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Early season observing - Christmas in October?
Every year, the severe weather season begins to wake up around mid-March, and I've been noticing an increasing trend of more and more expeditioners jumping on these early-season setups. This week has already seen a couple of moderate risks and severe weather events across the midwest and Plains, with the excitement of expeditioners being evident on StormTrack threads and the number actually out on the roads. Me? I'm just as excited about the season approaching as everyone else, but I'm content to sit and wait for the good times of May. Now, I can't preach too boldly about this, as I've been known to bite on early-season storm events myself - driving to Oklahoma on April 19, 2003, to Tennessee on April 6, 2006 and Missouri on April 2, 2006. Besides, I know there is a chance I'll have to eat my words if I'm overcome with the temptation of a mod risk/25% hatched tornado probabilty in Illinois in coming weeks.
However, I've began to realize that early-season observing is like trying to have Christmas in October. Sure, a few rare March-early April events may produce (this past week in New Mexico is an example), but the odds of good observing intercepts are generally low. While not all past Mays have been great, most have been much better than the Marches and early Aprils of yesteryear. Now, I'm not talking about the number and intensity of tornadoes, which at times can be impressive in early spring. I'm talking about the feasibility and enjoyability of observing during May vs observing during March.
It's supposed to look like this on the way to the Plains.
In May, the trees are green, the air is warm, the skies are blue, the sun is out and it just feels like it's time to go weather expeditioning. I've found that March and April just don't have that same euphoric ambience - barren trees, more cloud cover, cooler temperatures, the need to bring a jacket, etc. Storms are moving at blazing speeds in the early season, causing a stressful pursuit of storms that easily outrun you at the slightest road delay or wrong turn. In May, you're at a relaxed pace, parking for 10-20 minutes at a time as the storm drifts by. In March, you're usually not 'ready' for the season yet. The car is still in disarray and there are many logistical and financial preps yet to be made. In May, you've been preparing for months - the car's been cleaned and reconfigured and you've got some money in the bank. You wait for this time all year, and going at the right time just feels better. Anymore, going on a weather expedition too early just doesn't seem 'right'. When I start out on I-64 through Kentucky (the first portion of my trip to the Plains), it's supposed to be warm and green - or it's just not the same.
Now that's what I'm talkin' about.
On this subject, I have to give a mention to late-season observing (from July to October). My feelings are different on observing after the peak spring severe storm season is over. After spring is over, expeditioners tend to get the equivalent of post-holiday depression. It's a long 10 months until the next season, so a good long chase or two during the late summer or early fall can be a nice pick-me-up before winter sets in.
So, I'm watching the action out west right now with contentment, knowing that May will likely have much better things in store.
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