Rob Dale on Free Learning Resources for the Prerequisites of Meteorology

I owe the following content to meteorologist and Ingham County, Michigan, emergency manager Rob Dale. With his permission, I'm duplicating it here from Rob's Facebook post, as I think some of my weatherhead readers may find it relevant and useful. That has been my experience; thanks to Rob, I've actually begun to look into tackling high school algebra--a subject I did horribly at back in my teen years--with an eye on laying the groundwork for calculus, and thence, meteorology. One is never too old to learn, right? Perhaps the free resources Rob has listed below will inspire you too to expand your learning horizons. In any case, the legwork Rob has done is too valuable to be buried beneath the Facebook landslide. Here's Rob. -------------------------- Let's say you're interested in REALLY learning about meteorology? You have NO idea how many resources are available today compared to just 5-10 years ago! You can take most of the core courses that currently cost thousands of dollars at a university for free at your own pace... For example, a met degree requires Calculus, Physics, and Chemisty off the top. Once you have that background, you can start reading intermediate (and maybe advanced) textbooks and actually learn how to forecast. You still won't be a full fledged met, but I guarantee you will make better forecasts than now and you will feel better knowing your knowledge is the reason why. You can find them elsewhere, but many of these from MIT have full video lectures which makes the process easier. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/mathematics/ 18.01, 18.02, 18.03 http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/physics/ 8.01, 8.02 http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/chemistry/ 5.04, 5.60 Now you've got the basics! You can get meteorology books, will understand what you're reading, and actually start to make sense of the "why" behind the process. http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Dynamic-Meteorology-Fifth-Edition/dp/0123848660/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_z http://www.amazon.com/Mesoscale-Meteorology-Midlatitudes-Advancing-Weather/dp/0470742135 https://secure.ametsoc.org/amsbookstore/viewProductInfo.cfm?productID=81 http://www.amazon.com/Synoptic-Dynamic-Meteorology-Midlatitudes-Principles-Kinematics/dp/0195062671 http://www.amazon.com/Synoptic-Dynamic-Meteorology-Midlatitudes-Observations-Weather/dp/019506268X/ref=pd_sim_b_1 https://secure.ametsoc.org/amsbookstore/viewProductInfo.cfm?productID=5 https://secure.ametsoc.org/amsbookstore/viewProductInfo.cfm?productID=6 Some of those books can be expensive, but buy one at a time and you'll be able to sell them for about 80% of what you paid (if not more.) Does this sound hard? Yup. Necessary if you want to really know meteorology? Yup. Impossible? Nope. Just think how much time you are wasting drawing lines on Microsoft Paint and how those hours could actually help you learn! If you really wanted to be a guitar player would you be better off spending time on Guitar Hero or learning chords on a real guitar? One of them is fun in the short term but offers no advantage towards your goal. Same story here. So there you go. If this is REALLY your passion, make it something valuable. If you end up going to college, think of how much easier those classes will be since you've already invested ahead of time! If you don't go to school, imagine how much more interactive your conversations can be with meteorologists and how much of a service your posts will be to followers. -------------------------- Now, if you, like me, totally sucked at any form of math back in your high school daze (daze being a fully appropriate word for a child of the 1970s), Rob has also provided a link to KhanAcademy, which provides a blizzard of tutorials on the prerequisites for college-level courses. And yes, they too are free, free, free. Considering the education you can get online today without paying a dime, the only thing that can cost a person is to remain ignorant. Learn at your own pace for your own enrichment and satisfaction. What's to stop you? Hey, Rob--thanks! You rock, Pilgrim.  

Winter Solstice 2013: Tornadoes (or Not) in Dixie Alley and Ice Storms North and West

It has finally arrived: Winter. Astronomical winter, that is. Meteorological winter has already been with us for three weeks, beginning December 1, and in my book, that is the more climatologically accurate date. Particularly this year. For the first time since 2009, we in Michigan have been experiencing a good, old-fashioned Great Lakes winter. Here in Caledonia, the snowfall has exceeded a foot, and Lisa, who arrived here from Missouri five years ago hating winter and now loves it, dotes on it, rejoices in it, has been having a high good time during her two daily walks, equipped with brand-new winter hiking boots and a warm, warm, waaarm and dry, dry, dry waterproof down coat. I am not so enthusiastic about all this white stuff as Lis is. My interaction with winter consists largely of sitting indoors at my work station, gazing out through the sliding door, watching the finches argue at the feeders and the woodpeckers whack away at the suet, and watching snowflakes pirouette gracefully out of the sky, and thinking, "Can we get this over with?" Yes we can, in a few more months. Because today at last we tip the scale, and from here on, daylight will be on the upswing. Two weeks ago, on December 8, the sun set in my town at 5:08 p.m. EST, just as it had been doing for the preceding four days, hovering within the eight-minutes-past-the-hour range but setting just a few seconds earlier each day. The 8th was the earliest sunset date of the year. From then on, sunset time would arrive incrementally later. For the next five days, through December 13, it would remain at 5:08, but instead of losing seconds, now it would begin to add them back until, on December 9, the sun would set at 5:09. The converse does not, however, hold true for the day's first light. The sun will continue to rise later and later until January 3 of the new year. By then, the sun will have been rising at 8:14 a.m. for five days until finally, on that date, the sunrise will, like the sunset, hit its own tipping point. From thenceforth, losing a few seconds each day, it will begin its slow march toward an earlier and earlier hour. On January 8, it will rise at 8:13 a.m.; on January 12, at 8:12; on the 14th, at 8:11; and so it will go, until on the 31st, it will rise at 7:59. By then, the sun will be rising approximately a minute earlier each day, and we will have gained fifteen minutes of sunrise time. Why, then,  is today, winter solstice, so special? Because today marks our shortest period of overall daylight, the narrowest space between sunrise and sunset. From tomorrow on, even though the sun will continue to rise later and later for a while, the sunset time will begin to outpace it and the gap between sunrise and sunset will broaden--slowly at first, then with increasing swiftness. By the end of December, we Grand Rapidians will have gained 41 seconds of daylight for a total of 9 hours, 14 minutes, and 16 seconds on December 31. By March 18, we'll be adding daylight at 2 minutes and 15 second per day, at which point we'll have maxed out and the gains, while still continuing up to the summer solstice, will become gradually less. You now know more about the winter solstice than you probably ever cared to. What makes this particular solstice even more interesting is the weather that's shaping up for it, which shows promise of making it a headliner with tornadoes in the deep South and ice storms to the north and west. Day 1 Winter Solstice 1630 Mod Risk 2013Here is the 1630Z convective outlook for today, depicting a moderate risk stretching from western Kentucky and Tennessee southwestward into Louisiana, with a 15 percent hatched area for tornadoes. Given the brevity of daylight, I find this situation interesting but not particularly appealing.  A look at forecast soundings suggests a crapload of rain, low CAPE, and high helicity, all driven by massive shear and Jackson MS 19Z RAP_Skew-Trocketing along through formidable terrain. A lot of chasers are out there, and I'm sure that if I lived in that area, I'd be among them, but looking at the Shreveport radar, I don't feel like I'm missing out on something. I got my fill of chasing fast-moving, rain-wrapped storms last November in optimal territory, and considering how that chase turned out, I think I'll be a lot more selective about such scenarios in the future. That said, I wish those who are out there good success. And safety. Drive carefully, mates and matesses. No storm is worth jeopardizing your safety over. As for me, I'm sitting well on the other side of the cold front, and freezing rain is in the forecast, though my local WFO has backed off on it in their forecast discussion. Lots of areas in the Midwest are getting hit with icy conditions, making for hazardous driving, power outages, downed tree limbs, and the like. The day grows later, and so far, glancing at the radar down south, I just don't see anything very exciting--just a messy-looking MCS with one cell south of Memphis showing a hint of rotation. Only wind reports so far, and I suspect that's how this thing will continue to play out. Tough for anyone who drove down there hoping for more; good for denizens of the region. And so enters the winter of 2013–14. Time to wrap up this post and get on with the rest of this afternoon.

Waterspout Season Opens Today on Lake Michigan

When I saw the clouds this afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder. Lisa and I were catching a late lunch--or an early dinner, take your pick--at the Fire Rock Grille, and I was staring out the window over the golf course at low-topped convective towers to my northwest. The sky had that look about it that spoke of stripped-out moisture and cold mid-level temperatures, as you begin to expect around this time of year, and I thought, "If those towers were over Lake Michigan, there'd be a waterspout hanging from one of them." My first successful waterspout chase last year led me to believe that when conditions are right for spouts--when cold air moving over warm lake waters creates steep low-level lapse rates and enough vorticity is present to get stretched by an updraft--then the main thing to do is get one's butt down to the lakeshore and look for convective bands. Maybe I'm being overly simplistic; regardless, September 22, 2012, made me a believer in the feasibility of viewing Lake Michigan waterspouts. I even managed to get some shaky but very cool video that day of a spout making landfall about one hundred yards north of me. My instincts today proved right, but the action occurred on the other side of the pond, where some spectacular photos and video came from lucky beachcombers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I normally avoid embedding YouTube videos in my posts because I never know how long one will remain viable, but I'm displaying this one by Jeff Magno because I find it particularly intriguing. Not only is the distant spout massive at this point, but look at how the mist rising off of the sidewalk in the foreground forms a tracer for the surface winds. The mist rushes southward, consistent with today's northerly flow, but where it rises, you can see it begin to move lakeward. It dissipates far too quickly to tell much of a story, but it leads me to speculate about the low-level vertical vorticity that may have been available to produce the spouts. But then, what do I know about these things? I'm just a happy observer when I get the chance to be one--which, as it turns out, may be tomorrow morning. Got a hot tip on that, so I'm setting my clock and planning to wake up early, and tonight I will dream of near-shore convection.

May 28, 2013, Tornadic Supercell by Grand Ledge, Michigan

Tornado season is now long past, and the sting of missing great storms either through bad targeting or having to head home one and two days before two major events has eased. Maybe next year will be better. Besides, the show's not over till the snows fly. Meanwhile, I'm looking back to my most interesting chase of the year, documented by the video at the bottom of this post. Ironically, I logged around 6,000 miles to and from Oklahoma and Kansas with little to show for it, while my humble backyard of Michigan gave me an enjoyable and productive bit of action. On May 28, a warm front lifted up through lower Michigan, ushering in decent moisture and instability along with a good boundary for them to work their mojo with. The thing that seemed to be missing was adequate shear for storm organization--but I ignored conditions farther east of me. I just didn't take the setup seriously enough, and when Kyle Underwood, the WOOD TV8 meteorologist, inquired which of the TV8 chasers planned to head out, I said that I didn't see much potential. If something came my way, I would grab it, but otherwise, I didn't want to waste gas. That was understandable: money was tight, and I planned to chase in Kansas the next day. Still, geeze, what an idiot (me, not Kyle). Let us pause momentarily while I give myself a retroactive dope slap. I have come to a conclusion: in Michigan, when a warm front shows up with good CAPE present and any kind of bulk shear to speak of, even anemic bulk shear, chase the front. Never mind what the models have to say about storm-relative helicity; helicity will take care of itself if a storm manages to organize in the vicinity of the frontal boundary. Just get out there and chase the stupid front. Particularly farther to the east. Storms in Michigan often have a way of intensifying and organizing near and east of I-69 and, north of Lansing, US-127. That was the case on this day. My first clue was when I glanced at the radar later and noticed that Kurt Hulst was on a storm off to the southeast. Kurt knows what he's doing, and the storm looked decent--in fact, it was tornado-warned. Okay, I thought, I missed that one. Probably it'll be the only one. So I sat tight and watched the radar as other storms formed. They looked like a convective mess to my west, but they clearly were moving into a better environment as they progressed east. Finally, I'd had enough. I grabbed my laptop and cameras and headed out. I locked onto the most intense-looking cell in my vicinity and tracked with it toward Portland. But another was following on its heels, and given the way that the storms were behaving, I thought I'd be better off dropping the one I was on and letting the new one come to me. Presumably, it would get its crap together on the way, and that is what happened. As it approached Grand Ledge just west of Lansing, this storm developed a most amazing streamer of scud sucking into its updraft base from the east. It appeared to originate near ground level--hard to tell with trees constantly interrupting the view--and rocketed toward the storm, leaving no doubt that this storm had impressive inflow. Driving into Grand Ledge, I found myself under the area of rotation, with crazy, low cloud motions. Turning around, I headed back north and parked by the airport, then watched and filmed as the storm headed east into Lansing. It looked very close to spinning up a tornado; in the video, you can see it trying hard, and eventually it succeeded. But I had to drop the chase. My friend Steve Barclift and I planned to chase the next day in Kansas, and I had to meet him so we could hit the road for the long drive west. As it turned out, the storm I was on provided a better show than anything we saw along the dryline. My buddy Rob Forry managed to catch this storm at its tornadic phase and got some nice video. My original hi-def shows the motion of the inflow streamer nicely as I enter Grand Ledge. Regrettable, this YouTube clip doesn't render the details as well, but you'll at least get a feel for the motion. The storm was an interesting one and fun to chase. It would be nice to get another one like it. It's only August, so the door is far from closed.

Remember When . . . ?

Remember when tornado photos were all black-and-white, and you only saw them in the newspapers? Remember how rare it was  to see them? Remember newspapers? Remember watching The Wizard of Oz every time it played on TV, and never missing a showing, just so you could watch the tornado scene? ("It's a twister! It's a twister!") Remember how fascinated and delighted you were when they showed those grainy old movies of tornadoes in school, or sometimes on TV, and how you wished they'd replay them and then replay them again so you could watch them over and over and over? Remember when you first saw that incredible photo of twin funnels south of Elkhart, Indiana, taken by photographer Paul Huffman during the 1965 Palm Sunday Outbreak? And that dramatic image of the Xenia, Ohio, tornado shot at just a quarter-mile away from Greene Memorial Hospital during the 1974 Super Outbreak? Remember your first successful chase? (As if you could ever forget.) I remember mine. It was in August 1996 across central Michigan, roughly along the M-21 corridor. North of Saint Johns, Michigan, I watched as a beautiful tube dropped from a classic supercell that was as sweetly structured as anything I've seen on the Plains. Both the tornado and its parent storm were gorgeous--and I was elated. Remember when there were no laptops, no Android phones, no mobile data, no GR3--just your car, your weather radio, maybe a tiny portable TV, and a ton of hopefulness and excitement as you drove happily down the highway toward a sky full of rising towers? Remember when seeing a tornado was rare and busting was something you simply expected and took in stride as part of paying your dues? Remember before the movie Twister came out? Remember before the Stormchasers series? Remember when storm chasing wasn't "extreme"? Remember when storm chasing barely was at all? Remember when Storm Track was a print newsletter published by pioneer chaser David Hoadley? I regret that I never subscribed, because I could have learned much from it. Remember when the online version was a resource everyone welcomed and loved, not a point of contention among some chasers? I'm so glad the worst of that scuffle is a few years behind us now. Remember when there was no live stream to fuss with, no competing with a league of other chasers all getting similar footage of the same storm, and no rush to process your video and get it to the networks first? (Not that I would know about that last point personally. I've never gotten the hang of it and don't particularly care.) Remember when there was nothing to prove, no reputation to make or uphold, and no stripes to earn? Remember when it was just about the storms, period? Don't you wish it still could be? Why can't it? Remember how excited you were when you first got hooked up with a laptop, GR3, and mobile data? Remember how, before then, you used to stop at airports and small-town libraries just to get a glimpse of the radar? Remember when there was no TwisterData, no HRRR, no SPC mesoanalysis graphics, no easy way to obtain forecast soundings, no abundance of forecasting resources available at just the click of a mouse button? Remember when you weren't even aware that there were forecasting resources available to you? Remember your first exposure to the SPC forecast discussions, reading through all that arcane gobbledegook and thinking, "These people speak Martian"? And then thinking, "Maybe if I just head for the center of where it says 'Moderate Risk' . . ."? Remember discovering COD and looking over their forecast maps and not having a clue what they meant or how to use them? You pulled up the 500 mb heights/wind map and admired the pretty colors and thought, "This looks like it could mean something." Remember not knowing the difference between GFS and ETA and RUC? Remember ETA and RUC? Remember knowing absolutely nothing about forecasting, and how you struggled to learn, and how thrilled you felt when you finally pieced things together and successfully picked a target, or at least had your forecast verify? Remember all that? Never forget. Many of you are too young to have experienced some of the things I've mentioned. You missed out on something good. It doesn't all sound good, I'll grant you--no in-car radar, no access to a bazillion free online weather resources--but it had its virtues. Not that I'd care to go back to caveman days, but I'd love to reclaim their spirit. The beat goes on, and those of you who boarded the bus farther down the road are building your own list of remember-whens. But we who are in our mid-forties and older can recall simpler times. They were far less technically advanced, but they were also infinitely less frantic and driven overall. I guess you have to reach at least fifty years of age before you get to say stuff like that. It's the province and privilege of duffers. I qualify, and I'm okay with that. I wish I could claim something akin to the number and quality of tornadic encounters, and the knowledge gained thereby, and the photos to show and the stories to tell, possessed by some of the luminaries who are my age or not all that terribly much older. Those guys have got a lot to remember! But what's mine is mine, and it's enough to reminisce upon. If you got your start when storm chasing was of a different character than it is today, you know that you were privileged to come up in a special time, a time that can never be reclaimed. And memories of those days are well worth treasuring and reflecting on and feeling grateful for the experiences that created them.      

Missing Out on Moore

I haven't posted in this blog for several weeks. Behind my lack of motivation lies a depression over how this storm season has turned out for me, which reflects a broader sense of personal failure as a storm chaser. A melancholy lead-in such as this will probably lose some of you, and I understand. It's not exactly sunshine and a bowl of Cheerios. But others may identify with this post and perhaps even find it helpful, and in any case, it's my blog, and I'll write what I please. The May 20 Moore tornado exacerbated what has been a brooding issue for me since 2011. During that intensely active and historic year, I was sidelined from chasing due to family and financial constraints, and my final shot at a decent chase on June 20 in Nebraska failed by an hour due to a series of delays along the way. With last year's notable exceptions of the March 2 Henryville, Indiana, tornado, and April 24 in Kansas, the trend has continued. And given how this year's slow start finally exploded in the second half of May with storms that ranged from photogenic to disastrous, coming home empty-handed from my two brief excursions to the Great Plains during another historic year has been hard to take. This post, then, is a continuation of my processing a deadly storm season that has robbed the storm chasing community of some of its best and brightest, exacted a steep toll on the residents of Oklahoma City, afforded a flood of spectacular videos, and caused me to search my soul as a storm chaser and wonder whether I even qualify as one. The rest of what follows is a post I wrote earlier today in Stormtrack. It belongs in this blog too, even moreso than in the chaser forum. ------------------------------------ Missing the Moore tornado in particular touched something off in me. I've never felt more frustrated about missing an event I would never have wanted to witness. El Reno didn't have that same effect on me. I watched the whole scenario unfold on the radar and on KFOR live stream with horror, not with regret that I was missing out on anything, and my sense of it is that OKC got off very lightly. I'm probably better off for not having been there. It was too dangerous a storm. But missing Moore was a bitter pill to swallow, and I think a lot of the reason has to do with my limited ability to chase. I just can't afford to do it nearly as often or extensively as I'd like, so having to head back to Michigan empty-handed one day too soon after driving all those miles, knowing that the next day would be big in Oklahoma, was hard on me. I could have afforded the extra day and I badly wanted to stay, but one of the guys had to work the following morning, and there was no getting out of it. He had a responsibility to his employer and his family, and as the driver, I had a responsibility to him. Such responsibilities are honorable and will always come first with me. But that didn't make things any easier. Watching the debris ball roll across Moore on GR3 while I was driving east through Missouri created an ugly mix of feelings for me. My first thought was, Oh my God! When you see something like that, you just know something horrible is happening. My second thought was, I'm missing it. After driving all those miles and busting (got just a fleeting glimpse of a rope tornado, not anything to even talk about), that radar image seemed like a slap in the face. I felt angry, like I'd been robbed, betrayed. Which is crazy, of course, but feelings are feelings, no more and no less, and I'm just being honest here about mine at the time. My third thought, which is the one I've had to wrestle with since, was, Why? Why was I feeling so torn about missing something so terrible, an event that would have have broken my heart and caused me to lose sleep if I had been there? I don't think there's a simple answer; I think there are many components which add up. But the bottom line is, there's an obsessive aspect to chasing for me that can either make or ruin my day and even my week. I don't see that as healthy, and it didn't use to be that way. I use to take my limitations in stride, and busts were just busts: not personal failures, just part of paying my dues as a chaser. But chasing today is a whole different ballgame than it was when I first got started seventeen years ago. The mindset is more competitive, many more people are doing it and spending gobs of cash and time in the process, and overall I just can't keep pace with it. So I've had to--and still have to--do some soul-searching. Who I am as a person goes far deeper than chasing storms. And more important to me than being in the mainstream of chasing is having peace of mind, and that requires accepting my limitations, working within them to simply enjoy something I love to do without letting it own me. I find that much easier to say than it is to do, but for me it is a necessity. If I can afford to chase a setup, I will; if I can't, I'll wish those of you who can success--and safety. I hope it will be many, many more years before anything like another Moore or El Reno occurs.

June 12 Chase in Northwest Indiana and Michigan

There's nothing fancy about these pics. They are what they are. But after a tremendously frustrating May--a rant I won't even bother to get into right now--it is nice to have at least something to show. The setup was a warm front strung from Iowa eastward across northern Indiana, typical of the south-central Great Lakes region. While the NWS was talking of a derecho, forecast soundings a couple days in advance seemed to point to tornadic potential. And indeed, on the day-of, the SPC issued a high risk across the area, with a 10 percent hatched tornado risk in the area where Kurt Hulst and I chased and a 15 percent hatch farther to the west. 6122013 Meso NW INThe photos show what we came up with in northwest Indiana south of Koontz Lake. The first blurry shot is of a small mesocyclone on a storm which, on the radar, gave only small hints that it could harbor one. Sometimes, given the right environment, what base reflectivity renders as amorphous blobs can provide surprises where you find a little sorta-kinda-almost hooky-looking little notch, and that was the case here. For a minute, it actually looked like it might give us a tornado, but the lack of surface winds was a good clue that wasn't gonna happen. Structurally, though, this little storm offered an interesting opportunity to try and read clues in the clouds as to what it was doing or planned to do. I'm not sure I ever did figure that out, but it was fun to watch. 6122013 Meso S of Koontz Lake INAfter watching it for several minutes, we dropped it to intercept the larger, more robust cell advancing behind it. This storm had displayed prolonged rotation on radar, and as we repositioned near a broad stretch of field that gave us a good view, we could see a stubby tail cloud feeding into a large, flange-shaped meso. The storm was clearly HP, with a linear look to it that suggests a shelf cloud, but there was no mistaking the broad rotary motion, and you can make out some inflow bands in the picture. At one point, a well-defined funnel formed just north of the juncture with the tail cloud (or whatever you want to call it) and the  rain core, drifting behind the core and into obscurity. We played tag with this storm for a while, but it was toward sunset and getting darker and darker, and eventually we decided to call it quits and head back. The storms where we were just lacked the low-level helicity to go tornadic. There was ample surface-based CAPE--somewhere in the order of 3,000 J/kg, methinks-- but whatever inflow was feeding them appeared to be streaming in above ground level. So we headed back into Michigan, and as we drove north on US-31 near Saint Joseph, things got interesting fast. Green and orange power flashes suggested that a high wind was moving through nearby. A glance at the radar and, sure enough, there it was: a bow echo. It didn't look terribly dramatic on radar, but looks can be deceiving. Heading east on I-94, we attempted to catch up with the belly of the bow as it rocketed toward Paw Paw and Kalamazoo. The next fifty or sixty miles was a millrace of frequently shifting high winds and torrential rain punctuated by power flashes. At one point, we narrowly missed running into a highway sign that blew across the road in front of us. At another, we passed an inferno where a falling tree had evidently gotten entangled in a power line. North of us on the radar, we could see a supercell moving over the town of Wayland. But it was a little ways beyond reach, particularly given the kind of backwoods territory that lay to its east. The high winds and driving rain ended, ironically, as we entered Kent County. My little hometown of Caledonia got just a relative dusting of rain and maybe a zephyr of outflow. It was hard to believe how much drama was playing out just a few miles to the south. Big thanks to Kurt for taking me out with him when I didn't have the gas or the money to chase on my own. I needed to get out and chase, and the sneering irony of having a robust setup dropped in my backyard and not being able to do anything about it was really eating me yesterday. I got to go out after all, and it felt wonderful.  

Why I Chase Storms: A Storm Chaser’s Manifesto

I posted the following message on Facebook, but it really belongs here. It is one of what I think will be a number of very personal, reflective posts on storm chasing as I process the impact of a difficult, disappointing, terrible, and tragic season. ------------------------------ This storm season has left me feeling very torn. As I sift through its impact on me, I am grateful for my friends who are NOT chasers. People whose perspective on life is different from mine. My men's group, for instance, is a small circle of wonderful, godly brothers in Christ who have seen plenty of life. It felt cathartic to share with them last night about my passion for chasing storms, my sense of failure as a chaser, and the recent, tragic losses of Tim and Paul Samaras and Carl Young. In talking with the guys about chasing, I spoke frankly about a common misconception about storm chasers: that we are out there saving lives by what we do. That may sometimes be the case, but it is not the motivating force for me or any of the chasers I know. That image, fostered by the media, simply isn't what drives chasers. I chase, and most other chasers chase, primarily because we are enamored with the storms. There is nothing intrinsically heroic in what we do. Depending on where we're chasing, our presence in the field can be valuable as part--and only a part--of warning the public. A few chasers--a very few, including the late Tim Samaras--collect data for scientific research, some of which could conceivably help to improve an already excellent warning system. Occasionally, some chasers find themselves in a position to make a life-saving difference as first responders. And Storm Assist is providing a fabulous means for chasers to contribute their videos to a charitable cause whose proceeds go directly to aiding the victims of tornadoes and severe weather. All of these things are true and good. But they're different from the myths that have arisen around storm chasing. One of those myths is that chasers are sickos who enjoy watching homes and communities get trashed; the other is that we're more noble than we really are. Between these two extremes lies the reality of why storm chasers actually chase. And the truth is, no single reason fully describes every chaser. Chasers are individuals, and today as never before, that individual component interacts with the influence of technology and the media to create a complex and varied mix of motives. Yet I believe all chasers possess one common denominator: a love for, a passion for, the storms. Personally, storm chasing engages me on many levels--intellectual, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, creative, and adventurous--in a way that nothing else does. When I can chase the way I want to, I feel alive; when I cannot, which is far too often, I feel intensely frustrated, moreso than I think is healthy. Lately, my limitations have left me feeling depressed. That is something I have to work through, talk to God about, and discuss with those close to me who know me well. But one thing is certain: I chase, as best I am able, because it is what I love to do, period. There is nothing else like storm chasing. I love the sky, the storms, their drama and beauty, their intensity, their mind-boggling motion, the awe they inspire, the landscapes they traverse, and the lessons they have to teach. I am a pupil of the atmosphere. Because I live in a part of the country where both tornadoes and experienced chasers are far fewer than in the Great Plains, I can perhaps play a more significant role locally in helping to warn the public than in Tornado Alley, where droves of chasers line the roads. Chasing for WOOD TV8 here in West Michigan creates that possibility for me. But I would chase regardless. It's what I do, just as playing the saxophone is what I do and just as golfing, or car racing, or writing, or painting, or fishing, or crocheting, or hiking, or hunting, or what have you, is what you do. We're all wired to do something, and we desire to do it excellently. There's nothing innately noble about it, and there doesn't need to be. Your pursuit may, in the right circumstances, put you in a position to contribute to the well-being of others. But it needs no justification in order to be worthwhile. That is how I view storm chasing, and I think many of my fellow chasers would agree. So please do not thank me for what it is I do, for the only thing I am doing is following my heart. In the same breath, please do not condemn me for it, for you may benefit from it someday--again, as just one facet of an excellent warning system in which I play only a part.

A Crummy Storm Season and an Upcoming Video Tutorial on Circular Breathing

Well over a month has elapsed since my last post. I look at the date of that post, April 1, and think, Right. April Fool, everybody. It sure fooled me. My exuberant expectations for this storm season, particularly compared to last year's, have fallen so far short that they'd need to climb a step ladder just to be upside-down. Last year by this time, I'd at least gotten in two productive chases, one of them spectacular and the other decent. This year, nada. I didn't think it was possible to have a worse chase season than 2012, but 2013 is demonstrating just how a wrong a man can be. Now, I know what everyone says: you can't judge the latter part of a season by its early part. I believe that. The past has proved how dramatically things can change. Chase seasons that started out crappy suddenly shaped up and started cranking out some great setups. I hope that proves true with this one. As it stands, my traditional target date of May 22, nigh sacred to me for the great chases it has provided, has been consistently flatlining on the GFS. That long-range model has me gazing wistfully at its the far, far end, willing for a shadow of hope to show up at 384 hours and remain hopeful--a nice, robust trough that survives successive runs and moves through the timeline into the Plains, where--you'll say I'm dreaming--it actually overlays moisture and instability. There's actually such a shadow lurking in this morning's GFSM. I don't trust it, no sir-ree, not at all. Yet I hope it will show better integrity than its predecessors. Regardless, I'm crossing my fingers for late May and June. As for this blog, its inactivity is due a depressing lack of anything stormy to write about. Oh, yeah, there was the history-making April flood that put a number of Michigan communities underwater and came within inches of overflowing the floodwalls in downtown Grand Rapids. I heard of a golf course on the southwest side of town that was under four feet of water. That's not something you see every day around here. So I made a point of going out and snapping some photos in my own neck of the woods along the Thornapple and Coldwater rivers. The 84th Street dam on the Thornapple was like a giant firehose, the jewel-like Coldwater Park was underwater, and a couple miles further east, vast acres of wooded floodplain had opened up to exploration by canoe. It was something to see, but I didn't much feel like writing about it. Fortunately, when the weather refuses to cooperate, music keeps me occupied. Last Thursday, Big Band Nouveau debuted at The B.O.B. in downtown Grand Rapids. We played our butts off and enjoyed an enthusiastic reception. I see great prospects for this band. More immediately, I've been working on a video tutorial on circular breathing. In fact, I shot some video yesterday and uploaded it last night to YouTube, with every intention of posting it on Stormhorn.com today. But in reviewing it this morning, I realized that it wasn't up to snuff. So I deleted it from YouTube. I need to do another video session before I can post. In other words, everything you've just read is really a substitute for the post I had planned, featuring the video tutorial. That post is in the works, so consider this a heads-up, particularly if you're interested in learning circular breathing. That's all for now. A full day of editing a client's manuscript awaits me, and I've got to get to it. Sayonara.  

Are the Great Plains About to Open for Business?

ECMF-GFS H5 fcst 0408013Last year's abnormally balmy March opened for storm chasers with a lion-like roar on the 2nd with a deadly outbreak of tornadoes along the Ohio River southward. But from then on, with the exception of April 13 and 14, the season dwindled into a pathetic, lamb-like bleat. This March has been the polar opposite, and I do mean polar. Many chasers have been champing at the bit due to a wintry pattern that has simply refused to let go. But that may finally be about to change, and April may be the month when this year's chase season starts to howl. For the last several days, I've been eyeballing a large trough on the GFS that wants to invade the Great Plains around April 8, shuttling in Gulf moisture and also suggesting the possibility of warm-front action farther east on the 9th. GFS H5 fcst 00z 040913The ECMWF broadly agrees. The first map (click to enlarge), initialized today at 00Z, compares the 168 hour forecasts for GFS and Euro heights for Sunday evening, April 7 (00Z April 8). The second map, from TwisterData, depicts the GFS 24 hours later at 7 p.m. CST. Maybe not a poster child for negative tilting (though the 6Z run changes that), but it could signal the breaking of the Champagne bottle against the hull of chase season 2013. The details will fill themselves in as the forecast hour narrows down. Right now, this is a hopeful sign for storm chasers. Winter may still have a gasp or two left, but we've made it through, and change is on the way. Prior to that, the models point to a shortwave moving through the upper Midwest next weekend. Will it have sufficient moisture and instability to work with near the warm front? Good question; we'll find out, assuming subsequent model runs don't wash it out. So far it has shown up consistently. For those of us who live northeast of Tornado Alley, it's worth keeping an eye on.