Returns: A Modest But Happy Summary of The Year’s Storm Chases

Wow! More than a year has passed since I've posted in this blog. So much has happened, some of which amounts to a veritable sea change in my life. But I'm not going to get into that here. Relevant for is this: the site's URLs, which acquired an unwarranted and unwanted prefix when I was forced to switch from my superb but now defunct former webhost to Bluehost, are now fixed, and this blog is properly searchable and functional again.* Already, in just a couple days, I've seen three sales of my book The Giant Steps Scratchpad, and hopefully this site can once again gain some traction as both a jazz saxophone resource and a chronicle of my obsession with storm chasing.

As the dust began to settle from a painful but beneficial transition, I found myself with the wherewithal to finally chase a bit more productively and independently than I have in a long time. It felt wonderful—wonderful!—to hit the Great Plains again in a vehicle that is trustworthy, economical, and comfortable for driving long distances. Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota—hello, old friends. It was so good to see you again at last, such a gift to drive your highways and take in your far-reaching landscapes . . . and yes, to exult in your storms, your wild convection that transforms your skies into battlegrounds of formidable beauty.

It is a long drive from Michigan to tornado alley, eight hundred miles or more just to get to the front door. Ironically, I could have spared myself most of my first trip. It landed me in Wichita overnight, then on to chase the next day in southwest Kansas and northeastward almost to Salina. No tornadoes, though. They were there, all right, but I was out of position and uninclined to punch through a bunch of high-precip, megahail crud along the warm front in order to intercept potent-looking (on the radar) but low-visibility mesocyclones. Two days later, though, on May 20 in northwest Indiana on my way back home, the warm front was exactly the place to be, and I filmed a small but beautiful tornado south of Wolcott. It was my one confirmed tornado of the year.

A few weeks later I hit the northern plains with my friend Jim Daniels, a retired meteorologist from Grand Junction, Colorado. It was his first chase, and for me, one of the blessings, besides the good fellowship and opportunity to build our new friendship, was introducing someone to chasing who already had his conceptual toolkit assembled. No need to explain how a thunderstorm works or how to interpret radar—Jim's a pro; I just handed him my laptop, let him explore the tools, and we were ready to rumble.

Except—no tornadoes.

Then came August and a shot at severe weather right here in Michigan. I tagged along with a slow-moving, cyclic, lowtop supercell with classic features through the western thumb area of the state. It was nicely positioned as tail-end Charlie, sucking in the good energy unimpeded. A little more instability and it could have been a bruiser. As it was, it cycled down to the point where I thought it was toast, just a green blob on GR3, at which point, faced with a long drive home, I gave up the chase. Naturally the green blob powered back up and then spun up a weak twister ten or fifteen minutes later.

I didn't mind missing the tornado. Well, not much. I had chased about fifty miles from Chesaning to south of Mayville, about two and a quarter hours, and gotten plenty of show for my money—rapidly rotating wall clouds, a funnel or two, and some really sweet structure of the kind you rarely see in Michigan. Then on the way back, as a cold front swept in, the sunset sky was spectacular.

Waterspout season has also come and gone, and I hit the lakeshore a number of times. One of those times was fruitful, and I captured some images of a couple picturesque waterspouts out at Holland Beach. They were all the more interesting because they occurred southwest of a clearly defined mesocyclone. But I'll save that and a pic or two for a different post. It deserves a more detailed account, don't you agree? is about jazz saxophone and improvisation as well as storm chasing. So if jazz is your preferred topic, stay tuned. It'll be comin' at ya. Got a few patterns and licks to throw at you that I think you'll enjoy.

That's all for now. is back in the race.


* The one exception is the photo gallery. Photos in individual posts work fine, but the links on the photos page don't work.

Also, formatting is messed up in the text of a lot of older posts. So I still have some issues to work through with BlueHost. I'll probably have to pay to get the image gallery working right again; hopefully not so with the formatting stuff.

Storms of 2008 DVD

I just received my new Storms of 2008 DVD in the mail a couple days ago, and I have to say, it's fabulous! Having been thoroughly smitten with its predecessor, Storms of 2007, featuring its remarkable coverage of the historical Greensburg, Kansas, EF5 tornado, I was skeptical that any subsequent effort could live up to such high standards. But I have to say, this latest in the celebrated "Storms of..." series has more than met the challenge. Simply put, this is a stellar work, and if you're at all a fan of storm chasing, you need to buy it, period. And when you make your purchase, know that your $24.95 goes directly to helping disaster victims across the United States. The "Storms of..." series is an organized effort on the part of the storm chasing community to make a tangible difference in the lives of people who have been directly affected by severe weather and other natural disasters. Judging by the remarkable footage in this DVD--often sublime and at times mind-boggling--you'd never guess that it is a grassroots effort. Yet, as with all the videos in the "Storms of..." series, Storms of 2008 is strictly a product of the storm chasing community. As such, it is a tour de force of the remarkable talent pool within that community. Videographers, meteorologists, seasoned storm chasers, gifted amateurs...all these and others besides have worked hard and long to produce a world-class video and a true labor of love. The history-making Super Tuesday Tornado Outbreak that scoured Dixie Alley on February 5...the late-May tube-fest that blotted SPC storm reports with red for the better part of a week...the beautiful Dighton wall cloud...the Quinter EF4 duo...the tragic Parkersburg, Iowa, EF5...they're all here plus a whole lot more, complete with synoptic analyses and topnotch narration. Am I saying that you have absolutely gotta, gotta, gotta purchase this exceptional DVD? Yup, that's what I'm saying. Just do it, okay? You can thank me later for being so pushy. Your money will help to make a real difference in people's lives, and trust me, you'll love what you get in return. Storms of 2008 is the definitive anthology of last year's convective Armageddon in the United States. Buy here. Or visit the Storms of 2008 website to obtain more information and view a video trailer. To the devoted cast of producers, editors, and engineers who faced the challenges and frustrations of making Storms of 2008 happen--BRAVO! And thanks!

Not Enough Tornadoes

Here is a conversation you're unlikely to overhear at a restaurant: "I'm going to move." "Why? Vermont is such a beautiful state." "Not enough tornadoes. I'm thinking maybe Hays, Kansas." Nope, you just won't hear most people talk that way. A generous supply of tornadoes simply isn't a big selling point for the average homebuyer. On the other hand, if you're a storm chaser, it could be a compelling reason to sell your chalet near Boise, Idaho, and move to Wakeeney. I just finished perusing a thread on Stormtrack where chasers were considering this question. The earnestness of the discussion struck my funny bone. I mean, the concept of moving somewhere because it has lots of tornadoes is utterly foreign to most Americans, who are unmotivated by tornado accessibility. In fact, I'd venture to say that many people would consider the idea downright weird. ("You're moving where because of what?") Chasers, however, seem to see nothing unusual about factoring in tornado statistics as a motivating factor in home buying.  It's weird. And the reason I laugh is because I can relate. I'm not ready to pack up my bags and move from Michigan, because busted economy or not, I love this state. But if I ever do move, it won't be to California because of the ocean, or Florida because of the warm weather, or Vermont because of its rural New England beauty. It'll be to the Great Plains because of the dryline. Realistically, I can't see it happening anytime soon. I might be able to find a location with a decent brewpub, such as Wichita, but where would I go to hear some decent live jazz, let alone play it? That side of me is as important as the storm chaser in me. Maybe the two can be reconciled. To be honest, I'm not too worried about it. It's just fun to think about, and certainly worth laughing about. I do kinda wonder, though, what it would cost to build an underground bunker as a vacation home in the Texas panhandle.