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                   Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 11:10AM CST

Annual March 1 post and some more thoughts on observing

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The official start of meteorological spring is a little late this year, as we've already been in the early stages of seasonal transition since the middle of February! Even my own first chase of the season is already out of the way. Nonetheless, the date that storm photographers in the northern hemisphere look forward to every year, and I feel compelled to commemorate with an annual blog post, has arrived. There's not much to say about upcoming weather other than it will continue to get warmer, snow less, and storm more! In all seriousness, the upper jet will remain an active player in our weather in much of the US for at least another couple of weeks, with more rounds of storms and possibly tornadoes in store for the Midwest and Plains.

Now just to add some substance to this token commemoration of the annual date. I've been going through some big philisophical changes regarding my involvement in the observing hobby in the past year. Whether or not those will fully migrate to practical implementation this season will remain to be seen, as sometimes human nature makes old habits lag behind new realizations. I've been facing the depressing reality that my long-beloved Plains trips will, for the first time, start being impractical and undesireable for a variety of reasons. I have spent a great deal of thought on working out how best to address this, and in the process have come to some unorthodox conclusions about storm photography that you'll be sure to see in future blog posts. There is a lot to write about! For starters, here are some of the points affecting my expedition philosophy that I will be devoting some blog space to in the coming months:

  • Storm Photography in the Great Plains is becoming an unsustainable activity, quickly headed for a crisis of critical mass. Numbers are getting too high. storm photographers are getting more skilled at exponential rates, concentrating the numbers closer to storms. Traffic problems are starting to affect expedition logistics. All of this is contributing to the act of Plains observing not only becoming increasingly impractical and stressful, but introducing the real possibility of observing starting to have a negative impact on the Plains communities. What if the traffic keeps EMS from getting to victims in time - turning the tables of observing's longtime 'lifesaving' claims into life-threatening? Will observer vehicles start becoming a bigger hazard to locals than the storms? Or will it not be that bad, and am I blowing this all out of proportion? Again, a lot of subject matter to cover with this one, so stay tuned.
  • My personal chase budget is back to pre-2003 levels, thanks to the collapse of the video market. At best, I'm back to only a single 5-day vacation to the Plains in terms of what I can easily justify and afford. Post-2003 'hardcore' observing (covering all good Plains and Midwest setups) would require making lifestyle sacrifices (extra jobs, etc) that I'm not as willing to make in light of the previous point.
  • I live in the Midwest now. Unlike in West Virginia, I can count on several 'real' tornado opportunities here at home throughout the year, without the need for expensive travel. Storm Photography in the Midwest is a relatively new frontier of the hobby, largely snubbed by the Plains-biased observer community. Thanks to that, observing here is much like (if not identical) to how the veterans of observing experienced the activity in the late 1970s and 1980s - no traffic, lower success rates, more challenging forecasts, but overall much more enjoyable and beneficial to the community. The Midwest is just as much a tornado zone as the Great Plains - history proves it, and I've had several great days here. I'm increasingly more inclined to let all Plains setups go - and focus instead on secondary/tertiary targets in the lower Midwest, even if they are marginal in comparison.
Again, lots to talk about and consider in the world of storm photography and its future - and I'll not be holding back in sharing my thoughts on where the hobby is and where it is going.

Agree 100%. Several little sweet spots between BNA, LSX, and LZK with very few storm photographers on average!
- Posted by Clarence from Nashville
Clarence, definitely! I hope to get a Tennessee tornado one day!
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

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