Wasteful Speculation Running Amok

It’s that time of year again. In private discussion groups, interpersonal e-mail chatter and over public forums, storm observers (chasers and spotters), hammered by “SDS” all winter long and itching to head out at the first hint of a convectively active dryline, engage in rampant, idle speculation over how “good” of a chase season we shall experience.

What’s the use? It’s all a freakin’ waste of time!

With all due hopes that the bone dry CPC predictions prove dead wrong, I’ve never seen a reason to weep and gnash teeth over any preseason speculations as to the season to come. Even in drought years (e.g., 1953), some major Plains tornado days have happened.

Too many factors make or preclude good chase days that simply aren’t predictable weeks and months ahead! The stuff over which folks are fretting just doesn’t account for all the subclimatic, subglobal, subsynoptic scale things (Erik Rasmussen’s “mesoscale accidents”) that fall into place to create fruitfully tornadic chase days.

Since I’m fortunate enough to live in the southern Plains, I don’t even care much to look at progs beyond day-3 unless I wish to for hedging my logistics (rearranging appointments, just in case…) or because I have to (shifts involving a day 4-8 outlook product).

Then of course, we must deal with secular serendipities like whether or not you can chase on that good day, or two, or three, or four. I’m far too familiar with this one. Ask me about 1993-95, or my longtime storm intercept partner Rich Thompson for 2003-5. The 1995 spring, for example, wasn’t much of a tornado season for me (two very weak/brief ones in late May, just one decent photo of one of them) despite the fact many folks absolutely cleaned up with chase after chase after chase-of-a-lifetime in early June! 2005 similarly sucked for Rich, who had to watch from the sidelines in a sling (and similarly, just one barely photogenic tube seen), while that dazzling variety of tornadoes that festoons the Storms of 2005 DVD was dancing hither and yon across the American prairie in a cluster of early-mid June days.

In a lean year, like 1997, just one or two days can make the whole season (as 25-26 May did for me that year)…if you happen to be available to partake of the smorgasbord of atmospheric violence. If not, so it goes.

On one discussion, someone asked if we can experience a season where most storm enthusiasts just do not see a tornado, at all. Well, to be succinct: YES. After cutting my storm observing teeth on the most tornado deprived seasons ever known to chasers — 1987 and 1988 — I must say: Be careful what you ask. You may get an answer. And you may not like it one bit.

Surely the other veterans with 20 or more years of storm intercept experience recall those seasons quite well also, with wishes not to experience anything like them again. The memory almost makes me puke. Tornadoes…none. Photogenic supercells…nope. Pretty gust fronts? Forget about it. I’d like to.

I’ve experienced ten different tornado-free years (yes, whole years…totaling a decade in aggregate!) since I began chasing 21 years ago, but of course that doesn’t necessarily mean they were “bad” chase seasons. Other aspects must matter or storm observing trips would become too frustrating to keep doing. I appreciate far more about storms, and about the Great Plains, than just tornadoes, which are mere icing on the cake.

[That said, I must state unequivocally that 1987 and 1988 really, really sucked, by every way almost anyone ever has even considered judging a chase season! Nonetheless many of us were stubborn enough to keep trying.]

Several tornado-free seasons also contained some of my most fondly recalled storm intercepts: 6 Jun 1989, 1 June 1993, 12 June 1994, 15 April 2000, 26 May 2001, 29 May 2001 and 15 June 2002, among others.

The bottom line is that too many variables far removed from extended-forecast timescales, and even from meteorology itself, affect how good your season will be — not the least of which is how you measure “goodness.” That highly personal aspect alone varies vastly across the spectrum of storm observers.

So my attitude for this year, as with all others come peak SDS time of February-early March, is: Wait and see. Don’t waste time in worry or speculation. Life’s too short. Enjoy the opportunities you get, and try not to fret over those missed (hard as it is, admittedly!).

All that said, I’ll be carrying a spare air filter or two this season. It might come in handy somewhere on one of those dust-choked highways far removed from the nearest WalMart Supercenter. How’s that Central American cane crop doing anyway? You never know how dense that smoke might get in mid May from all the burning…:-)


5 Responses to “Wasteful Speculation Running Amok”

  1. Joel Genung on March 1st, 2006 4:09 pm

    As or me, I’d gladly give up the entire chase season if we could simply get some decent precip! “The Drought” is here, it’s real and it looks scary. Couple an extended Midwestern drought with high fuel costs and it bodes terribly for American farming. Let’s hope for moisture and consider ourselves lucky if the side show accompnaies the rain.

  2. tornado on March 1st, 2006 11:13 pm

    I hope we wouldn’t have to choose, but even I admit it would be a tough one at this point.

    Fortunately, most upper air patterns that yield stretches of productive chasing in the southern Plains also support multiple episodes of convective rain, or at least a good deal more opportunities for rain than we’ve had lately in these parts.

    It is to the point now that not even two or three major MCS passages would catch us up appreciably in the 6-month to one year precip deficit. The Metroplex only got temporary relief with their recent three inches, and up here, we’re still horrifically dry.

  3. Shane Adams on March 3rd, 2006 3:29 pm

    I understand the “wait and see” thing, simply because no one really has a choice but to wait and see. But being a simpleton, I need only refer to the months of drought to reach my own personal assumption for Plains chase season 2006: crap to not at all. Fortunately for me personally, I still posess, at age 34, the youthful vigor one needs to strap in at the eleventh hour and head to far off chase targets well outside the traditional Tornado Alley. I’m not going to sit on early systems this year biding my time for may, because I have no real faith in May this year. I’ll take them as they come, and if the financial well has run dry by May and the season lights up…well then I’ll come up with something. I always do.

  4. Gilbert on March 3rd, 2006 6:34 pm

    Now this is funny: Roger spends an inordinate amount of time telling us how we shouldn’t speculate, and then directly implies he’s expecting a drought by carrying extra air filters! πŸ™‚

    Hey, right or not, it gets the brain thinking, the juices flowing, and some general patterns
    can be forecast to some degree at long range.
    That said, at the very least, I hope you get some good rains down there if nothing else.
    Ground water isn’t an endless supply…

    And if you bag a tornado next week, we KNOW
    Armageddon’s coming! πŸ˜‰

  5. tornado on March 3rd, 2006 11:37 pm

    Resourcefulness is a hallmark of any chaser who has had to scrape and struggle for time and/or money to engage in his/her greatest passion (outside the significant other, of course) — feasting on the smorgasbord of atmospheric violence. I certainly don’t advocate skipping a promising system just because it’s not May yet. If it looks good and you can reach it, even at eleventh hour, then most certainly…go for it!

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