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                   Friday, February 15, 2008 - 4:20PM

"Home" chase areas

By DAN ROBINSON
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25 Years of Storm Observing
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I've talked about my 'home' chase areas in the past, and with the 2008 storm season only a couple of weeks away, thought I'd describe what that means to me. My personal 'home' area is anywhere I can realistically get to and back in a single day (without having to stay overnight somewhere). I would divide my home chase area into two categories - 'backyard' and 'extended'.

By the term 'backyard', I'm referring to the concept of an area so close to home that there is no psychological perception of great distance - none that would keep me from traveling to any chase target inside of it. It's sort of like how that you think nothing of walking outside into your backyard, or even a block or two away from your house. Chases inside the 'backyard' range require no planning or significant expense, usually less than $40-$60 in fuel (round trip). My personal 'backyard' includes central/eastern Kentucky (including Louisville and Lexington), southern and eastern Ohio (including Columbus, Jackson and Chillicothe), and most of West Virginia (including Clarksburg, Parkersburg, Beckley and Lewisburg).

'Extended' home chase territory describes the areas a little farther away, but still within the range that a trip is still below the psychological and financial thresholds of being "too far". Sort of like taking a long walk down to the park or grocery store a mile away - it takes a little more time and effort, but not enough to keep you from doing it. My 'extended home' chase range includes most of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and small parts of Pennsylvania and Missouri. These trips usually require me to block off an entire day, including cancelling or postponing any items on my schedule. Fuel expenses to expedition in my 'extended' home area range from $75-$150 round-trip - still not that significant of a cost.

When I hear of a severe weather risk within my extended home range, getting there is no big issue to me. I have a very high 'psychological distance threshold' when it comes to traveling - to me, driving several hours is like a trip across town. So when a good risk for tornadoes sets up in Evansville, Indiana, it's like it's happening a county away. As long as there is money in the bank (and thankfully there usually is), I'll be on the way there.

For expeditions that go beyond my 'extended home' range (which I'd call the 'weather expedition' range), the main preventative issue becomes financial in nature. Outside of my extended home area, the cost of a hotel stay is introduced, along with the potential for round-trip fuel expenses to top $200. That often gets the total chase cost flirting with the $300 mark - an amount that I usually can't spend on a whim the same way I would for a $50-$100 local chase. The 'weather expedition' territories are areas I normally won't travel to unless I'm on my annual spring observing trip to the Great Plains.

This map shows my typical 'backyard home' (green), 'extended home' (blue) and 'weather expedition' (orange) travel ranges. These aren't hard and fast boundaries - that is, if I'm in Peoria, IL and a tornadic supercell is moving toward the northwest of town, I'll go the extra distance to get it.

I will usually try to chase every significant tornado risk within the 'extended home' range. I'll also make an effort to document nearly every major severe weather, ice storm, flood or snowstorm event within the 'backyard home' range - unless there is a chance that the Kanawha Valley will be affected, in which case I'll stay in the Charleston area (no point in traveling for something I can get 5 miles from home). In a typical year, I'll head out on 15-25 expeditions within my 'backyard' range and 5 to 10 within the 'extended home' range.

Granted, there's no place like the Great Plains - but contrary to popular belief, my own 'extended home' territory is quite viable as good observing country - with a respectably high incidence of tornado outbreaks annually. Chasing success can be had over here! So even if I don't end up doing a full Plains trip this year, I'll likely make up for it with several of the less-expensive expeditions in my 'home areas'. I've already got one under my belt for the 2008 season from last Tuesday.

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The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Thanks Dan, very informative !! Always follow your trips and results with interst and can now see the area you cover, has been always something I have wondered about and not too easy for someone over here to try and guess at. Thanks.
- Posted by Mick from United Kingdom
Like your explanation of "backyard"! I mention backyard expeditions in my blog on occasion and people often e-mail me looking for specifics. Turns out we use about the same definition. If I can chase it on a tank of gas, it's "backyard". Simple as that.
- Posted by Steve Miller from OKC
Thanks for the comments - even better are the trips that are short enough where you don't have to stop at a gas station at all. It would be nice if they could all be that way!
- Posted by Dan from Charleston, WV

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