Today is a travel day, and likely the last day of the 2022 storm chase for me. I will drive from Denver, CO, to Rio Rancho, NM.
I dropped Brandon off at the airport last night, and then Kathryn this morning. I know Alex and Harry are probably going to chase the 2% threat in Nebraska later, and hopefully they’ll have a little luck over the next few days.
For us, storm chasing is like Christmas. All year, you look forward to it and plan for it. The season comes, and things are good- you’re having fun and sometimes you don’t even realize the memories you are making until the next season approaches.
Then, just like that, the season is over. You say goodbye to the friends and go from spending 24 hours a day with them to not seeing them again for a year or two, or maybe more. One by one, they catch flights out, or steer their cars east. Instead of a goodbye at the front door of someone’s house, it’s often in a rushed airport unloading zone, busy gas station parking lot, or quiet park under a “blue sky bust”.
Instead of taking down the Christmas tree, you dismantle the chase equipment. You remove the extra electronics, pack up a few weather instruments and cameras and clean out the car. Then, you go back to normal life, washing laundry, catching up on work and so on.
Post-chase depression is a real thing, just like post-holiday depression. The introverts are sad to leave, but are happy to get a little space again instead of “peopling” for a week, I think. The extroverts have the let down of the people going away, but then maybe a little happiness in sharing the memories with others when they return home.
Our friends, family, and employers are all along for the ride. Often, our vacation times are not set in stone, following the weather patterns instead of set dates. We try to schedule our chasing around family events, and then try not to be disappointed when there is a huge tornado outbreak that was chase-able while we sit through a distant relative’s retirement party. We don’t know where we’ll be, but we will probably be unreachable by our employers. Calls home depend on the weather as well, our families tolerate an occasional text with days of silence in between. Sometimes, it’s a picture of clouds that mean something to us, but perhaps nobody else.
Life on the road is no picnic. It’s long hours. It’s trying to balance staying hydrated and not having to stop for a bathroom where there will be no bathrooms. It’s where the diet may consist of the free breakfast at a hotel, with some peanuts and energy drinks the rest of the day. If you get to town early enough, maybe a gas station will be open and you can chance the burrito under the heat lamp. If you have a “down” day, maybe you can squeeze in some laundry and a sit-down meal with actual vegetables. We hurry up to drive four hours north, just so that we can sit in a hot, muggy parking lot for two hours, just to drive another hour south again.
I once read that the average storm chaser gets a tornado one in every nine days of chasing. I read that a while ago, and I think technology has tilted the odds a little bit. When I return, I normally get the question, “How many tornadoes did you see?” Many years, I say, “zero.”
So then, if the odds are so bad, why bother?
Tornadoes are only part of the chase. Seeing the storms, seeing a forecast come together- that’s the real goal. Most days, we are in position before the Storm Prediction Center has issued a Mesoscale Discussion, which is a precursor to a Severe Thunderstorm (or Tornado) watch. Often, we arrive to the target area under clear skies, knowing things may turn stormy later.
Even that is only part of the allure of storm chasing. It’s when you and your convoy are secretly writing funny things in the dirt on each other’s cars. It’s when you video chat with a former storm chase partner who couldn’t make the trip this year, and they are excited at the clouds you saw. It’s when your crew comes up with a thousand inside jokes and “you had to be there” moments that make it all worthwhile.
Today, I’ll return to my normal life. We are already planning Storm Chase 2023 where will once again hit the Great Plains with our rolling armada of antenna-laden vehicles.
Thank you for reading my post.
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