Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
Weather, photography and the open roadClick for an important message
Storm Highway by Dan RobinsonClick for an important message
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                   Friday, May 11, 2007 - 2:02AM EDT

Plan B idea - just in case

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Tonight's latest run of the extended models paints a two-week downtime for tornadic storm potential on the Great Plains, with the first sign of a western trough showing up only on the 16th day of the GFS output. That's a long way out to affect any of our plans, however, the models have been quite consistent in keeping things quiet in the Plains for the bulk of mid-May. This is nothing to be concerned about, as our chase standby period runs until June 15. Looking back at climatology, it is extremely rare for there to be no fewer than a handful of excellent tornado days in late May and early June.

However, after 2006's meager setups that took us as far north as Bismarck, ND in search of anything to cover, I've considered another option if the rest of the season ends up being just as bone-dry for tornadoes as 2006: an east-of-the-Mississippi storm chase expedition. Here's the deal. A 2006-like late May/early June would provide us with little more than some lightning and hail photo/video opportunities out on the Plains. If that's all we could expect to see, here's the thing - we can get those types of storms east of the Mississippi! There would be no need to drive the extra 500-800 miles to the Plains to see what we could easily get in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, to name a few locations. All the more so if the only storms end up in the Dakotas like they did in 2006. In that case, covering the eastern lower Midwest would save us thousands of miles and hundreds in fuel costs to get the same subjects.

The eastern lower Midwest - Illinois, Indiana and Ohio in particular - have a lot of flat, Plains-like terrain and plenty of severe weather action in the spring. While not as prolific as a good Plains setup, these areas get their fair share of supercells and tornadoes during the season as well. Instead of cancelling our trip altogether in the event of a ridged-out Tornado Alley, this option would allow us to get out and chase for some good lightning and hail footage/stills - still with a small chance for tornado intercepts - all for half the cost, or less, than a full Plains storm chase expedition. In fact, I would actually look forward to an organized storm chase expedition in this area if we ended up doing it. It's something different - that to my knowledge few storm chasers have done before. There would be a lot of new territory to explore - new roads, new terrain, new scenery and no observer crowds.

Now again, I don't expect this year's season to come to that, but if it does, I feel like getting out on the road to chase something is better than either staying home all spring or spending thousands driving from Texas to North Dakota. It keeps us with something to look forward to if the Plains goes dry for the season. In retrospect, I feel like covering the eastern Midwest in 2006 would have resulted in much of the same type of video and photos we got for less than half the cost and a fourth of the miles. Come to think of it, in 2006, a lot of storm chasers from the Plains ended up in Indiana and Ohio anyway!

If the season looks like it may end up being as dismal as 2006, I'll add the eastern Midwest storm chase expedition option to our probabilty table. For now, since we may have this alternative to not observing at all in the event of a dead season in the Plains, I'll reduce the 'no trip' probabilty to reflect the contingency plan.

Based on the current outlook, this probability table charts the chance of our trip starting on a particular date:

2007 Storm Chasing & Photography Expedition - Departure Date Probability as of May 11
May 12-184%
May 19-2515%
May 26-June 239%
June 3-1539%
No trip3%

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