 16. Prompted by my growing interest in broadcast meteorology, TV news, and videography, I called WNDU and spoke to Mike Hoffman, the chief meteorologist, about my own video. He took great interest and asked if they could buy the video for their 11 p.m. newscast on June 12. After another round of severe weather across the same region that day, I ended up meeting the station’s chief photographer in White Pigeon, Michigan. I gave him my original tape, and later that evening, my video of the Nappanee tornadic event appeared on WNDU’s newscast. From that point, I began freelancing for local media and soon became  involved with the production side of local television. This eventually grew into my various incarnations as a photojournalist, reporter, weather producer, and technician in the years that followed. Q: What were those early years like for you? With whom did you chase? How have your experiences and personal interests influenced your videographic approach, which goes beyond chronicling the storms to also documenting the human and historical sides of storm chasing? B: My early years of storm chasing were very local, restricted to traveling through the western portions of lower Michigan, with occasional trips to northern and central Indiana. Typically, those early trips were either with high school friends or solo, utilizing my 1989 Ford Taurus wagon or a dilapidated 1978 Chevy van my friend Aaron Graham would occasionally drive. Fuel cost was still low, just 79 cents in 1997, so traveling at length to witness severe thunderstorms was not of great significance. Even back then, I was using multiple documentation formats, frequently hauling motion picture film, video, and still photography equipment together into the field just to chronicle everyday Michigan severe thunderstorms. For the more vivid events, I preferred to shoot silent Super 8 color movie film, whereas VHS/SVHS video was a near-constant format that seemed to be always rolling. I was intrigued by tornadoes on film—namely, the early NOAA-produced films—versus video. The quality, grain, and occasional scratches and dust flecks produced by the projector created a look I was determined to capture. And I did, experimenting with different cameras, formats, and photographic styles. I didn’t confine myself to severe weather or storm chasing only; family events, pets, and the natural surroundings across my hometown area in Texas Township, Michigan, also provided a dynamic environment full of interesting subjects and colors. My subject range continued to expand as I became involved with broadcast photojournalism and developing my own shooting style. Again, it was all by trial and error. My first chasing exposure to the Plains states was in 1999 and more expansively in 2000. Prior to this point, I had only lived vicariously through the videos of other chasers with whom I had networked through the Internet. Bill Reid, from the Los Angeles region, was one individual who had direct influence not only on my chase documentation style but also on my musical tastes at the time. Over the years, we swapped storm chase highlight videotapes and conversed online, and this eventually led to a distant friendship, which in turn opened the doors to my working for Tempest Tours, with Bill serving as tour director. In 2001 I was invited to drive and help forecast for Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, run by Todd Thorn. By then I was twenty years old and attending college, and the appeal of having all my lodging and fuel costs paid for seemed too good to pass up. That experience involved a huge tour: three vans full of individuals from across the world as well as three media vehicles from The Weather Network, the Denver Post, and WKOW-TV in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an eye-opener for someone who had primarily chased solo or within small groups, and only locally, never throughout the Plains states. I don’t regret the experience whatsoever, but I chose not to drive for a second tour scheduled directly after the first. Tours can be exhausting, especially those with so many participants! That year was also the first operational year of Tempest Tours, a company formed by documentary filmmaker Martin Lisius, who was good friends with Bill Reid. I had been in contact with Martin in previous years, ordering his Chasing the Wind, Chasers of Tornado Alley, and StormWatch productions. Out of the blue, Bill contacted me, inquiring about my interest in being a paid driver/guide for Tempest Tours the following year. I was both humbled and floored! I accepted the offer, and in May 2002, I began a five-year stint with Tempest. During that time, I developed many new friendships that would never have been possible without the flexibility that working for a storm chase tour company provided. Concurrently, I was also working on my geography/GIS degree at Western Michigan University, and I found myself drawn intensely to the mecca of academic severe weather research and meteorology in Norman. The tours, based out of Oklahoma City, provided a wonderful gateway to interacting with other meteorologists and storm chasers who shared similar interests. Due to the requirements of the broadcast news industry I was now working in, 2008 was my last year working in the storm chase tour circuit. The peak chase month of May is a “sweeps” period in newscasting, and vacation is rarely allowed. So the tours had to take a back seat. But the entire experience was fantastic, one that created friendships which continue to this day and left me with amazing images of visual water vapor, along with an enjoyment, courtesy of Bill Reid, of the musical artists Stan Ridgway and Klaus Nomi. It had been a remarkable, full, and deeply formative passage in my life—and I had it all documented extensively on videotape. Q: On to your project. Describe Storm Chasing: The Anthology. What is it? How did you think of it? How is it different from other storm chasing videos and documentaries such as Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series, and what do you hope it will accomplish? Why is it important—and why now? B: Storm Chasing: The Anthology developed out of an earlier, untitled project from the 2003‒2004 era which I had shelved. The first concept was a 60-minute documentary on the human element of storm chasing. At that point, I had accumulated hundreds of hours of my own storm chasing endeavors—as well as the people I had been chasing with at the time. Impromptu interviews from the field were gathered, but it was all very “reality TV” to me, and that was a style I was losing interest in. Jump ahead ten years. Much had changed in the world of storm chasing. Several reality TV shows had transpired, including Storm Chasers, Tornado Road, and smaller spin-offs. I still had all of my original material sitting around in boxes, but had lost interest in doing the earlier concept. Then came the tragedy of May 31, 2013, in El Reno, Oklahoma, which affected the entire storm chasing community and touched me in a very personal way. That event served as the initial trigger for me to revisit my old project and envision a different and expanded approach to it, and it has given me the drive to complete it. The idea is to present a complete (or as complete as possible) visual history of storm chasing culture. This grows out of the humanity aspect of the original concept, but instead of using a narrator, it will be told through the words, stories, and images of every storm chaser and meteorologist who participates, revealing the full, fascinating decade-by-decade evolution of storm chasing. To date, the many documentaries and programs about storm chasing have focused on specific events, people, or scientific endeavors, with the 1978 documentary In Search of Tornadoes being the first widely broadcast feature on the subject. In contrast, Storm Chasing: The Anthology is comprehensive. It will serve as a sweeping visual history lesson and an archive of storm chasing culture. Through this project, I plan to preserve the legacy of past generations of the activity, connect that heritage to what chasing is today, and make the results available as an educational resource for present and aspiring meteorologists and severe weather enthusiasts. In time, I hope to have this project serve as a visual thesis towards the development of a digital, cloud-based, multimedia archive of severe weather. This would be university-based and available as a research and reference resource. That is far down the line, but it was another trigger to doing this project. As individual meteorologists and storm chasers pass on, their collections of imagery and work run the risk of vanishing; the archive would answer that concern. Obviously, you cannot preserve everything, nor is that my intention. One can, however, preserve vast amounts of a subject, and I feel that now is the time to make a push toward that end. Q: Who is Storm Chasing: The Anthology for? Primarily storm chasers? Or do you hope to reach a broader audience? How will this anthology benefit viewers? B: This production is being created for anyone with an interest in history, severe weather research, meteorology, and the activity of storm chasing. Granted, the core audience is those who are, or have been, directly involved in storm chasing. The benefit to viewers will be a broad education on all aspects of storm chasing as an activity. Initially, a condensed premiere version will be released, followed by a six-part anthology. The latter obviously may take far more work than I had initially thought, and at the moment, this is a completely independent effort—so I ask everyone to please bear with me. In terms of a broader audience, upon completion, I wish to make the anthology available to libraries and academic institutions. In time, I would love to present this program on a broadcast/web streaming platform—specifically, PBS. The film festival circuit will also be a part of the exposure to other individuals who would not normally have a direct interest in this subject. As for making the anthology available for individual purchase, that’s in the plans, but I’ll first need to take care of the necessary copyright and licensing requirements. Q: This is obviously a huge undertaking, spanning roughly sixty years of storm chasing history. Given your talents, experience, and relationships with storm chasers from veterans to talented younger chasers, you seem uniquely qualified to make it happen. What have you already done, what do you still need to do, and how long do you think it will take? B: So much has been accomplished already! A tremendous amount of video, film, and other material has been gathered over the past decade. But much remains to be done. The core of the project involves my completing fifty-plus interviews of individual storm chasers and meteorologists across thirty-one states and Ontario, Canada. The Kickstarter campaign is intended to defray my travel expenses. With that campaign now in its final week, concluding on July 25, I am still seeking additional funds to offset the combined 7 to 10 percent fee that Amazon and Kickstarter will take from the funding pool. My next task is acquiring a vehicle for travel. I share a vehicle presently and will likely be renting one for the trip. I’m currently approaching local car dealerships and national rental vehicle agencies about sponsoring a car. One of these options will be secured in the next month. I am also still deciding what format to shoot the interviews on. Presently I have the offer of older, loaned (fee-free) gear from friends, and that will likely be the route I take. Once the interviews are complete, editing will be the monumental task on my mind, along with production design. I am confident that a condensed premiere version would be ready by the summer of 2015. And I earnestly hope to have the six-part anthology completed by October or November 2015 and available either as BluRay/DVD or as a digital download. There is the whole aspect of meeting the deadlines promised to backers of this project—so 2015 will be a very busy year for post-production! I’m always eager for assistance and will likely be inquiring with local or regional production firms and/or academic institutions in order to complete the project in a timely manner. Another big reality is securing an income—or multiple-income sources—locally or regionally while working on the post production phase of this project. Working independently, I’m taking a great risk, and I find that both exciting and unnerving. I’m leaving my full-time job at WWMT on August 22 to set out for the month or so it will take me to complete the interviews, and I have nothing official lined up upon my return. While I have requested an unpaid extended leave from the station, it is only a possible consideration. Moreover, the focus required for the editing phase of this project is immense, so if I could secure local part-time or freelance employment within the Grand Rapids area, that would work quite well. Although I cannot say what the future holds, doors continue to open in new directions for me each step of the way with this project, and I have faith that everything will work out. Upon my return, hours upon hours of video will be ingested and logged. Not only so, but countless hours of B-roll video material dating back to David Hoadley’s earliest storm chasing movies will also need to be digitally archived. All the multimedia material I’ll be dealing with comprises well over 1,000 hours! Frankly, thinking about how to bring all of that together boggles my mind at the moment. This is all a real-time process, and that is one reason why I am choosing to release this as a six-part anthology. I may need to seek out a production team to assist in the design and distribution of this project somewhere down the line. So let me reemphasize that while Storm Chasing: The Anthology is currently an independent effort, I am open to assistance from the outside, including collaboration with other filmmakers and producers. Q: Who are some of your supporters? Do you have a projected release date? B: The supporters of this project are far too numerous to list here. I am extremely thankful to everyone who has pitched in to help make this project move from a vision to a reality. The projected release of the premiere version is in the early fall of 2015. I hope to feature it in the Oklahoma City/Norman, Oklahoma region, potentially coordinating with the AMS or NWA conferences between September and October. No premiere location is official yet; that too remains on my vast to-do list. As for the six-part anthology disc/digital download version, as I mentioned earlier, I plan to make it available by November 2015, barring any snags along the way. Q: What are your needs? How can people help? B: Full project details and proposed budget can be located via: The ongoing Kickstarter campaign runs until July 25 at 11:10 a.m. ET.* While the $7,000 funding goal was met in twelve days, additional backing will only make this project better! Please continue spreading the word about this project through social media. And if you love a mix of history, storm chasing, and storytelling, then consider adding your financial support to create this anthology series. Any amount, large or small, makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. Q: Anything else you’d like to say, Blake? B: Thank you to everyone who has supported the development of Storm Chasing: The Anthology! This production would not be a reality without the collaboration, belief, and interest of others! I am eagerly looking forward to getting on the road with this project, and I will be providing field updates of my travels, once they commence, via Facebook, Twitter, and the homepage. ------------------------------- * Blake's Kickstarter campaign concluded at the time stated and was highly successful. He raised $10,200, well beyond his goal. Considering that the project will involve far more than travel expenses, those who contributed can consider their generosity well-placed.

Jazz Jams at Noto’s: An Interview with Guitarist Steve Hilger

Every other Thursday night, guitarist Steve Hilger hosts a jazz jam in the lounge of Noto’s Old World Italian Dining at 6600 28th Street SE. Located in the Grand Rapids bedroom community of Cascade in southeast Kent County, the restaurant is easily accessible from the main drag. There, from 7:00–10:00 p.m., Steve provides a topnotch rhythm section for jazz musicians to sit in with and air out their chops. While seasoned players are always gladly welcomed, Steve is particularly interested in giving high school and college musicians the chance to perform onstage with a live band. That kind of opportunity doesn’t come often or easily in West Michigan. Thanks to the vision and persistence of well-known jazz veteran Randy Marsh, downtown Grand Rapids has had a jazz jam venue for the last two years on Sunday nights, first at HopCat and lately at Speak EZ. Now Steve offers a similar opportunity to the outlying southeast area, within easy reach of musicians in the Forest Hills, Caledonia, East Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Lowell, and Middleville school districts. This is the kind of thing I longed for as a younger player--and as an older player, for that matter. Let’s face it, West Michigan is not New York or Chicago. There are plenty of musicians here but not many chances for them to get together informally and blow.  So the jam sessions at Noto's are a boon to developing and even professional jazz instrumentalists and vocalists. The setting is one where parents can feel comfortable letting their teen musician hang out with other players, and the rest of the family will enjoy it as well if they wish to listen. The sessions have gotten off to a slow start, but there's plenty of reason for them to take off once area musicians find out about them. Word just needs to spread. So I’m doing my part with this post. I’ve had a blast sitting in with Steve and the guys, and I invite you to do the same if you’re a jazz practicioner. And that’s enough from me. It’s time to hear from Steve. _______________
Question: How long have you played guitar? Who are some of your influences? Steve: I started playing guitar in the eighth grade with a cheap nylon string classical guitar and a borrowed Peter, Paul, and Mary songbook. I started with “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright.” I actually learned the finger picking before the strumming. My influences are many. I am a fan of a lot of different types of music including jazz, blues, acoustic folk, rock, and classical. Some of my influential guitar players include Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I would have to say that the most influential was Carlos Santana, because even as a kid, I marvelled at his melodic lines. It was not the number of notes he played that mattered, but which notes he played. Yet musically overall, my influences are more from horn players such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Miles Davis was another example of playing the right notes instead of a lot of them. Q: You’ve had your own bands for quite a while now, and you’re well-established in the Grand Rapids and West Michigan music scene. How did you get started? S: In college, I had a friend who I started a band with. We wrote our own tunes and eventually recorded them in a studio in New York. The music took a back seat while I was raising a family and starting a legal career. After a divorce, I rekindled my lifelong passion of guitar playing and song writing. Nothing quite like a divorce to inspire you to write lyrics. I went into the studio in 2005 to record some of the new tunes, and then we performed them live at the 2007 Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts. Shortly after that, we started to play blues and started performing around town. Q: You started with a blues band. More recently you formed a jazz combo. What led you to diversify? S: Ever since I heard Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” shortly after it came out, I was fascinated by jazz. Then, in the mid-70s, when The Allman Brothers put out “Live at the Fillmore East,” I discovered the blues. I’ve always loved both genres. So when I realized I had a blues band full of really talented jazz musicians, I decided to do both and started a jazz band as well. Q: You and veteran drummer Randy Marsh are doing your utmost to uphold a vital tradition of jazz: the jam session. Randy hosts a Sunday evening session at Speak EZ in downtown Grand Rapids. You host one at Noto’s in Cascade every other Thursday, and you’re particularly interested in encouraging high school and college musicians to participate. Why are you doing this and what would you like to see happen? What do younger musicians get out of a jam session that they can’t get other ways? S: When I was in high school in a small town thirty-six miles west of New York City, I played trumpet in the school jazz band. Our band leader played gigs in New York City and was pretty well known as a trombone player. She was able to attract top talent to come to our school and give clinics. I do not remember all of them, but I specifically remember Count Basie and Doc Severenson. That was a huge opportunity, and it would be nice to pass it on in some small way. Student musicians need a chance, and have the right, to make mistakes. Once they get past the fear of failure, they can start to experiment, learn, and develop confidence which carries over in all aspects of life. If, for as long as I do this, I am able to reach one student in this fashion, all the effort will be worth it. Young musicians really need a place to come out and give it a go. Q: You provide a unique tie-in between the Noto’s jam session and the selection of young musicians for this summer’s GRandJazzFest. Please tell us about it. S: Every other Thursday, my jazz trio, TrioJazz has been performing at Noto’s. We thought that Noto’s would be a good venue for students to sit in and work their chops on jazz improvisation. I am on the selection committee for musical acts for the 2013 GRJazz Festival. The Board thought it would be a good idea to have students participate in the festival, and we needed a way to reach out to jazz students to see who was willing and able to perform. It’s part of the GRJazz Festival’s commitment to include education as part of its goals. The Thursday night Noto’s gig provides a perfect opportunity to find student jazz musicians who might play in the festival. The Noto’s gig is really the only way I will get the chance to meet student musicians in the community. And if a young musician feels they did not do as well as they would have liked on a given night, they can always come back and try again. There is no point-scoring here. While we hope to pick some of the top students to participate, everyone who comes out and plays is a winner in their own right. We will be selecting five or so musicians who will be given a chance to jump on the big stage at the jazz festival to showcase their talents. Q: It can feel intimidating for a high school kid to set foot onstage and play with professional musicians. But you and your musicians are hugely encouraging and love to have younger players sit in. Talk about what a student can expect when they walk in with their instrument. Do you have any advice for them? S: They and their family can expect a casual, wholesome setting and a warm welcome. They can listen as long as they want, assemble their instrument when they feel ready, and then play the tune or tunes of their choice. My first piece of advice is, relax. Have fun! Enjoy the moment. Nobody is scoring anything here and you have nothing to lose. All of us started out at some point. So pick a tune, preferably out of the Real Book, or bring charts, and let’s see if we can have some fun! Q: Jam sessions aside, what are you striving for personally in your own growth curve as a musician? S: I strive to be the best musician I can be. That applies to all the music I play. I practice a lot. One common experience among many musicians, me included, is that you always hear other musicians who do something better than you. What you don’t realize is that you yourself do some things better than anyone else. I remember an interview with a jazz great who was so disappointed with a solo he played because he hit some wrong notes, or so he thought. Then he noticed that everyone who was following him started playing those wrong notes because the “wrong notes” had now become hip. So I am always listening, always trying to get better, always trying to hear what other musicians are doing to see if there are any take-away things I can do or use. Q: A steady diet of nothing but music makes for a great player but a narrow life. You own your own law firm, and I know that you absolutely love what you do. What other interests and activities do you have which round you out as a person? S: First and foremost, my interests are my three wonderful kids and the lovely Deborah Richmond. They are the foundation of my life. I truly enjoy my work and the firm I started and have helped to grow. We have great partners and a wonderful group of clients. I am also an avid photographer and have traveled throughout the United States on photography trips, focusing mainly on nature, wildlife, and landscape photography. I have published articles and photos, and started all that as a news photographer in the late 1960s when photographers were somewhat of a novelty. For many years, I traveled the country competing in archery, which ended in multiple state and national championships, records, and even the 2004 Olympic trials. Now, my son and I are into the shooting sports such as skeet and big-bore, long-range rifle shooting.

An Interview with Tim Vasquez, Owner of Stormtrack: A Mesoscale Forecasting Expert Shares Reflections on the Past and Glimpses into the Future

Among the various weather-related forums extant today, Stormtrack has one of the longer—perhaps even the longest—track records. Not only so, but it also carries on a rich legacy begun in 1977 when pioneer storm chaser David Hoadley published the first Storm Track newsletter. The newsletter evolved into a magazine, the publishing torch passed on to veteran chaser Tim Marshall, and the print edition ultimately morphed into an online forum for chasers worldwide under the ownership of Tim Vasquez. Like Stormtrack, Tim has a rich and varied background replete with experiences that range across the weather spectrum, from storm chasing to operational forecasting to education and more. From 1989 to 1998, Tim served as an Air Force meteorologist. As early as 1985, he developed weather analysis software tools, which eventually culminated in WeatherGraphix and Digital Atmosphere. He has also published a series of weather forecasting books, including Severe Storm Forecasting and the Weather Analysis and Forecasting Handbook. Tim’s resources and services—which include nowcasting and forecasting training for storm chasers—are available through his WeatherGraphics website. Tim is obviously one very busy guy, not to mention one of the most recognized names in storm chasing circles. In this interview, he shares some fascinating, personal perspectives on storm chasing and mesoscale forecasting back in the day as well as today. Amid the cornucopia of forecasting tools and resources that are now available to chasers, it’s eye-opening to learn not only what existed over two decades ago, but also how determined and knowledgeable a person had to be in order to tap into it. And it’s exciting to consider some of the possibilities that the future has in store. Enough of this introduction. I hope you’ll enjoy what follows.

Interview with Tim Vasquez

. Question: Owner of, the renowned, longstanding forum for storm chasers worldwide. Forecasting software developer, meteorological consultant, severe weather educator, author of a series of outstanding books on storm chasing and forecasting, professional nowcaster … you’ve covered pretty much every base there is, Tim, except for storm chasing tour guide. I don’t think anyone who’s been seriously involved in chasing for even a brief amount of time doesn’t recognize you as one of the gurus of operational forecasting. In the midst of all that, one of the sides of you with which I think people are least familiar these days is who you are as a storm chaser. Yet unquestionably you’re an extremely seasoned chaser, one of the true veterans. So let’s talk about that part of you, beginning with how it all started. What first got you enamored with severe weather and tornadoes? Was there a defining moment, or moments, back in your formative years? Tim: I would say the defining moment came in May 1985 when I was at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. There were never any good forecasting books at the libraries and no Internet, and AMS publications were expensive. The NWS office there had a little reading room, so I used to go over there to sift through their technical library and page through their saved weather maps. One day while I was there, all hell broke loose in the Panhandle. The office didn’t have forecast responsibility in that area, but everyone was watching things closely with things like the Kavouras dial-up radars and phone calls. That’s when I met Al Moller, whose enthusiasm was infectious. I was able to ask questions and follow what was going on without getting in the way. Another forecaster there gave me a regional surface map and invited me to analyze it.  After I was done, we all worked through my results. By the time I left that evening, Al had told me about Stormtrack and given me Tim Marshall’s phone number and also a small stack of NOAA tech memos, which he dug out of one of the offices. That’s not to say I hadn’t had a similar experience, as I used to visit the weather station at Clark Air Base in the Philippines and learned the art of the skew-T there. But this particular NWS visit put me on the road to severe weather, chasing, and the art of mesoanalysis. Q: How old were you when you went on your first storm chase? What were the circumstances and what was it like? T: I was eighteen. I had spent an entire winter building up a severe weather library and wanted to get my feet wet on the very first slight-risk area of the year. Unfortunately I was trying a bit too hard to build up credibility, so I did my chase under the guise of a small research project (me and a few friends, but mostly me). I even had a crude, instrumented TOTO box to place in front of an approaching tornado. As you might suspect, this first chase was very early: mid-February. It was dark by 5:00 p.m., and a few hours later I was in a squall line south of Dallas. The only thing memorable that happened on that chase is that one of the spark plugs somehow came loose on an engine cylinder in my vehicle. I was out in the middle of nowhere, in the dark and the rain, and I puttered into an abandoned gas station. Fortunately, I had prepared for something like this thanks to Tim Marshall’s Texas Tech chase manual. In ten minutes, I fixed the problem and was heading home. That experience reinforced to me the value of carrying tools. Sometime that year I also dropped the pretense of a chase team and just chased for the enjoyment and education. Many of my chases during the early years were with Glenn Robinson and Gene Rhoden. Q: Today’s chasers have an incredible wealth of resources at their disposal. But you came up in a time when there was no Internet, no iPhones or laptops or GR3, no GPS, no HRRR or SREF, no computer-generated indices, none of the stuff that people today take for granted. Talk about how you went about forecasting and fining in a chase-day target back then. T: Interestingly, back in the “old days,” the data was there if you knew how to be resourceful. A few of the dyed-in-the-wool hobbyists of the late 1970s, for example, took advantage of the era before telephone deregulation and were able to get the NOAA Weather Wire and even the same DIFAX feed that the NWS used.  Some of this was available for free on HF radio well into the 1980s, so with that and a one-hundred-pound fax machine which I managed to acquire for free, I was able to get basic model forecasts. With computer modems, we did have a sort of pre-Internet experience. Hourly observations were not cheap, but I was able to get them from CompuServe or from a number of long-distance dialup sources. I have a huge binder of 1980s hand-plotted maps, but the drudgery of actually drawing the station plots was the main problem. And I saw what AFOS could do. This led me to develop several analysis programs for the Commodore 128 and later the PC (Digital Atmosphere by 1996) so that I could focus on the analysis. The items we chronically lacked were raw upper air data, which could only be obtained from an expensive provider like Accu-Data; and satellite imagery, due to the sheer expense of adequate display technology. So I wasn’t able to practice the full range of mesoscale analysis techniques until 1989, when I started working in an actual weather station. Q: When it comes to field experience, what were some of the things you learned early on about reading the sky, interpreting changing conditions, and, as Shane Adams has put it, “working a storm”? T: Having a solid diagnosis of the atmosphere before you leave the house (or the motel room) is the key thing, because the atmosphere never plays out like you expect. By 11:00 a.m., you have to be completely grounded in what’s happening at the surface and aloft, not just at the target area but also throughout the entire region. There’s rarely any time or opportunity to figure it out all over again once you’re out there. Also I learned that I can be the one to fill in the gaps in the diagnosis by stopping regularly to take a measurement—not to write in a logbook, but rather to make sure that the winds and moisture are in the ballpark of what I expect them to be.  There have been several times when I thought I was at a good spot along the dryline, but once I dragged out the sling psychrometer, I found the dewpoint to be something like 57 or 58 and wound up repositioning back to the east. Today’s mobile weather stations are excellent for this kind of thing, but visually reading the character of the sky and matching that up to your expectations from the morning diagnosis is still an essential skill. Once near a storm, I found map-reading and positional awareness to be critical skills. Certainly anyone who’s chased along the Canadian or Red Rivers can attest to this. You not only need to be in the right location, but you also have to make sure you have a way out in case your navigation plan doesn’t work out. Having a good GPS display or a good map reader in the passenger seat is essential. Q: Describe one or two of your most outstanding chase experiences. T: Most of the 2000s put me at the desk running the Chase Hotline or helping to take care of my son, who was born in 2003, so a lot of my actual field experiences draw from the 1990s. The historical May 3, 1999, outbreak is definitely near the top. I chased with Gene Rhoden that day. I still have a memorable impression of watching the birth and growth of the storm that would later devastate parts of Oklahoma City. It soon produced tornadoes, but we lost it due to the road network. Then we joined with the Anadarko storm and saw a highly visible, eerie nighttime tornado near Dover. Another outstanding chase experience that comes to mind is memorable in a different way. This was also in May 1999, I think May 16. I had targeted Crowell, Texas, and I drove the five hours there from Oklahoma City, arriving just in time to adjust westward and catch a tornado coming off the Caprock before it shrank and roped out. It was an average chase success, but in the passenger seat was my soon-to-be-wife, Shannon, on her fifth chase; and in the back was her lifelong best friend, Kathryn, who had just flown up from Houston hoping to see what a storm chase was like. It ended up being the first time either of them had seen a tornado. So this was a fantastic experience for us all, and the nighttime lightning display heading back home was just phenomenal. Q: Nowadays, major chase days are characterized by a blizzard of live streams and a glut of Spotter Network icons on the radar screen. But you’re nowhere to be found in that mix. That seems to be the case with quite a few veteran chasers. My sense of it is, you want to chase in peace without having a bunch of tag-alongs intrude on your experience. How often do you actually make it out into the field to chase these days? When you head out, what do you seek in terms of the quality of your chase? How would you say your values and approach differ from those of younger chasers? T: For a fortunate few, storm chasing will be a constant, lifelong activity. But work, school, and family are there too. All of us at one time or another have to deal with things like tightened budgets, a new baby, a new job away from the Plains, medical problems, family problems, car problems, new meteorological passions, new interests, and so on. They’ve caused many veterans to fade from sight, and I’ve dealt with some of those things myself. But even if I’m not in the field, I’m following the chase day. I have an insatiable passion for forecasting. Who needs Sudoku and crosswords? A meteorological diagnosis is a tremendously awesome and dynamic puzzle, and I feel like I have a brain that not only specializes in unraveling these puzzles but has a kind of dopaminergic reaction to solving them. And there’s so much remote sensing data coming online, in terms of surface data, MADIS, profilers, satellite imagery, WSR-88D data, and now the new dual-polarization radars. I really feel like a kid in a candy store on a storm day, and I have to say I’d feel kind of disconnected being out in the field. It’s not really the end result that I want to see, but the underlying machinery. So I think that the mesoscale aspect of the chase day, rather than the chase itself, is my calling. That’s not to say that I’m done with chasing. Our needy baby has grown up into a bright and independent kid, the Chase Hotline demands have abated, we’re back in Norman, and I’m always looking at the sky and taking weather photographs. Plus, I’m responsible for Stormtrack. So I probably will be out there again as early as this month. I have an iPad, so maybe I’ll get linked up with one of the networks, too. Q: What excites you, and what concerns you, about the state of storm chasing today? How do you see it evolving in the next five or ten years? T: The Internet is making an enormous impact. Ten years ago it simply gave us a way to share pictures and messages and helped to pipe data to our forecast desk. Today it’s providing a two-way street from the world to the storm base. It’s reaching out to more and more mobile devices and extending further into remote regions of the Great Plains. As a result, we’re already seeing a sort of fusion of spotting and chasing and another real-time channel in the warning process. Furthermore, the Internet is global, so someone in Mongolia or Madagascar can share in the thrill of a tornado developing over empty rangeland near Dalhart as it happens. That’s mind-blowing. Another development I’m expecting is growth in international chasing. Very few people have any idea of the significance of east India and Bangladesh’s supercells; I think they’re easily comparable to some of the storms we have on the Great Plains. The largest CAPE values I’ve ever seen have always been on the Calcutta soundings. That region is gradually improving its road network and mobile Internet, and real-time data options are just now coming into existence there.  The only limits, of course, are chase budgets and haze. Back here in the United States, we’re certain to see new advances in forecasting with the new dual-polarization radar upgrades, and as we get experience with these radars and the body of scientific literature grows, I expect that warnings will become even better and that chasers will increasingly find themselves on the “right” storm. Those last fifty miles of the chase are still as critical as they were in 1980. Q: If you could share three tips or words of advice with contemporary chasers, what would they be? T: As follows:
  • Chasing: Hydroplaning and nighttime obstacles are the things that have put me in danger more than anything else. I’ve had a lot of close calls with cows basking on the road and downed power lines stretching across lanes. At 60 mph, there’s only a few seconds to react before your destiny either brings you home or into an obituary on Stormtrack.
  • .
  • Forecasting: Diagnose the atmosphere—not necessarily hand-analyze, but sift through all of the observational charts and products before even looking at models. As humans, we tend to develop a bias in the first bits of evidence we see, so if we start with observed data, we bias our forecasts according to what’s actually happening in the atmosphere. My books and classes go into a lot of this.
  • .
  • Community: Support Stormtrack and help our beginners. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a fragmentation of the entire chaser community across the social media spheres—Twitter, Facebook, and so forth—which is not an ideal situation. The Stormtrack forum has always been the singular resource for promoting smart, safe, and cooperative chasing. Chasers are welcome to get their start elsewhere, if they wish, but if that happens, I worry there’ll be more anonymity out in the field and more unsafe behavior.
Q: When can we look for Mr. T’s next forecasting workshop in Stormtrack? T: He’s down in Altus trying to get all the kids to stay in school. I’ll drag him out of there and maybe we’ll get one out this spring.

An Interview with Shane Adams, Part 2: Thoughts on Target Selection, Memories of the Greensburg Storm, and Reflections on Top Three Chases

In Part One of my interview with veteran storm chaser Shane Adams, Shane recalled his formative years as a chaser in a simpler time when laptops, mobile data, and the media hadn't transformed the landscape of storm chasing. Part Two begins with several questions that deal with more pragmatic matters of forecasting and target selection. From there, Shane recalls his experience with the deadly May 4, 2007, Greensburg supercell. It's a unique perspective on the storm in its post-Greensburg phase as it continued to spin off massive, violent wedges, and Shane's account includes a haunting encounter with Macksville police officer Tim Buckman shortly before he was fatally injured by one of the tornadoes. Finally, Shane reflects on the top three chases of his career and tells why he considers them so. Question: I just finished listening to an interview with David Hoadley on the High Instability podcast, and I was struck by the similarity between some of what he had to say and your own comments [in response to my last question in Part One]. Realistically, chasing continues to evolve; yet I resonate with your gratitude for having come up in a simpler time when there was nothing to detract from the supreme value of the storm and the sky. I’d imagine—correct me if I’m wrong—that today you use at least a laptop and GR3 on your chases. But I get that you’re a minimalist at heart. Let’s talk about what a chase looks like for you these days. First, what is your process for forecasting? What things do you look for in picking your target? Shane: These days, I use the same computer models all other chasers use. Within that, of course, there are several different sources. Personally, I use the College of Dupage computer model website. The reason why is, most model pages use CONUS maps. I don’t like CONUS maps because they make individual states and regions too small for detailed analysis in my opinion. CoD uses regional maps, which are much easier to analyze down to the mesoscale and even microscale level. It’s important for me to be able to recognize a specific area within a state while looking at model data, so I can overlay in my head the actual spot where I believe all the ingredients will come together. Looking at a CONUS map, I might be able to say, "Yeah, southwest Oklahoma looks good,”  but I can’t tell exactly where in southwest Oklahoma I need to be. The difference between a career day and a bust can be as little as twenty or thirty miles, something that is impossible to pinpoint using CONUS maps. So definitely College of Dupage is my forecasting lifeblood. When their site is down, I am not happy LOL. As far as a target is concerned, again, I'm pretty much like everyone else. You want the basic four of course: moisture, instability, wind shear, and a source of lift. I tend to gravitate toward instability, with slightly less attention to wind shear. I’ve not had much luck chasing highly dynamic systems with low instability, so those are a big turnoff for me when looking at a forecast. Also, those type setups typically have very fast storm motions, making chasing more difficult. With more focus on instability and less on wind shear, I try to find an area with the most explosive potential for upward motion in a place where storm speeds won’t be as fast (lack of intense shear). Of course this dream scenario rarely unfolds in reality as often as I’d like, but in any chase setup, I will always first target the area of greatest instability and fine-tune from there based on other parameters. Q: If you were to head out into the field without the benefit of Internet, equipped only with your morning forecast and the knowledge you’ve gained over the years, how would situational awareness inform your decisions as the afternoon progressed? In other words, how might simply looking at the sky or observing changing conditions tell you that you’re in the right spot—or, conversely, that you need to move? S: One built-in advantage of cutting your chasing teeth in central Oklahoma is, 99 percent of the time the dryline is west of you. This means that you wake up in the warm sector on most days and simply have to drive west until the clouds thin out. Drylines are marked visually by a sharp decrease in cloud coverage, vertical height, and base level. Bases will rise, tops will flatten, and the overall number of clouds will decrease as you approach the dryline. This was one of the first lessons I learned; the scenario was nearly automatic each time I chased because I never woke up on the dry side of the dryline. Warm fronts are perhaps even more pronounced visually, as north of them on many chase days, there will be a solid overcast of low clouds. These clouds begin to thin as you near the warm front, and then as you move south there are fewer and fewer clouds until you’re in clear sunshine—plus whatever early-bird towers are trying to build in the warm sector. My targets usually put me near either a dryline or warm front, so my biggest visual clues are simply watching how clouds behave. Q: Storms are firing and you’ve got multiple options. Without using radar, how would you determine which storm you’ll go after? S: Usually when faced with having to choose from multiple storms, it’s right after initiation, and every storm has the same potential to become tornadic. Because of this, I almost always opt for the storm I have the best position or approach angle on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In other situations where you’re a good distance from the storms and they’re in different directions from you, you have to analyze the situation more closely based on storm history and the immediate environment. If, for instance, I’m thirty miles south of the triple point, and I have a storm north of me right on the triple point and another one forty miles south of me, then I have to consider certain things and do a quick pro/con list for each storm in my head: the north storm is closer, but it’s moving away ... the south storm is farther away, but it’s moving towards me ... but the north storm will have better helicity sitting right on the warm front, so there’s a better chance it could produce a tornado ... but it could also cross the warm front into the cool side and become elevated before I get to it ... so the south storm seems like the way to go ... but I'm going to have to punch through the entire core to get a view ... these are not easy decisions, and they must be made quickly. I’ve been right, I’ve been wrong, but the worst situation is when you’re indecisive and end up missing both because you took too long to commit to one or the other. I’m much better off just sticking to my target, driving there, and letting the situation unfold ... instead of just driving to a general area and waiting until after initiation to pick a storm. Q: You were among those who chased the Greensburg storm. Describe your experience. S: In all reality, we busted on this day. By dusk, we were well north of the Greensburg storm as it developed, and had already thrown in the towel and stopped for food. Because I chase to get good tornado video, I always quit after dark unless I’m already on a tornadic storm. So we’d been sitting in the Great Bend Pizza Hut drowning our sorrows with a large Meat Lover’s and Bud Light. On a whim, Mick Ptak, the friend I was chasing with, had decided to bring his laptop inside “just in case” to watch the radar. We’d never done this before, so the fact that he’d chosen this night was, in hindsight, very lucky and ironic; if he hadn't done so, we’d have sat there eating and missed the entire event. Or even worse, been in the path of more deadly storms well after dark. Somewhere during beer number two, we both glanced over at the radar. Mick had been running a velocity loop, and the couplet we were looking at was off the charts, like nothing we'd ever seen before. We immediately went into chase mode, with Mickey grabbing all the gear while I ran to the counter to pay for the meal. I asked if the tab was below $20, and when the person said that it was, I just threw a twenty at them and ran out the door. We raced south while listening to live reports coming over NOAA radio. It was obvious something terrible had happened in Greensburg, although neither of us at the time had any idea of the magnitude. We got to Pratt, which is about thirty miles east of Greensburg, and turned west. We stopped near Haviland, where we began our actual “chase” of the Greensburg storm. I remember scores of emergency vehicles screaming by us for several minutes, all headed west from Pratt. The scanner was alive with constant chatter regarding the disaster that had just happened. We were using the velocity loop on radar as our main source of info, because the lightning wasn’t helping out as much as we needed. The first of three giant tornadoes we would observe that night loomed to our northwest, buried in darkness and probably precipitation. We were sure we were looking at a tornado, but it was so big and so hard to see, it was impossible to make it out clearly (it would be partially revealed in a capture from my video). The inflow was so incredible, I had to wedge myself against the open car door space while leaning against the door to keep it from closing on me. We moved back east and then north once the storm started moving further away. Watching the radar, we were noticing alarmingly large spaces between mesocyclone occlusions. Not only were these couplets incredibly powerful, they were also unbelievably huge. It made sense that the “handoff” distance between mesos would be greater than normal as well, because the mesos themselves were so unusually large. Normally, five miles southeast of an ongoing meso/tornado is a reasonably safe distance, but not tonight. We kept a minimum of about seven to eight miles between us and the tornadoes for fear of being run over by the next cycle jumping toward us. Unfortunately, later that night, a local LEO would become an example of how these large-span meso jumps can be lethal. As we continued north, we met a car coming south, frantically flashing its lights. At this point, with this storm and what it had already done, we weren’t taking any chances, so we turned around and headed back south. No sooner had we done so than Mick said, “There's a huge wedge back there!” I stopped the car and we jumped out. I hadn’t yet seen it, but I could tell by Mick’s reaction that it was big. A few more seconds passed by, then a big flash of lightning lit up one of the largest tornadoes I’ve ever seen. “Whoah, I see it!” We held our ground and watched this huge wedge tornado through intermittent lightning flashes for a couple of minutes, then continued further north. We stopped a few miles south of Byers, and a police car pulled up beside us. We didn’t know it at the time, but the driver was Officer Tim Buckman of the Macksville police department, a neighboring town to Byers about ten miles north and slightly west. We told him about the large tornado we’d been seeing off and on for the previous ten or so minutes, and he was already aware of it. He continued on ahead of us, and we followed him into town. Once we arrived in Byers, we saw Officer Buckman pulled over at the fire station, talking to a few firemen/spotters. As a courtesy, we stopped and asked him if he minded if we continued on ahead to chase the tornado. He said we could, but it was “at your own risk.” We told him we understood, thanked him, and drove north of town about a mile, where we stopped. We continued to get glimpses of the tornado, and after a while, Officer Buckman drove past us. He went about a mile or so north, then turned west. The tornado was well off to our northwest, and the area he was driving into would’ve been a prime spot for the next tornado if the storm recycled. I remember thinking, as I videotaped his flashing red and blues moving slowly off toward the large tornado in the distance, “I wouldn't go that way.” As Tim Buckman’s emergency lights faded off into the darkness to our north-northwest, we became focused on a new area that was north of us, but closer than the previous tornado had been. Matching up what we were seeing to the radar, we were convinced this new area was the next probable tornado, southeast of the now dissipating tornado near Macksville, some ten miles to our north-northwest. We stayed put where we were, partly because we were almost out of gas at this point, but mostly because we were too spooked to get any closer. After a few more minutes, another large tornado became partially visible with lightning strikes. The eastern edge was buried in rain, but the west side of this monster loomed quite clear, a solid wall of black. We sat and watched this tornado, which was south of St. John, for maybe five minutes until we could no longer make it out. After that, we decided we’d call it a night, because we had another chase looming the next day, and we’d need some rest (though we hardly got any). I don’t know why we even thought we could, but we drove back to Pratt, and managed to get a room at the first hotel we stopped at. I spent all night going over my video, finding bits and pieces of tornadoes within the lightning strikes. I wrote a report on Stormtrack while the local television news was showing us the first shots of the Greensburg monster we’d seen—incredible. The sirens never stopped all that night, with constant emergency vehicles driving to Greensburg and driving back from there with injured. It was a very dark and brooding night, probably the most unsettling night of my chase career. Since then, I’m much more wary about after-dark chasing. I was never very interested in nocturnal chasing, because night-time video is rarely worth the effort in my opinion. However, the significance of this event made the endeavor very worthwhile, and in the process, we managed to get video of tornadoes that nobody else did. What at first seemed like a curse actually became a blessing of sorts; we'd missed the marquee tornado of not only the event, but the entire year—but we'd managed to pick the storm up where almost everyone else had lost it, getting trapped by the devastation in Greensburg. The result was observation and video documentation of large tornadoes that no other human eyes ever found. A few days later, unfortunately, we learned that a Macksville police officer had been killed by a tornado east of there. As it turned out, the officer killed was the one we'd spoken to that night during the Macksville tornado. He had made his way through rural areas just southeast of his hometown to get back to the highway east of Macksville so he could observe the large tornado threatening his community. Tragically, the last tornado we saw, from the same spot where we last saw officer Buckman driving northwest towards the Macksville tornado, formed south of his position, and struck him as he moved east on highway 50, critically injuring him. He would succumb to his injuries a few days later. We were likely the last ones to ever see him before this tragic event. Q: Granted this may be a hard question to answer, but what has been your most outstanding chase, and what made it so? S: I measure greatness in a chase by multiple factors: number of tornadoes seen, quality of tornado video, historical significance of the event, and overall aesthetic/sensory/spiritual experience. Even with that, I cannot choose just one day. So using the formula I described just now, I'll try to narrow it down to just one event that fits each category. Number of tornadoes seen: Even though it's tied for second all-time for the most tornadoes I’ve seen in one day, I would have to give the nod for most tornadoes to May 29, 2004. Great video, but what stands out most about this day for me is the sheer number of visible tornadoes. Every size and shape imaginable, with the most incredible display of tornadic behavior I’ve ever witnessed: Multiple tornadoes merry-go-rounding about the parent mesocyclone. Tornadoes zigging, zagging, and doing full circles. Absolutely incredible! Quality of tornado video: This category belongs to June 12, 2004. The infamous “glowing” Mulvane tornado steals the show from this event, but all the tornadoes that day were very photogenic, and I was able to capture incredible video of them all. This day is the bar for what I expect to bring home on video every time out. Mulvane was the first tornado I ever heard the roar from. Historical significance: If we'd actually seen the Greensburg, Kansas, tornado that night, this would’ve likely been my number-one. However, May 3, 1999, remains at the top of this category. Many firsts happened for me that day: first F5 tornado, first 3+ tornado day, first double-digit tornado day (ten tornadoes), first up-close tornado encounter (less than a half-mile), and unfortunately, my first killer tornado. I almost doubled my career total on this day. I had been chasing a little under three years at the time, and though I’d seen some tornadoes, I had never seen a day even close to this. Despite the dark cloud that hung over this event because of the of the human tragedy it brought, yet for me as a chaser, the sheer magnitude of what we'd seen and captured on video was almost overwhelming. That whole week was surreal: getting calls for interviews, having television crews at our apartment taping shows, the whole nine yards. The week after May 3, 1999, was as close as I would ever come to money and fame as a chaser. I appeared on television in both America and Germany (the German show actually aired first, so my TV debut was international LOL), and made $2,100 from video sales. There were no brokers in 1999. I had to fight those bloodthirsty wolves on my own, and in the end, despite the fact that I won the war, I decided the battle scars just weren't worth $2,100. My television and video sales career began and ended that week. Overall aesthetic/sensory/spiritual experience: Hands-down, this category goes to October 24, 2010. This was a day that brought back that old “chase first, forecast second” philosophy from my early years, but only because of my laziness. The only reason we even left the house that day is because Bridget Geaughan, my girlfriend/chase partner since 2008, was watching a storm explode just east of our apartment. We’d spent the previous two days busting on setups that, in my opinion, had looked better than this day. I wasn’t about to waste my Sunday on a third consecutive goose chase. However, Bridget pushed for us to chase and I caved. Once we got out on the road after the initial storm she’d seen, it was obvious we’d never catch it. By now I was fully into chase mode, and I figured our only hope was to start heading southeast, cross the dryline, and hope like hell something new formed to our southwest. The plan worked to perfection, and we encountered the tornado of our lives in Rice, Texas. This chase has been well-documented in chasing circles, mostly because Bridget live streamed almost the entire lifecycle of the tornado. I’ll never forget looking up at the top of the funnel as it was in a near-steady-state, watching how the base seemed to get pulled into it like a bathtub drain. It was a view I’d not had before and haven’t seen since, but one I could get used to. Probably a once-in-a-decade type experience, maybe once in a lifetime. ----------------------- Thanks, Shane, for an informative, thoughtful, moving, and overall terrific interview! To those of you who've read this far: check out Shane's blog, Passion Twist. It's aptly named--filled with insightful, detailed, and well-written chase logs; packed with photos; and stamped with Shane's unquenchable love for chasing storms.

An Interview with Shane Adams, Part 1: Retrospectives and Perspectives on Storm Chasing Yesterday and Today

In recent years, due largely to the influence of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series, storm chasing has exploded as an avocation. What began over fifty years ago with a handful of individuals roaming the American heartland in pursuit of nature’s most violent and beautiful storms has evolved into a hobby practiced by multitudes, shaped by the media, and facilitated by state-of-the-art technology.

Today, equipped with a laptop, a modem stick, and radar software, a beginning chaser has an excellent chance of seeing tornadoes right out of the starting gate. But it wasn’t always so. Once there was no GR3, no mobile data, no live streaming, not even any laptops—and nowhere nearly as many chasers as there are today.

New chasers conceive of storm chasing as it is, not as it was. That’s inevitable. People live in the present, not the past, and any of us can only board the train from the platform we're standing on. Yet the past wasn’t all that long ago—that pre-tech era when the tools of the trade were few and the likelihood of busting far greater. Those of us who came up during those simpler times treasure the experience and carry a different perspective than those who cut their teeth on techno-chasing.

To scores of chasers who have been around the block a few times, Shane Adams needs no introduction. Shane has been a storm chaser since 1996. He’s well-known as a passionate and highly experienced chaser who lives, eats, and breathes storm chasing. With six storm chasing videos to his credit, Shane is the host of the weekly podcast The Debris Show; and, with his girlfriend and fellow chaser, Bridget Geaughan, he is the coauthor of the storm chasing blog Passion Twist.

Shane was good enough to do a written interview with me covering a broad range of topics of particular interest to storm chasers. The questions and responses range from the retrospective and occasionally philosophical to the practical.

Shane is an articulate, thoughtful, and passionate interviewee with much to share. Since the article is lengthy, I’ve broken it into two parts. In this first part, Shane talks about his personal development as a storm chaser; and, in the light of his own experiences, he reflects on the state of chasing today.

In part two, which I’ll release in another day or two, Shane talks about his personal approach to forecasting and chasing. He shares his unique account of chasing the tragic May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, supercell, and he looks back on the three most outstanding chases of his career.

Enough of my introduction. Here’s part one.


Interview with Storm Chaser Shane Adams

. Question: Some background stuff to begin with. Talk a bit about your boyhood. You currently live in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. Have you lived in Tornado Alley all your life?

Shane: I was born in Oklahoma City and lived there until my parents divorced at age four. After the divorce, my mother and I moved to Healdton, Oklahoma, which is in the southern portion of the state. Growing up there for me was fun, because we lived in the same house for thirteen years, and I made many lasting friendships and knew the area well. We had a pasture that butted up to our neighborhood, and my friends and I would spend countless hours playing out there, back when kids actually played outside. That was pretty much my life pre-storms, although growing up in Oklahoma my entire life, I had been aware of storms as far back as I could remember.

Q: What event, or events, first served to flip the switch of your fascination with tornadoes?

S: As I mentioned, I had always known about thunderstorms. I can remember way back, first seeing this weird word they always used on television weather warnings: tornado. I knew about severe thunderstorms but had no clue what a tornado was. My mother tried to explain it to me, but her very limited knowledge and understanding, coupled with my young mind, just didn’t really paint the picture.

Then April 10, 1979, came along. A massive F4 tornado ripped through southern portions of Wichita Falls, Texas, just eighty miles southwest of Healdton. A few months later, one of the local television stations did a story on the tornado. I was in my room when suddenly my mother started yelling for me. I ran out into the living room, and she pointed to the television. I looked at the screen and saw a huge, black, boiling mass of cloud scraping along the ground below the most ominous sky I’d ever seen. “There,” she said. “That’s a tornado.”

I was hooked for life.

Q: It’s one thing to be intrigued by tornadoes; it’s another to actually chase them. When did you first start chasing, and what inspired you to do so? What was your first chase like for you?

S: I dabbled with chasing for years before I really started, but this was nothing more than glorified spotting. I would move from one edge of town to the other, but when the storms moved on, I never followed. I did this infrequently from 1988–1995.

On April 21, 1996, I went on my first true chase, where I actually drove out of town, over the road, to try and find a tornado. However, this too was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I only had a cheap disposable camera and a cooler full of ice in case I found big hail. There was no plan, except that if I got into hail bigger than golfballs, I would back off, fearing a tornado I couldn’t see would be close behind.

I did get hail up to golfballs that day, saved a few in my cooler, and took a few snapshots I never developed. But this was nothing I would consider a real chase by my standards. To make it a real chase for me, there must be a video camera for documentation. Otherwise, it’s just a drive.

My first “official” chase was June 6, 1996. I was working a landscaping job with a friend of mine named Greg Clark. It started to get stormy early that afternoon, so we decided to knock off early. I said on a whim, “We should go chase these storms and try to find a tornado.” Greg not only liked the idea but suggested that we grab his mother's video camera and tape the experience. It had never crossed my mind to actually videotape a tornado, but I was wild about the idea. (As it turned out, having the video camera that day was pivotal towards me becoming a chaser).

We grabbed the video camera, stopped by my place to look at a live update from one of the local television stations, and then took off towards a storm that was tornado-warned. There was no plan; we just called it as we went. All I knew at the time was, you want to be out of the rain, so we just drove right into the heart of the storm until the rain stopped. A lowering was to our south, so we turned east to pace it. We stopped, and I started shooting video. Literally seconds after I did, a small tornado formed out of nowhere, right in the spot I was pointing at, lasting less than a minute. It was pure dumb luck, but it was a critical moment for my chasing future.

Q: That first tornado obviously hooked you. What was your growth curve as a storm chaser like from that point?

S: I laughed out loud when I read this one. To put it simply, I was horrible. For years. I got by the first four or five years on sheer passion and tenacity. I didn’t know anything about the atmosphere or that I even needed to. Computer models were something I didn’t even know existed for the first year I chased. All I was armed with was an unrelenting, unrivaled passion to see tornadoes. There really was nothing else other than the minimal, basic structural and behavioral experiences I was slowly developing as I chased more and saw more.

As the years started going by, I started to recognize patterns and tendencies purely from what storms looked like or what the sky in general looked like. By my fifth season, I was pretty good at working a storm—meaning, how I handled it once I found it—even though I knew virtually nothing about finding storms. Basically, I learned how to chase storms way before I ever learned how to forecast them.

Q: Who were some of your key influences during those early years—people who helped you learn the ropes or who simply inspired you?

S: The first storm chaser I ever heard of was Warren Faidley. I received The Weather Channel’s Enemy Wind on VHS for Christmas in 1992 and wore the thing out. I had no clue there were people out there who actually chased storms seriously. But even more, I had no idea there were several people other than Faidley who had been doing it for years.

The first storm chaser I began to seriously follow and look up to was Jim Leonard. He was bigger than life to me. I was brand-new to chasing and just discovering the wonders of my storm chasing passion. Jim was the guy who, in my eyes, had done everything I wanted to do. His dedication to the art of chasing, and the fact that he’d started around the same age as I was and was still as dedicated well into his forties, was amazing to me. I idolized him, and I’m not the star-struck type. I met him briefly at a landspout seminar hosted by Al Pietrycha in Norman in 1997. I asked him a few questions about what was, at the time, my favorite intercept video from him: his June 8, 1995, Allison, Texas, wedge tornado. It was such a thrill to actually be standing next to my hero, although he had no clue who I was or that I worshiped him LOL.

Another chaser who, in my later formative years, really reached out to me was Gene Moore. He realized how ignorant I was but also saw my passion and dedication. While he could’ve easily ridiculed me, he instead took the time to talk to me about a few things he considered the basic, important essentials for storm forecasting. Things I still use to this day, every forecast, every chase.

Q: You came up in a time when technology and the media hadn’t yet shaped storm chasing the way they do today. What was chasing like for you in those days? What benefits do you think you gained from the minimalist, old-school approach that younger chasers today are missing?

S: The main difference between chasing now and chasing when I started is the laptop computer, but that’s over-simplfying things. Back in the day, we didn’t just not have computers, we didn’t have smart phones or iPods either. Today’s chasers never have to deal with long hours on the road the way chasers did years ago. Sure, twelve hours cooped up in a vehicle is still extreme, but it definitely softens the experience when you have constant entertainment at your fingertips, the way you would at home.

Chasers today don’t talk to each other, they chat. They stream. They surf. They listen to music. There will be a carload of chasers and each one will be in their own world, playing on a cell phone. Chasers today will never know what it’s like to spend twelve hours in a car when all you have for passing the time is conversation. And many times for me personally, I didn't even have that, because many of my past partners were champion sleepers when there was nothing exciting going on. It takes a special kind of person to willfully strap themselves in for a ride that could last over twenty-four hours, with absolutely no guarantee of seeing anything—even less of a guarantee without constant streaming data 24/7 to lead you to the storm on a string—and absolutely nothing to pass the time. These techno-generation chasers will never experience that level of dedication, and quite frankly, if many of them were to, I doubt some would stayas dedicated.

Basically now, chasing is just people doing all the same things they would be doing at home otherwise, except there’s a drive involved and maybe a storm or tornado. The “grueling, long hours” which are so often brought up by chasers praising their allegiance to their craft are nothing more than what they do every day, except they have to stop to use the potty.

I’m very grateful I was able to endure the type of chasing I did for a good number of years. We would jump in a car and drive to Missouri or Illinois from Oklahoma on a whim, with nothing to guide us except NOAA radio. We were always broke, so hotels were an extremely rare treat at best, maybe once or twice a year. Normally we’d just drive in shifts, and do straight-through chases of twenty-four hours or more. And this was with no Internet, no Spotify, and no Angry Birds. Just a carload of guys who shared one common goal: to see a tornado.

One time in 2000, we left Norman at 1:00 a.m. and drove straight through to North Dakota only to miss all the tornadoes by forty-five minutes. We stayed the night in Fargo, then drove straight back the next day, missing even more tornadoes because we got there too late again. That was a 2000-mile, two-day trip for some thunder and lightning. We had several of those back in the day, when the only thing fueling us was the desire to simply see and videotape a tornado.

There are few of today’s new chasers who would ever willfully endure that type of experience. Kids today want everything on a plate, with a remote, a keystroke, or some other too-easy device designed for no other purpose than to make an already easy life that much easier. A lot of chasers like to toot their own horn (nice pun, eh?) about how dedicated, extreme, and hardcore they are. Doesn't take much to drive 500 miles when you know you’ve got Internet the entire way and a nice, comfy hotel bed waiting for you that night. Try it with nothing but a NOAA radio and knowing that regardless of what happens, you’re not sleeping again until you get back home the following day. That’s hardcore.

But it’s a different world, and I have to accept that. I look around, and I really can’t relate to most newer chasers. They rely on electronics for their lifeblood, they care as much about making money as simply videotaping a tornado, and they’re all so busy trying to come up with the next big thing or gimmick. For me, at the end of the day, it’s about the storms and tornadoes, period. Streaming doesn’t matter, money doesn’t matter, and every other chaser out there doesn’t matter. All that matters is my video camera and that tornado in front of it. My day ends when the last tornado ends and the setting sun bleeds away. Their day is just beginning, hustling to contact brokers or potential customers with their day’s bounty. That’s fine for them, but chasing isn’t work for me. It can’t be, because I love it too much to ruin it by putting money at the top of the priority list. Everyone likes to deliver that famous line, “Hey, if I can get some money back that’s great,” but the reality is, once you taste money from chasing, it stops being about seeing storms and starts being about selling video. Because making $$$ from chasing is too much work for it not to be the top priority.

I’m happy fading back into obscurity, with my long resume filled with amazing catches the world doesn’t value because they haven’t been splashed all over the internet and television. I’m perfectly content to sit back and watch the flame wars, the ego battles, and of course, the constant brand/money wars. I watch this blur of an activity, as it is today, and smile inside, thinking back to how simple and innocent it was so many years ago. Even more simple and innocent years before my own career started. I’m proud to have come along when I did, to get a taste of the tail-end of a great era of storm chasing. There’s no doubt I’m the chaser I am now because of the way I learned, and that’s something I cherish. I haven’t seen the most or the best, been the closest, or lived through the worst, been the most famous or the most respected. I’m just doing my own thing the best way I know how, and will continue to trudge forward, ever-attempting to pen the next chapter in my life’s storm chasing adventure.

(Coming in Part Two: personal forecasting and chase approaches, the 2007 Greensburg storm, and top three career chases.)

The Historic 2011 Tornado Season in Review: A Video Interview with Storm Chaser Bill Oosterbaan, Parts 2-4

This post continues from part one of my video interview with Bill Oosterbaan on his storm chases during the monumental tornado season of 2011. Since the interview involves one chaser's recollections, it obviously can't and doesn't embrace the entirety of this year's significant tornado events, such as the April 9 Mapleton, Iowa, tornado and the April 14–16 outbreak. The latter event was historic in its own right, the worst outbreak to occur since February 5–6, 2008. During most years it would have been the biggest headline maker for spring storms; yet in 2011, it got eclipsed three weeks later by the deadly super outbreak of April 25–28; and again on May 22 by the heartbreaking disaster in Joplin, Missouri, where 158 lives were lost. The tornadoes of 2011 will long be remembered for for their violence, size, and path length; for their sheer number; and for their devastating impact on large towns across the South and Southeast. In the following videos, my friend and long-time chase partner Bill talks about his experiences in Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. If you haven't already seen Part 1, I encourage you to start there and view the entire interview in sequence. These videos constitute a person-to-person conversation, not a series of tornado clips. In fact, due to issues with his camera, Bill regretfully didn't get the kind of video record he hoped for. He did, however, manage to film the Vilonia, Arkansas, wedge; and, equipped with a new camcorder on June 20, he captured some interesting and exciting footage in Nebraska, some which you can view here and here. Bill, while I couldn't join you on most of your chases this spring, I'm glad you had such a successful season. I know the dues you've paid over the years. You're the McCoy.

The Historic 2011 Tornado Season in Review: A Video Interview with Storm Chaser Bill Oosterbaan, Part 1

Just about any way you look at it, the 2011 tornado season has been exceptional, disastrous, spectacular, and heartbreaking. On April 25–28, the largest tornado outbreak in United States history claimed over 340 lives over a span of 78 1/2 hours. Hardest hit was northern Alabama, where 239 of the fatalities occurred. Of the 335 confirmed tornadoes that drilled across 21 states from Texas and Oklahoma to as far north as upstate New York, four received an EF-5 rating, a figure surpassed only by the 1974 Super Outbreak. In other ways, what is now known as the 2011 Super Outbreak rivaled its infamous predecessor of 37 years ago. There were more tornadoes. And, in an age when warning technology and communications far outstrips what existed on April 3–4, 1974, there were nevertheless more deaths. The 2011 Super Outbreak alone would have set the year apart as a mile marker in weather history. But less than a month later, on May 22, another longstanding record got broken--and tornado records are rarely anything one hopes to see beaten. In this case, a mile-wide EF-5 wedge that leveled Joplin, Missouri, became not only the first single tornado since the 1953 Flint–Beecher, Michigan, tornado to kill over 100 people, but also, with a death toll of 153, the deadliest US tornado since the Woodward, Oklahoma, tornado of 1943. This has been a year when large cities have gotten smeared, churned into toothpicks and spit out at 200 mph. Tusacaloosa, Birmingham, Huntsville, Joplin...if you survived the storms that trashed these towns, you were blessed. And chances are, you know people who weren't so fortunate. Rarely has the dark side of the storms that storm chasers so passionately pursue been on such grim and devastating display. This has been an awful tornado season, and that's the truth. It has also been a spectacular one, and if many of the storms were man eaters, yet many others spun out their violent beauty harmlessly out on the open plains. Chasers this year have witnessed the full gamut, from April's deadly monsters that raced across Dixie Alley to slow-moving, late-season funnels that meandered grandly over the grasslands. For me, the season has largely been a washout. Family and economic constraints kept me mostly benched this spring, and the few times when I made it out west to chase were unproductive. Not so, however, with my friend and chase partner of 15 years, Bill Oosterbaan. Bill has had a spectacular and a sobering season--and in this first-ever video interview, he's here to talk about it. The 40-minute length of this video requires that it be broken into four sections in order to fit YouTube requirements. It's a lengthy process, and me being a novice at video editing--particularly with high definition--it has taken me a while to figure out how to make it work. This evening I finally had a breakthrough, and now I'm pleased to say that Part 1 is available for viewing. I will be working on the remaining three parts tomorrow, and I hope to have them available in their entirety on YouTube by Wednesday. [UPDATE: Parts 2–4 are now available for viewing.] For now, by way of a teaser with some substance to it, here is the first part.

Guest Post: Roger Edwards Looks at the High Cost of Indiscriminate Budget Slashing in Public Safety

Roger Edwards is a great guy--a Dallas Cowboy fan, family man, writer, photographer, and down-to-earth Renaissance man. He's also a name anyone involved in storm chasing is either quite familiar with or else ought to be. When the man talks about severe weather, his words pack the clout of not only a veteran chaser, but also one of today's foremost authorities on his subject. With his wife, Elke, Roger maintains an engaging online presence in their blogs Stormeyes and Weather or Not, as well as in the scholarly Electronic Journal of Severe Storms Meteorology. Besides being a prominent weather scientist and forecasting expert, Roger is also a deep thinker and a superb writer whose passion for the world around him colors his words. I'm delighted and honored to feature him as my guest. Given free rein to expound on whatever topic was hot upon him, Roger took a direction I didn't expect. His message is a timely one that speaks not only to all those of us who, like Roger, "feast on the smorgasbord of atmospheric violence," but also to everyone--and "everyone" here means everyone--who is impacted by services of our government that are essential to public safety and health. There, Roger--how's that for an introduction? Now I'll shut up and let you take the microphone.

Protection of Life and Property: The Necessary Government Role

By Roger Edwards I am writing not as a government employee tasked with protection of life and property through severe storm forecasts. Nor am I writing as a member of an employees' union that is publicizing the most draconian possibilities, as whispered to them by an inner sanctum of upper management (who, unlike the union, can't legally lobby). Instead, I type on my own behalf as a taxpayer and private citizen who just happens to be intimately familiar on a personal level with the front-line impacts of some asinine and infantile political posturing that's happening right now in Washington, DC. Disagreement on how to finish paying for the rest of this fiscal year threatens either a shutdown of "non-essentials" or a budget that slices the daylights out of many that are both essential and not. "Essential" means law enforcement, military, utilities, storm forecasting, air-traffic control, prisons, border patrol, and other such activities that directly affect public safety and that aren't necessarily 9-to-5 day jobs. Essential employees are not paid during a shutdown, but are required to report to work as "emergency" personnel. I am included in that, as part of a 24/7/365 storm-forecasting group. The most extreme budget scenarios for the rest of fiscal 2011 (through October) could result in rolling closure of both warning offices and national forecasting centers, along with unpaid furloughs lasting weeks at a time. That would be insane, headed into both peak tornado and hurricane seasons. What a crappy, backhanded "reward" for the dedication and effort that severe weather and hurricane forecasters devote every day and night...all day, all night. (Don't worry, I never would resort to faking illness like those lying liars in Wisconsin...I actually am honest, and care too much about my duty!) Politicians of both parties, in their zeal (and however noble the principles) are ignorantly unaware of the truth that not all government is equally useful, and that the most valuable and necessary government functions are those that protect life and property...period! In any democratic (lower-case "d") system, all else is secondary to public safety as a responsibility of a government. Here's the ugly reality: Those life-saving functions that mean the most are typically small and focused, scattered and buried throughout numerous much bigger agencies full of bloat. In the tangled mess of government bureaucracy, the needed is interwoven with the unneeded, the important with the optional, the efficient with the wasteful--sometimes very tightly! You can argue that it's partly by design, in order to use the lifesaving functions as human shields against elimination of the wasteful rubbish. I'll fully grant that it could be a valid argument and a tactic used by some politicians to protect sacred pork. But it's still reality. To remove the unnecessary areas in shrinking big government is a good thing, done very selectively. But most elected officials don't understand this and try to engage in shortsighted slashing that throws babies out with bathwater. Meanwhile, as in the current standoff over a looming "shutdown," those government employees engaged in protection of life and property are used as pawns for show. It's a dirty, rotten, slimy game of political brinkmanship brought about by the shortsighted spending practices of Congresses and administrations of both parties, past and present. Such childish foolishness, purely for the sake of posturing, cuts the meat and bone under the fat. It's happened before, it's nothing new, and it's ridiculous. The strategy: Threaten to cut the visible, necessary stuff--like storm forecasting, air-traffic control, meat inspection, border security, law enforcement, anti-terror and such--to cover for fiscal irresponsibility on the unnecessary rubbish. It is a time-honed ploy, definitely bad for the country, and speaks to the immaturity and ignorance of politicians in general. Does fiscal austerity need to happen? Absolutely! Liberals as a whole, and fiscally liberal Republicans, cannot bury their heads in the sand anymore and ignore the national debt. Think of the less-than-worst scenarios that may result as short-term pain for long-term gain. Public debt is out of control. That's an overwhelming national consensus. We all need to make sacrifices to cover for past and current fiscal irresponsibility by politicians of all parties. I support smart, targeted cutting of government, starting with the fat. Notice that I have not complained about the salary freeze, which includes my own. It's only fair that all government employees sacrifice some. If I now can't buy a new violin for my daughter in orchestra because the family budget needs to be tightened, because it's better for the's unfortunate, but that's life. Others are far worse off! Answer this, however: Do politicians have a history of smart, targeted streamlining of swollen government? Do politicians have a track record of taking intelligent, careful time and consideration, or do they instead resort to short-fused, publicity-grabbing, slash-and-burn, one-size-fits-all grandstanding? To answer that, watch the news and read the stories today, where Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans are blaming Democrats and each other, and back-and-forth grandstanding commands the press. Then think back to past government "shutdowns" such as that at the end of 1995 and early 1996, or 1990 (each of which happened since I've been involved). Republicans or Democrats in the Presidency, Republicans or Democrats in Congress, none are blameless in the sort of showboating and lack of foresight that allows the federal budget sickness to get this far. I'm here to tell you that life-saving functions must not be chopped. That includes storm forecasting. Consider both sides of this coin. Five cents. This gleaming little Jefferson is about how much NOAA (which includes the National Weather Service) costs each of us taxpayers each day. Some of that involves all the people and machines that enable forecasts of both dangerous and calm weather. Some of NOAA admittedly involves top-heavy layers of management and bureaucracy above the front-line workers. Much of those are glad-handing, paper-pushing, suit-and-tie roles that I see as not absolutely necessary, and that could and should be trimmed. Yet when those very bureaucrats are ordered to make recommendations for cuts, do you think they will be targeting their own jobs? If you do, I've got land about a hundred miles south of New Orleans to sell you. Life-saving nickels are being swept off the pavement right in front of an out-of-control dump truck overflowing with borrowed zillion-dollar bills, representing entitlements and other giant-scale spending that needs to be braked first. Politicians generally don't have the courage to do that, nor the understanding to thoughtfully focus merit-based cuts elsewhere. The chopping devolves into a blind, mindless, one-size-fits-all exercise; hence, we must take the bad with the good, the inefficient with the necessary, hoping someone with patience and courage eventually conducts a long, careful, well-informed, and elaborate trim inside each bureaucracy with a very fine and efficient surgical knife. Ask yourself something more: Are national and local severe storm outlooks, tornado watches and warnings, hurricane watches and warnings, winter storm watches and warnings, and every other daily forecast, worth five cents? You decide. And if you say yes, tell your elected officials in no uncertain terms. ===== Roger Edwards ===== American taxpayer and severe weather scientist

Guest Post: Robert Edmonds on Multiple Vortices

The following is an unexpected and interesting guest post from fellow storm chaser and atmospheric modeler Robert Edmonds. Earlier this week I got a note from Robert, and, recalling some of his very cool vortex models that he had posted on Stormtrack, I invited him to submit a guest post. At my suggestion--because is written on a popular rather than a scientific level--Robert has taken a concept that I'm certain can be expanded upon to incredible complexity and offered some essential thoughts on it which I think just about anyone can understand. A bit on Robert's background. A weather modeler for Mars who works frequently with NASA, Robert possesses a BS in astrophysics and a minor in mathematics, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. With nine years experience chasing storms, he operates his own business as a storm chasing tour guide. Without further ado, I give you Robert Edmonds sharing his insights on

Multiple Vortices: Stable and Unstable Configurations

Bob Hartig recently wrote an article titled  “Multiple Vortices: How Deep Do They Go?” Being both a storm chaser and an atmospheric modeler for Mars, I thought I might share some interesting insights about multiple vortices. There is a lot of fascinating physics going on inside multi-vortex tornadoes. First, however, it might be good to understand the difference between vorticity and circulation. Imagine a boat in the ocean. Let’s say that in this ocean is a giant whirlpool. The boat is circulating about this whirlpool; however, the nose of the boat keeps pointing in the same direction--let's say, north. Clearly there is circulation because the boat is going around and around the whirlpool, but in the water immediately surrounding the boat there is no vorticity. Now let's move the boat closer and closer to the center of the whirlpool while keeping the boat’s nose still pointed north. There is still no vorticity in the water immediately surrounding the boat. Only when we find the nose of the boat turning is there vorticity in the water immediately surrounding the boat. The boat is now experiencing not only circulation, but also vorticity. At the following link you will find an applet with two windows: The black dots represent locations of concentrated vorticity (places where the boat’s nose would turn). You can think of these dots as multiple vortices within a larger tornadic circulation. What I want to show you is that certain vortex configurations are stable. First, uncheck the two boxes next to "Running." This will freeze the motions of the vortices.  Next: In each window there are vortices in a circular configuration. Drag one black dot in each window at most half a mouse cursor length (click and hold). When you’re done, go ahead and click the boxes next to "Running." You should find that in the panel with six vortices, the shape or configuration of the dots remains generally the same. However, in the panel with seven vortices the configuration eventually breaks down. This is because circular, evenly spaced configurations with more than six vortices are unstable. This little demonstration touches on many aspects of weather, not just multi-vortex tornadoes. The chaotic behavior in the panel with seven or more vortices demonstrates why no weather forecast will ever be perfect. The air around us can be thought of as composed of billions, even trillions, of little vortices, all interacting in seemingly random fashion. As you've just seen for yourself in the very simplified model, small changes in the atmosphere can produce drastic differences over time--true of both tornadoes and of the larger weather systems that spawn them.

Guest Post: Saxophone and Storms

Every once in a while I like to feature a post by a guest blogger from the worlds of either storm chasing or jazz. Today let me introduce to you my buddy Neal Battaglia. Neal is a tenor man who maintains a wonderful blog on jazz saxophone called The site covers acres of territory of interest to saxophonists. If you're not already familiar with it, then you owe it to yourself to check it out. After contemplating the nature of my own site, with its odd blend of wild winds and woodwinds, Neal is here to share his thoughts in a post titled...

Saxophone and Storms

By Neal Battaglia, Initially, storms and saxophones seemed an odd combination to me. On this site, I would read Bob’s posts on saxophone, but not always the ones about storms. However, when I thought about it for a minute, a number of musicians enjoy nature and are inspired by it. And storms are some of the most extreme examples of nature. One of my favorite trumpet players, Freddie Hubbard, had a record called "Outpost." The cover shows a lone farmhouse out in a wide-open plain with a storm beginning to brew overhead. When you listen to the tracks, you really hear the movement of the storm--the lead-in to it, the calm in the middle, and the conditions afterward. My all time favorite saxophone player, Stanley Turrentine, recorded an album called "Salt Song."  On it is a tune that I like a lot called "Storm." These two masters both took musical ideas from many places, reminding me that music is a reflection of our experiences. Your life comes out to be shared with the audience when you improvise on saxophone and write music. In October of 2009, I took three planes across the country to Nashville and eventually arrived in the backwoods for a "music and nature" class. It was an awesome experience. The guy in charge of that class recorded an album called  "‘Thunder." Nature in general and storms specifically seem to act as a muse for musicians. They are something that we all experience (although possibly less if you’re an extreme city slicker). And music transcends language barriers.  So you can feel storms by listening.