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.

Bob Hartig Plays “Giant Steps”

At long last, I’ve gotten my chops for Giant Steps changes up to speed enough that I’m ready to share a recording with you. It has taken me months of practicing to get to where I’m beginning to convert licks and patterns into original statements. That’s not an easy thing to do with this tune, and I freely admit that there are a few rough spots here. But there are also some ones that I’m quite proud of. I particularly like the opening statement–I don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad it found its way into and out of my horn.

In another few months, I hope to have advanced to where I’m playing still more freely and inventively and am ready to do another recording. For now, though, this one will serve as a mile marker to document my progress. Without further ado, here is me playing Giant Steps

The background, by the way, is Band-in-a-Box, which served fine for this purpose. Big thanks to my good friend Ed Englerth for gifting me with his sound engineering wizardry in his Blueside Down recording studio. You make me sound good, amigo!

Happy New Year from Stormhorn

A white-breasted nuthatch was at my bird feeder a few minutes ago searching hopefully for seed. Poor little thing! The seed stash has been low these past few days. Monday I sprained my left ankle while hiking in Yankee Springs, and I haven’t been up to replenishing the feeding station. In fact, my life has been largely reduced to sitting in the couch keeping my leg elevated and my ankle iced.

Lisa has been taking great care of me. Still, I like to do what I can for myself, so for three days I hobbled around gingerly, thinking that, c’mon, I hadn’t hurt myself all that badly. But I had, and I wasn’t doing my ankle any favors.

Yesterday I finally concluded that maybe crutches wouldn’t be a bad idea after all. I’ve never used them before, and these ones have taken some getting used to. I wish they came with training wheels. But I’m getting the hang of them, and taking the stress off my ankle is definitely helping. Maybe in a few days I won’t need the crutches anymore.

Anyway, I just refilled the finch sack with thistle seed and both feeding tubes with sunflower seed. A couple of chickadees have already discovered the fresh supply, and it won’t be long before the rest of the birds do as well. I think it’ll be a matter of only minutes before the finches arrive and my balcony will once again swarm with bird action.

What a wild and difficult ride this year has been! And now we’ve arrived at the last day of it. Poised on the brink of 2012, I look back and think, whew! No repeats, please. Nationally and globally, this has been a year of horrific natural disasters, economic turmoil, and unprecedented political upheaval. On a personal level, I have struggled financially as copywriting projects for a key client slowed down from what had been an abundance to a trickle and finally to nothing.

The tight finances massively hampered my ability to chase storms, and consequently I had to sit out some incredible events. Missing them was more than frustrating; it was painful, and it has taken a toll on my sense of identity as a storm chaser.

Thankfully, there have been good things to even out the bad. I published The Giant Steps Scratch Pad Complete, which duplicates the material in The Giant Steps Scratch Pad in all 12 keys. That has been a major accomplishment. I also began chasing locally for WOOD TV’s Storm Team 8, and my first chase for them resulted in a pretty solid coup during a damaging straight-line wind event down in Battle Creek. Also I got to experience Hurricane Irene down in South Carolina, and while I opted out of catching the eye at landfall, I saw enough both on the coast and inland to satisfy my curiosity.

Moreover, Lisa has been recovering nicely from a horribly painful frozen shoulder that she incurred at the beginning of the year. And while Mom’s knee replacement sidelined me from chasing what turned out to be a history-making super-outbreak of tornadoes down in Alabama on April 27, the result has been more than worthwhile; Mom’s knee is now pain-free and Mom can walk again.

As for my copywriting and editorial business, The CopyFox, other opportunities have been coming my way. I definitely miss the steady flow of business from my key client, but I much enjoy the new kinds of projects I’ve been getting from Bethany Christian Services and Baker Books. I’m currently in the middle of editing a book for Heart & Life Publishing, a new publishing service operated by my friend Kevin Miles. If there’s one bit of wisdom that I continue to prove through the years, it’s to step through open doors and embrace new opportunities to learn and grow in the talents God has given me. It’s important to know when to say no; but that being understood, there is a lot in life to say yes to.

I have no resolutions for the New Year. There are and will be goals big and small to reach for in their proper time, and I find that approach to be more realistic than making resolutions. I do hope, though, that I’ll get in a few successful chases this coming storm season to make up for the ones I’ve missed this year.

Still no snow, by the way, and it looks like that’s how it’ll stay through tonight. The 1723 UTC station obs show 38 degrees at GRR, and we’re forecasted to get up into the low 40s, so a green New Year is in store, just like last year. But it won’t stay that way for long; West Michigan’s first major winter storm is set to dump six to eight inches of snow on us tomorrow through Monday, and these warm temperatures will soon be a thing of the past. January is poised to swoop in with fangs bared.

So it’s a good thing I got those bird feeders filled back up. The finches still haven’t arrived. But the chickadees have been doing steady traffic, a couple of rosy-breasted nuthatches are making sporadic appearances, and the woodpeckers have been bellying up to the suet all along. The birds are taken care of. Now it’s my turn. It’s early afternoon and I’m still sitting here in my robe; time to shower up and get the rest of this day in gear.

Lord, thank you for this difficult but nevertheless gracious year. When disappointment and hardship hit, I find it easy to complain. But you are always there in the midst of my life, and I have no problem seeing your goodness when I seek your priorities over my personal wants. My part is to do my best, but you’re the one who calls the shots. Thanks for tonight’s gig with my good friend Ed. Thanks for my dear, dear woman, Lisa, and for my mom and siblings and friends. Thanks for the gifts of storm chasing and music, which not only make me come alive, but also shape me as a person. Thanks for the beautiful Michigan outdoors which I love so much–the wetlands, the wildflowers, the sandhill cranes ratcheting in the marshes, the rivers and streams and lakes filled with fish, the blonde sweep of dunes along the Lake Michigan shore, the forested, glacial hills at sundown. Thanks for the gift of my senses that lets me drink in all of these things, and for emotions that let me feel the wonder of it all. Thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for love. Thank you, precious Lord, for you.

I hope that a few of you will make it down to Fall Creek down in Hastings this evening to catch Ed and me. But whatever you wind up doing, have a fun and safe night. Happy New Year, one and all!

Sax and Wedge: Maybe This Year

This afternoon I have a gig with Paul Lesinski at the Amway Grand. I’m looking forward to it, but it indisposes me to chase what could be Michigan’s first round of severe weather this afternoon. Practically speaking, the “storm” and “horn” parts of Stormhorn sometimes conflict with each other. I can’t do two things at once; I can’t play a gig and chase storms, and when I post here about one subject, then the other half of my readership gets left out.

Yet I view the two interests as connected in spirit, to such an extent that one of my life goals is to get some footage and/or photos of me playing my sax out on the Plains with a big wedge churning in the background. Given how active this April has been, maybe 2011 will be the year when I fulfill that ambition. I almost always bring my horn with me on my long-distance chases for just that reason (plus, yeah, I like to get in some sax practice when I can). The one notable occasion when I left it home last year was on May 22, a milemarker in my chase career. Unfortunately, the vehicle was so packed that there was no room for the horn, and given how events unfolded out there by Roscoe, it was probably just as well.

Today my buddy Bill is chasing down in Arkansas. Yesterday he filmed a large, violent wedge that hit the town of Vilonia. Round two today looks to be at least as bad, and I hope Bill stays safe. I don’t have a good feeling about what lies in store for the folks in that region. But I won’t be following any of the developments because I’ll be doing the other thing I love as much as storm chasing: playing my saxophone. This time of year the storm chaser in me has the edge over the musician, but once I’ve got my horn in my hands I forget everything else and just go with the flow of the music. Playing jazz is one of the most in-the-moment experiences a person can have, and I get tremendous satisfaction out of being a practitioner.

Afterwards maybe I’ll still get a crack at whatever weather shapes up. Probably not; today, such as it is, looks like it’ll play out on the eastern side of the state.  But I’ll take my gear with me to the gig just in case.

Hard-to-Read Music Exercises on Stormhorn: Follow-Up

Have you been having a hard time reading the exercises I’ve provided in my more recent music instructional posts–the ones in which I’ve used transcription software rather than scanned, handwritten material? Some people–including me–have had problems, though not everyone. It seems that some of the lines on the music staves appear faint to nonexistent in places, making it hard to tell the identity of notes.

From what I’m able to tell so far, the issue appears to be part browser-related and part a matter of scale, requiring that the image be adequately enlarged.

Browser: Firefox is my preferred browser. Unfortunately this is the browser on which the problem crops up for me. However, once I click on the image and then zoom in a step or two, everything clears up nicely.

Internet Explorer: When I click on the image, I just don’t have the same problem as with Firefox. The image is clear.

In a nutshell…

If you’re having a hard time reading the exercises, try (a) switching browsers; (b) magnifying the image; or (c) both.

I have an idea up my sleeve that may make everyone happy if it works. I’m going to try it next time I include written exercises in a music post. That shouldn’t be too far down the road now, as it has been a while since I’ve shared such a post. So stay tuned.

Until then, I’ll value your input on the clarity of the exercises. If you’ve had trouble, let me know whether the above suggestions fix things for you. And if you’ve had no problems, let me know that as well.



Sax ‘n Wedge: A Life Goal

This last week I was so preoccupied with chasing storms that I hardly blogged at all. When I did, naturally it was about weather. Jazz, music, and the saxophone have languished in the background, at least blogically speaking.

Not, however, in practice. When I headed out west for some dryline action, my horn went with me. It always does. My chase partners know that when I head for any chase over a day in duration, the sax is as much a part of my travel gear as my suitcase, laptop, and camera. Some folks toss a baseball or football while waiting for storm initiation; I practice my saxophone. Any time is a good time to get in a few licks.

I have several reasons for bringing my horn along on chases, all of them having to do with eventualities. The most likely scenario is, as I’ve just said, that I’ll get a chance to woodshed my instrument. Far less likely–but still, ya never know–is the possibility of winding up in some restaurant where a band is playing, and it’s the kind of band that makes me wish I could sit in for a tune or two. Like I said, unlikely; most Great Plains towns aren’t exactly jazz hotbeds. Still, as I learned back in the Boy Scouts, it pays to be prepared.

My main reason for taking my saxophone with me on storm chases, though, is because of a particular life goal of mine: I want to get a good photo, or maybe some video, or even both, of me jamming on my sax while a monster wedge churns away in the distance. For that matter, I’ll settle for just a nice, photogenic tornado of any shape or size. I just want some kind of visual record that captures the raison d’etre of Stormhorn and the essence of who I am as a storm chaser and jazz saxophonist.

Assuming that a storm is moving slowly enough to make a photo shoot practical, my preparations once towers start muscling up are:

* Rain-X windows

* Remove camera from case and make sure it’s ready for action

* Get tripod out of trunk

* Assemble saxophone

Just a handy checklist. Reasonable enough, wouldn’t you say?

So cross your fingers for me, or better still, pray. This season could be the one where I fulfill an ambition and get some very cool photos to show for it.

I’m a maniac, you say? Of course I am. A maniac is just someone with a different kind of dream.

Introducing the New and Improved Stormhorn Blog

Notice anything different? My Stormhorn blog has gotten a facelift! While you’ll notice that its appearance deviates a bit from what you’re used to, the real difference is more than cosmetic. Thanks to the effort of my Web designers and friends, Mitch and Karina Myers at Tablox Web Solutions, I’ve made the switch from b2evolution to WordPress blog software. I’ve also changed my Web host from the cluttered, user-unfriendly GoDaddy to Mitch and Karina’s service-oriented, cPanel-based hosting service.

WordPress should be easier for a non-tech like me to get around in, and I expect to refine the appearance and usability of the blog over time. For now, I’m off to a good start, and I’ll begin making improvements when I have a little time to spare. Right now I have a few pressing deadlines, and my copywriting clients come first.

So I’ll keep this short and sweet:

Welcome to the New and Improved Stormhorn Blog, dedicated to my dual passions of jazz saxophone and storm chasing, with a little bit of everything else thrown in for good measure. I hope you’ll find what you like and like what you find.