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                   Wednesday, July 16, 2008 - 4:40PM

Some downtime and thoughts on 'Storm Season'

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Observing
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Looking at the total lack of precip on all of the models over us until at least Sunday actually brings me a feeling of relief, knowing I can take a break from the several-times daily routine of scrutinizing the weather patterns in search of the next storm event to cover. I've taken advantage of the calm to get some other needed things done - yardwork, web site and stock video archive updates, and cleaning and re-configuring my office. These downtimes to take a break from the observing scene are quite welcome, as the one certain thing about the weather is that there will always be something interesting happening in the not too distant future. It looks like the next stormy pattern in West Virginia may arrive on Monday.

That thought brings me to a point I've probably mentioned before - that 'storm season' in the USA never really ends. Unless you're only interested in one specific phenomenon (tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, etc.), there are things to 'chase' year-round in this great country of ours. This time of year (as the traditional Plains season is long gone until next March) typically brings on the equivalent of post-holiday depression for most storm observers. But not for me. I always have something to look forward to, regardless of the time of year. Storm observing is a lot like hunting - if you diversify your subject interests, you'll have many 'seasons' to enjoy.

Lightning season: July is the middle of lightning season, which here in West Virginia, runs from March to September. That means that currently I can look forward to the chance of a good storm observation day at any time through the end of summer. Lightning knows no season in the USA, however - I've seen it even here in West Virginia every month of the year. While WV's summer storm season (the best time for lightning photography) winds down in a couple of months, a willingness to drive about 100 miles west of the border can extend that into mid-November. November has yielded a few successful lightning expeditions in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. Even if lightning was my only subject, the camera gear would never go into storage in the winter. If I had the funds to travel, the deep South could keep my lightning season going all winter.

Fall tornado season: Tornado season in the USA is also one that has no real annual beginning and end, unless the Plains is your only focus. Coming up in September and lasting through November is the midwest's fall tornado season. As the northern Plains summer tornado season ends and most storm observers are packing away their gear and their enthusiasm, I'm already looking forward to this little-covered and relatively ignored 'secondary' severe weather peak. I expect to be observing for tornadoes at least once between September and November each fall in the midwest (east of the Mississippi), and possibly a couple more outings for lightning in Kentucky and Ohio.

Winter tornado season: The Southern US's severe weather and tornado season gets going in December, lasting through March. Occasionally, the warm sector in those events gets far enough north to bring some lightning to West Virginia and Kentucky - sometimes more. This February, during one such outbreak in Kentucky, I captured the best upward-moving (tower) lightning event I've ever seen.

Hurricane season: From July through November, the prospect of a hurricane expedition is something to anticipate even as my lightning season is winding down. With Raleigh as a 'base', the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Georgia is within easy reach if a tropical system affects it.

Winter storms - Even with the downturn in the video market, I am still looking forward to West Virginia's winter weather season which runs from October to April. Beckley has been consistently experiencing thundersnow several times each winter, providing a worthy chase goal to anticipate. With the new DSLR, ice storms and snow events will provide plenty of still photography opportunities to get out and enjoy.

Spring tornado season: Once winter starts to fade in late March, it will be time to start gearing up for the Plains again, followed by the heart of West Virginia's lightning season - starting the cycle all over again.

Because my lightning, tornado, flood, hurricane and winter storm seasons overlap, I never truly have an 'off season' where I can put the weather out of sight and mind. Traditionally, October tends to be my quietest month - but still not enough to put the cameras away and stop looking at data.

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That's what I love about weather...It can NEVER get boring!!! There's always something to talk about...
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