Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Friday, March 4, 2011 - 10:00AM CST

A pictorial case for Midwestern storm chasing

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I figure it's time to counter the somewhat depressing theme of my recent blog posts by highlighting the positive side of the situation. The following images were all taken outside of the Great Plains in recent years (mostly last year). I hope to give a good representation of what the Midwest region offers the storm chaser/weather photographer who appreciates more than just tornadoes. I hope one can see that many of the scenic aspects of the Plains exist here in the Midwest also: flat land, open skies, good storms, rustic rural architecture/subject matter and, every once in a while, tornadoes! During the course of my first year living in this new frontier of 'Plains outside of the Plains', I've already had some great memories on the road - and have been developing a special affinity for the area.

'Zooming out' on one's perspective regarding the quality and frequency of tornadoes, supercells and severe storms worldwide (not to mention terrain and road network), the American Midwest is likely second only to the Great Plains as the most ideal place to chase on earth. It's worth noting that in all of these images (aside from the one of the Sedalia, MO tornado) there were no other people within a mile of me, much less other storm chasers!

Storm near New Baden, IL
New Douglas, IL supercell Shiloh, IL convection
Gorham, IL tornado - F4 Lincoln, IL shelf cloud
New Douglas, IL funnel Sedalia, MO tornado
New Douglas, IL supercell Ingraham, IL severe storm
Ingraham, IL severe storm Shiloh, IL crepuscular rays
New Baden, IL sunset Havana, IL anvil crawlers
Galesburg, IL shelf cloud with lightning Hannibal, MO lightning
New Baden, IL rain shafts New Douglas, IL supercell
Trenton, IL close lightning Havana, IL mammatus
Crosstown, MO F4 tornado St. Peter, IL close lightning
Indiana prairies Mascoutah, IL sunset
New Baden, IL sunset Lincoln, IL lightning and wind turbines

Best times to chase in the Midwest?

The biggest obstacle I can see for non-Plains chasing is that our opportunities are fairly spread out from March to October, with very few multi-day events. However, a respectable peak coincides with the Plains peak tornado season from May into June. The same systems that bring dryline/triple point days to the Plains will often have simultaneous warm frontal components in the Midwest, with a few cold-core days in the mix as upper/surface lows eject eastward. It's common for a few tornado reports to show up in the Midwest on Plains outbreak days. July and August bring very deep moisture, near-daily convection and occasional strong northwest flow, which can produce strong squall lines and supercells - particularly when outflow boundary interactions can take place. If I were to take a non-Plains trip vacation, late May and June would likely be the favored time. However, I'd say spot-chases would be the better bet due to the 'spread out' nature of our events. Living here obviously makes the logistics easier!

nice pics Dan! I am looking forward to storm season this year up here, now that I have a good camera, hopefully I can get some neat ones too, if I do Ill post em on your facebook page!
- Posted by Michael Thompson from minnesocold

Sounds good Michael!
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

I'll tell ya what, from having more chases outside the Plains than in them, I have had more success, fun, and educational experiences than in typical tornado alley. I think this has led to me being a more intelligent and knowledgable meteorologist than if I were to chase dryline setups, etc. It takes much more energy and skill to be in the right place out here in the Midwest than the Plains. I have seen more tornadoes and amazing structure that people would often think came from the west. Although, you are right, the opportunities are much less and spread out during the year, I think if you truely love weather, you will make the most out of what you have and find success and the thrill of the chase from other things like just shooting lightning, etc. When I move out west later this year, wherever it may be (depending on what grad school I get accepted to) I plan on being either in Nebraska or the Dakotas. Being much less populated people who are more inclined to get out and cluster the roads will be hard to come by and it will be just what I want, me and the storm.
- Posted by Chip from OH

Thanks Chip, definitely some good memories from observing here and many more to come!
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL

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