Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Saturday, June 9, 2012 - 3:23AM CST

2012 Plains/Midwest spring tornado season epilogue

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After the past 3 days of model output, I'm finally comfortable declaring that my 2012 Plains/Midwest spring tornado season has come to a close. As always, I 'never say never' when it comes to storm chasing and weather - but at some point, the spring peak tornado season does come to and end, and it looks like that date has arrived. In fact, it's probably been here for a while, despite a lot of us hanging on to hope of one more big trough in recent weeks.

Off-and-on tornado chances will linger for a while in the usual Front Range and far northern Plains hotspots, but those long treks are out of practical range for me in both time and budget. So, it's on to summer! This time of year, my focus turns to the summer MCS season in the Midwest for mostly overnight lightning photography, mainly in short chases within an hour or two of home. The Midwest's high-cape summer days can also yield surprise tornado events when the right boundary interactions can take place, but of course those are impossible to forecast and plan much for. Beyond that, we'll have our secondary fall tornado season taking shape in the Midwest from September to November as the jet returns southward.

Looking back at the 2012 spring season (without the typical post-successful-chase bias), I'm still of the opinion that this was my best so far - slightly edging out 2004 due to the multiple close-up experiences with tornadoes. I had four Plains trips during two separate trips (April 12-14 and June 3), two tornado days (April 13 and 14) and 10 total tornadoes. All of the tornado intercepts were in Oklahoma this year, which is a first. I had close intercepts of three tornadoes: one within 1/2 mile, another within 1/4 mile, and one at zero miles(!). I captured my personal best HD tornado footage this year, after 7 seasons with an HD camera.

It's always nice to close out a spring tornado season with a 'bagful of catches', as it doesn't always turn out that way. In storm chasing, there are "up" years and "down" years for various reasons (from both weather and/or life factors), and I'm always thankful when the good ones happen. This year, there were many things that could have impacted my season in a negative way, but everything ended up working out. I have to give a big credit and thanks to a co-worker that covered my must-work days on April 13 and 14, as essentially those chases (that ended up making my season) would not have happened otherwise.

The Midwest spring tornado/severe weather season was a good one as well. There were some painful days: missing a couple of Illinois tornado events due to work commitments, and largely busting on the big March 2 event due to limited range from my surgery in February. Those defeats were eased by not only the Plains successes, but also catching several good lightning and hail events right here in the 'home chase area'. I've captured lightning at least once each month this year (including in January and February), a streak that hasn't happened since 2002. I can already call this year a good one for storm chasing in general - again, something that doesn't happen every year and therefore I'm very thankful for.

So with that, I'll wrap up the Plains/Midwest storm season blog for spring 2012. Stay tuned to the blog and Facebook page for the Midwestern chase action this summer and into fall. Lord willing, this tornado season sub-blog will return starting in March of 2013.

Midwest Event Probabilities: The following table outlines the probabilities of a Lower Midwest chase (within 5 hours of St. Louis) happening within a particular time frame:

2012 Midwest Chases - Probabilities beginning June 9
June 92%
June 10-1195%
June 12-1540%

Midwestern storm forecast discussion (Update based on 6/9 00z data): After a quiet Saturday, storms will return to the lower Midwest on Sunday into Monday as a cold front sinks southeastward. While weak upper level winds will keep severe weather mostly out of the picture, a few good lightning opportunities should present themselves, mainly on Monday afternoon and night. Beyond Tuesday, a typical summertime pattern in the Midwest seems to be setting up, with high levels of instability but very little in the way of upper-level winds and/or surface boundaries to focus convection. This will result in a near-daily chance for random and brief 'pulse' thunderstorms just about anywhere, but these should pose no real chase potential unless one happens to pop up very close to home.

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