Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tornado chasing versus storm chasing

Now that spring is well underway, I've observed an increasing tendency for many chasers to be focused totally on tornadoes.  In a way, I can understand this obsession, as I've had a mild form of it all my life.  I wanted to see a tornado for many years before I saw my first on 30 April 1972, near Mangum, OK.  As a chaser, I've chosen not to keep count of the number of tornadoes I've seen.  I don't see the experience as a means to increase the number of tornado notches in my metaphorical gun.  One reason for my choice not to keep count is I detest the notion that one must compete in some sort of machismo contest about who's seen the most tornadoes.  There has always been some tendency for some chasers to seek some sort of mythical crown as the king of chasing.  But it's not my reason for chasing.

I also find that what I see in storms doesn't always allow some uncontestable enumeration of how many tornadoes I saw.  This may or may not be cleared up in a post-storm survey.  Given the vagaries of chasing, one doesn't always have the luxury of being close to the action for the duration of an event, so what may seem to be separate tornadoes may just be gaps between observations of a continuing tornado.  Or it may be a real gap between distinct tornadoes.  It's not always easy to be sure. Tornadoes change their appearance rapidly sometimes and their evolution can include such complications as rapid dissipation and re-forming, satellite tornadoes, etc.  I've discussed some of this here - storms can get complicated in a hurry, making tornado counts problematic.  Hence, when someone says they've seen XX tornadoes, I always have a nagging doubt about their numbers.  So I don't even try to keep track.  Or I just make my best guess in the complex situations, without necessarily having much confidence in the number.  If someone wants to brag about how many tornadoes they've seen, that's up to them.  It's not something I want to do, at least in part because I'm never absolutely sure how many I've seen (in multi-tornado episodes), and in part because it just doesn't matter to me.

Nowadays, chasers are so tornado-focused, they apparently consider any chase in which they fail to see a tornado to be a total bust.  Moreover, they go to extreme lengths to see a tornado - such as going into the "notch" of an HP supercell to check out the possibility of a rain-wrapped tornado, or "core punching".  Apart from taking what I consider to be foolish risks just to see a tornado, they often then proudly post shaky, poor contrast imagery wherein a tornado may be just barely visible, if at all.  Evidently, showing imagery of a tornado, no matter how amateurish it may appear to be, is the most important goal of chasing for some chasers.

Moreover, I guess I've seen enough tornadoes by now that I've become rather circumspect about my images.  A nearly monochromatic shot that shows a dark, backlit cone tornado certainly may document the event for a tornado-count person, but I find them pretty uninteresting.  Same goes for poor-contrast and/or blurry images.  They might serve the purpose of documenting the tornado count, but I just can't get all worked up about imagery of that mediocre sort.  I suppose I've become a bit jaded, at least in this limited sense.  If I see a tornado, even a non-photogenic one, I'm still excited about it, but if I'm going to show off my imagery, it's not going to be like a lot of what I see posted on social media - boring backlit silhouettes, shaky video, low contrast, etc.  In fact, if I don't see a tornado, but I'm able to catch a great lightning show, or see the dramatic structure of a striated supercell storm, I'm just as pleased as if I've seen a tornado.  [I also love images that draw attention to the setting where Plains tornadoes happen - chasing has given me a love affair with the plains and its people, even when there are no storms happening.]  And I don't experience any particular compulsion to court disaster by being as close to a tornado as possible.  Recognition that I'm in the path is virtually always a signal to me to move!  No tornado is worth my life or the life of someone chasing with me.

These days, in certain situations, the chaser hordes are a major concern.  Many horde participants are tornado-obsessed, so they want to get into the "bear's cage" to the maximum extent.  Therefore, one can reduce the impact of the hordes by staying back a few miles, which I usually try to do.  It's not so crowded and, many times, the structure of the storms is far more interesting (at least to me) than some non-photogenic tornado.  I'm no longer a tornado chaser, but a storm chaser.  I'll welcome any tornado opportunities, of course, but that's not my only reason to be out there chasing.  I've never felt the need to be the world's best tornado chaser, nor do I see it as necessary to chase every possible chase day in and near Oklahoma.  I suppose this is the result of 45 years of chasing.  My original goals as a chaser have all been fulfilled, and adding more layers of frosting to the cake doesn't necessarily make it better.

1 comment:

Chris White said...

Amen Dr. Doswell!! You hit the nail on the head from my perspective.