Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Morgan MN 08/31/14 MODERATE RISK

I bit on the day two forecast of this event hoping that the good fortune from the chase of the previous weekend, 8/24 would continue and we'd be able to catch another late season tornado. As you can see, it was quite promising and changed little in the day one forecast release.

Most of the focus was predicted to be in the MN/IA/NE/SD area with my target being in the Sioux City IA area.

Early convection was expected to fire prior to the main event. It almost became chasable from both radar and visual hints. The intensity of the above storm peaked just NW of Redwood Falls threw off some hail, but really had no elements to create a tornadic storm. I decided to take some time to sit at the St. James airport which gave me a clear view of the storm's lifecycle and gave me the chance to finish setting up my truck and to set up a POV camera on the hood of my truck to capture some time lapse of the storm from forty miles away.

Unfortunately, as is quite common with these cameras encased in a waterproof container, as they become exposed to heat, they fog internally and that's exactly what happens here. However, you can see a bit of storm growth before it becomes completely screened by fog. I am most certainly looking at ways to eliminate this problem for the future.

After leaving the St. James area, I decided since my route to the target included Interstate 90 passing through Luverne MN. and I still had some time before storms were forecast to fire, I thought a visit to pay my respects to storm chaser Andy Gabrielson, a young man who was quite a successful chaser in his own right and who'd lost his life to a drunk driver while chasing in Oklahoma in February of 2012 was in order.

Nice to see someone leaving a Chasercon 2014 "Cheeseburger" as a memorial not only to Gabrielson, but to chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and chase partner Carl Young all of whom lost their lives while chasing a tornado in El Reno Oklahoma on May 31st 2013. The cheeseburger represents a good luck charm of sorts that Samaras would place on the dash of his chase vehicle while chasing.

After my little visit in Luverne, I headed to my target of Sioux City IA. but changed my mind when I began to see a line north of Interstate 90 develop much closer to me than the now ongoing cells on the border of Nebraska and Iowa. My decision was based on the simple cost/benefit analysis of whether the miles I needed to cover to get there was going to be worth the possibility of missing something that was closer to my location. I chose a new target of Fairfax MN.

But first, as I was headed to the new area of development, I roll through the small town of Lakefield MN. and see this:

My research tells me it's a 1975 Ford Pinto. Now how many of these things do you see on the road now days? much less in "showroom new" condition! I could find no other information. no price, no phone number to call, just the for sale sign. Which makes me wonder just how much the owner really wanted to part with this thing. This is thing I love about chasing! You never know what you're going to see when you're on the road and it's not all about storms!

As we continued toward Fairfax, it appeared as though we might see some action in the form of a good hail maker. As we neared Morgan MN. There were clear signs of an intensifying cell with plenty of robust updraft and lowering base. Sheer was nil so tornadoes were out but, it was fun to watch it go through the motions anyway.

Fairfax by this time seemed to be a lost cause so I stayed with the approaching storm coming out of Morgan which at this point had basically morphed into a very large shelf structure stretching at least 20 to 30 miles in length.

As impressive as it was, it signaled the end of my chase day. everything behind it was linear in nature and no way to dive further south to pick up anything else.

Here's a (yawn) 'nother shelf cloud time lapse video that if anything shows the true length of the shelf.

And for my reward? I got to surf the line all the way back to the metro after letting it overtake me in LeSueur MN. Hwy 169 in that area is under construction and down to one lane either direction which adds to the white-knuckle fun of traversing that area during a torrential rain storm.

But there was one added bit of humor and karma to add to the end of the day. Enroute back home I encountered the one lane road construction on North HWY 169 between Mankato and LeSueur. I also encountered this asshole of a driver who try as they might, couldn't get around me because it was ONE LANE! in a torrential downpour no less. They sped up, they slowed down. couldn't just settle in for the trip through the construction zone behind me.

This went on for twenty miles. Until we met at an intersection that ended the one lane road construction for a short period. So, of course what do you suppose nimrod over in the other lane does? Yep, decides to race me across the intersection to "pass" me. and then, starts to play with me. well, watch the video and see what they get in return. and While it may look like I got the worst of the encounter? as the driver slowed down to try to keep from driving off the road, I clobbered them with my side of the roads little pond.

They stayed behind me the rest of the trip.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Benton County MN 08/24/14 SLIGHT RISK

GPS Track of this chase is somewhat inconsistent because of loss of signal or other situations beyond my control. The track is correct however, in the areas where it was most important to have detailed location information during the tornado intercept phase of our chase.

Late season full court press to bag at least one tornado this year. Didn't really know how the day was going to pan out while assessing the morning "Day One"  forecast and comments. Took my time getting the truck set up knowing full well that anything that was going to initiate was going to be well within 90 minutes and a tank of gas. The question was: Which direction?

The midday D1 was a little more in line with what I was thinking. Go north an hour or so and set myself to quickly jog west when the line begins to show itself. Plan was to go to Hinckley MN. with an end target around St. Cloud.

While enroute up interstate 35, I stopped in North Branch MN for a top up and a quick view of the radar and hourlies. Noticed a local chaser Brad Winger was in the area in Cambridge MN so I initiated a quick chat with him. We decided to meet up in Cambridge and chase together along with his partner, Wendy. I've had the pleasure of chasing with Brad several times in the past and we've always had great chases regardless of the outcome. Truly a great guy... Him and Wendy clearly make a great chase couple.

We chose to continue our trip west toward St. Cloud MN and taking our cues from the hourlies we decided to hang out at what appeared to be an old abandoned rest stop just adjacent to Interstate 94 at the St. Joseph exit. For about a half hour we watched towers develop literally over our heads. Chaser Matt Salo then joined us and the convoy was set.

The MD above details the situation at the time we were waiting in St. Joseph and solidified our decision making that something would be happening nearby. And soon.

We were fortunate to get out ahead of the development enough to be able to enjoy a few moments of watching the towers climb with little resistance from the atmosphere. In our haste to position, we took a sudden exit which our third chaser, Matt ended up missing. He stayed on the same storm we were on and eventually landed some great video of the storm being in a better lighting position than we were.

Brad suggested we get a weather selfie of the two of us before the chase begins. Smart move! I never think of these things during a chase because I'm trying to figure out my next move given the moment to moment changes in the situation. That's why it's so much more enjoyable to chase with others. Everyone in the group add to the collective knowledge for the benefit of the experience. Thanks Brad!

As Wendy navigated us toward our storm intercept, clearly the storm was looking more as though it was going to TOR. I had great radar data to assist us in getting there, but the sky was telling the story better than any radar could.

The rotating wall cloud pic above was fairly sizable and being still three to four miles away yet, we had to get there in a hurry! clearly this thing was not waiting for us to arrive!

Of course, we always have to deal with the occasional ground obscurities once we make visual with the possible tornado.

By this time the tornado had enough definition from this distance and light angle to be able to identify it. Unfortunately, it was already beginning to become rain wrapped.

Once we got a little closer we decided to get a photo session in before the development became completely rain wrapped.

Textbook tornado image as seen by radar. Nice inflow notch was just north of our position and we decided to make a play toward it.

Here's our GPS track as we approached the now rain wrapped tornado. Various points on this track indicated damage of a minor scale. Trees down, small branches in the road, building materials located near the road traveled.

As you can see we were on the low contrast side of the storm which gave us short views of the tornado as it ducked in and out of the rain curtains. At this time it is most definitely on the ground.

As noted in the photo, path of tornado was determined by damage surveyed by NWS employees and was determined to be an EF-0 tornado event. Compare the similarities between our track and the confirmed track of the tornado. We literally were right behind it as it seems. Both Brad and I are cautious chasers and refuse to drive headlong into an area where a rain wrapped tornado may be lurking.

At the end of this track we were "greeted" by the remnants of this storm. A rotating vortex stood right in front of us and while not what I would call "stout", it was moving things around on the road in front of us. A driver coming from the opposite direction at the time, drove right through the vortex as it was crossing the road in front of us. Remnants of what had just gone through? Redevelopment? we'll never know as it disappeared as quick as it came. Remember, this thing was rated an EF-0 so the remains of that you would expect not to have a whole lot power behind it. But we didn't know it at that time. And playing it safe allows us to chase another day.

The following videos contains highlights of our chase day:

After a brief stop for food and fuel, we decided to see if we could meet up with a developing cell to the south of us over Princeton MN. On our drive down Hwy 169 we encountered the boundary and we experienced about a ten degree increase as we crossed over to the warm side almost instantaneously when both vehicles windshields fogged up briefly.

We doubled back up 169 toward Milaca after noting intensification in the line to the north. Upon further review it appeared to be getting into some dirty air and we gave up on that storm as well. We decided that would be the end of our great chase day and we parted as we usually do saying that we'll do it again in the future.

We were treated to a terrific front lit sunset of a tower rising to our south.

Just to seal the deal.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why I Hate HDR.

Here's a photo I took near Hutchinson MN the other day of a very unappealing shelf cloud headed toward my position. Self admittedly, a shitty, low contrast, low detail, photo due to primarily a poor exposure choice from the automatics of the camera. 

But wait! let's flip on and render this piece of trash with HDR and as if by magic, Oh. My. GAWD! why to some? this would be an award winner just due to it's INSANE look. I mean this thing looks as though it's ready to steamroll everything in its path!

Take out the chrominance and it just looks like the world is imploding. You just can't believe I would have the balls to stand there waiting for that storm to give me a better destructive smile!

The art of photography is about capturing a subject using light, and perspective at a specific moment in time.
HDR is nothing more than a crutch to incite drama into a mediocre photo to which chasers have turned to when they need to sell photos to fund their chasing endeavors. There are actually some who feel this type of "Moment Manipulation" is perfectly acceptable to enter into photo contests and then promote said picture by posting it on social media as often as possible while asking for votes.

And yes, it may look cool and such but remember, it's not an accurate representation of the moment. They cheated for the drama aspect not because they were a good photographer, but because they were good with a software filter. So just remember,

A polished turd, is still a turd...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Shut the hell up and SHOOT!

Sorry folks, but it's time to talk about the big, pink, elephant over there in the corner.

I've just watched some of the most fascinating, captivating, horrifying, and unnerving video I've ever seen.

The twin tornadoes that were recorded in Northeast NE, yesterday June 16th and specifically, the one which obliterated the town of Pilger Nebraska, were just jaw dropping incredible.

It seems as though most of the major chase "teams" with their "four wheeled, kevlar clad, hell penetrating, road tools" had the day on this batch of storms. Clearly, in the storm starved world in which they reside in, yesterday was a historic bullseye that will be talked about for years to come, another one of those dates that roll off the tongue in the annals of chasing history.

And man did we see it up close, with many of the "Extreme" chase teams giving us "in your face" views of the moment the undoubtedly EF5 cone began its destructive stroll down the main street of Pilger. And I had to hand it to those for capturing the moment well.


Why is it lately when one of these teams jumps upon and begins to record the destructive forces of a wedge tornado, We hear this:

"Oh my God, oh my God, oh MY God!, OH MY GOD!!!!! Oh please, oh please don't hit that (house, town, barn, whatever happens to be in the way!!!!) OH GOD! I HOPE THE PEOPLE ARE UNDERGROUND! PLEASE DEAR GOD HELP THESE PEOPLE!!!"

I viewed no less than three videos with this type of nonsense as the narrative in them. Feigned, phony, contrived, and sad.

Here's a hint. (And I direct these comments directly at the big boys, The ones out for a payday...)

Shut. The. Hell. Up.

I've been in the business of recorded media since before most of these "extreme" chasers were crapping in their Pampers. and one of the very first lessons you better learn in a hurry if you want to have any chance of having your material treated as anything more than home video, is contained in these four words:

"Shut Up and Shoot."

I don't care what YOU are feeling at that particular moment. Presumably, if you're out there with your shiny new HD camera and POV's on every corner of your vehicle trying to get within an arms reach of an F5 buzz saw, you're out there for a paycheck. And if you can't deliver that moment through your lens without the OH MY GAAAAAAAWWWWWWWDDDDDDD! emotional narration? pack your shit up and go home.

See? regardless of what your sorry, self-promoting ass may think?

You are not the story.

Specifically, I watched a piece of video where the "team" had placed itself on the highway adjacent to the town of Pilger. From there, we see the tornado on the right side of the screen, begin to make its march toward destructive ruin. From the moment the video begins, the storms path is clear. And yet we hear little if any concerned commentary in the "cockpit" of the chase vehicle.

Only after the tornado crosses the highway and begins shredding things do we hear their plaintiff cries hoping that their words will be heard, the storm will lift, and the town will be SAVED!

I call bull$hit.

YOU placed yourself out there to witness the moment, to record the moment, to experience the moment. and now you half halfheartedly exclaim in that very moment (on record I might add) that you wish it weren't happening? Let me clue you in on a few things:

Tornadoes KILL people.

Tornadoes go in directions YOU have no control over.

Tornadoes DESTROY ANYTHING in their path.

Tornadoes CHANGE peoples lives. Never, for the better.

And you hold this knowledge. YOU as a "professional" storm chaser know this.

And nothing will change that fact. It's been happening since you and I hit this earth, and it will continue to happen long after we've left. YOU are not the story! If you do your job correctly and professionally, your lens will provoke the emotions of your viewer.

Not your sorry-assed "Oh help these people so we can feel better about ourselves after we record the destruction of their town, cash in our video, and move on to the next twisting calamity"

If you can't do it without adding your .02? you my friend, need to find another line of work.

Record the moment. Not your mouth.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bennett and Strasburg CO. 5/21/14. (Also known as the day the circus came to town.)

Clearly something was chewing through my GPS receiver to produce the pretty little pattern you see here. Let me assure you we weren't making North/South trips while varying our East/West by fractional degrees. But it does make for a cute "Etch-A-Sketch" like drawing.

Expecting initiation in the mid-afternoon hours, we took our sweet time leaving Goodland allowing us the chance to see things in the daylight hours. The Texas chasing group was driving this vehicle as part of their convoy. I always enjoy looking at other folks handiwork when it comes to building urban storm assault vehicles. Clearly, some time and thought was put into the design of this rig.

After breakfast, we wished the Texas group who were huddled around their laptops in the hotel's commons area "good luck my partner reminded me she wanted to see the "giant" Van Gogh painting located in town.

Now why Goodland Kansas for the "Giant" of Van Gogh is anybody's guess. But there it sits. I'm sure it's a great source of civic pride to the residents of Goodland. Especially the nearby businesses of:

"Bill's Shootin' Shop"


"Bubba's Meat Block"

Both literally a stones throw away from the easel of giant sunflowers. Go see all three the next time you're passing through Goodland!

Clearly the Storm Prediction Center was hedging it's bets with a Day 1 forecast like this. But clearly the area of focus was about 130 miles away from our past evening's lodging.

Our initial plan was to travel west on 70 to Limon CO. From there we'd determine an intercept route. As we traveled, it became fairly clear initiation was occurring earlier than expected just to the southwest of Denver. I have a HUGE aversion to chasing in large metropolises unless I live in it. Even then, I'm not too keen about sticking myself out in traffic where the clueless rule.

And so the decision to stay out of Denver entirely worked in our favor when we reached Limon. After a "topping up" of the tank, we scrambled north on 71 toward Last Chance. You know? for being so close to Denver, Highway 71 is about the most desolate stretch of road I've chased on since back when I chased west of Watertown SD a few years back. Wind farms to the right, and prairie to the left with a smattering of abandoned roadside farmhouses just to complete the look. Kind of a beautiful desolation yet, I don't know if I'd want to be stuck out on that road for the little traffic we encountered even in the mid-afternoon on a weekday!

By the time we'd made the turn to westbound 36 out of Last Chance, the structure of the storm now beginning to pummel the Denver metro was just mesmerizing. So much so that neither of us managed to get a photo of the towers that we were soon to be under.

Our timing was going according to plan with us intercepting the storm in the town of Bennett. Upon our arrival, we were met with a nice little non-rotating wall cloud that was beginning to get its act together as it entered town. We decided to stop on the shoulder just prior to entering Bennett to get some photos and have a closer look at the wall cloud and scud being lifted into the storm.

And then it began:

The "Spectacle"

2 DOW trucks, an OSU phased array flat panel radar, Met classes, Tour vehicles, News vehicles, and last but not least, individual chasers from around the country hoping for something to produce and put the tornadic dry streak to an end... I wouldn't be exaggerating to say hundreds of people took part in this parade of weather sensing and recording hardware on wheels.

I guess I've been spoiled with chasing in the northern plains. I've never experienced anything like this. I will say however, that people were mindful and considerate of those side of the road observers when they entered and exited the parade and drivers drove slowly through areas of viewers. I would've hated to see a situation that could have easily gone poorly if a vehicle became disabled and many vehicles trapped behind it as Hwy 36 was the only game in town if we needed to suddenly sprint from the area.

What appeared to be a promising cell at times, both showing rotation and lowering, became outflow dominate and continued to rain large chunks of hail to those unfortunate to be under the main core as it passed. We decided to avoid that drama and blasted our way east back toward Last Chance.

There were a few tense moments when we decided to bolt north out of Last Chance on Hwy 71 when we learned that the cell we had just been chasing went tornado warned and would eventually cross our path if we didn't "expedite" our travel north.

And of course, We come across this 18 wheeler riding a continuous 56 MPH up Hwy 71. Making it difficult for those in the know to get around it and avoid chaos. We never saw anything resembling a tornado or funnel because everything was wrapped in rain but we weren't going to poke the bear by attempting to get near it either.

We settled on Sterling CO. as our stop for the evening letting the remnants of the storm roll over us.

Come to wake up the following morning to a number of official vehicles outside our hotel room where some road work was taking place. 

Then we find out it's the local Hazardous Materials Team.

I don't want to know.

Some video of the day: