Why I Chase
I’ve known since I was 6 years old that I was going to be a Meteorologist, and “storm chaser” was what I put on my first fake business card in elementary school. Fast-forward to 2010 and my childhood dream became a reality when I went on my first storm chase trip with the Hokie Storm Chasers while a student at Virginia Tech. The rest is history, and I’ve been storm chasing ever since.
Now in my 13th year of storm chasing, I’m in love with storms and the Great Plains more than ever. To quote my long-term storm chase partner Seth Price, storm chasing is like Christmas. We look forward to it and plan for it all year, and just like wrapped presents under a tree we don’t know what we’re going to get until it’s time.
This year was a particularly interesting and challenging year. Looking ahead to my departure, the pattern didn’t look particularly favorable for severe thunderstorms across the Great Plains. Despite the unremarkable pattern I saw in front of me, I got on a plane, channeling the lessons learned from my mentor Dave Carroll who taught me to never turn my back on a risk for daily thunderstorms in the Plains in the Spring, and that it’s up to 'you' to find the ‘magic in the mayhem’ or as I like to think of it the ‘diamonds in the rough.’
To get photogenic and tornado-producing thunderstorms you need a perfect mash-up of atmospheric parameters with two of the main ingredients being ample moisture overlapping with strong wind shear (change in wind direction and speed with height). This year we had one but not the other – we had plenty of moisture in place but not a lot of strong wind shear. I’m used to having plenty of wind shear and no moisture. This was new forecast territory for me, and my team, and it tested our forecast skills to the core.
Here’s what we experienced from the lopsided set-up of plenty of moisture but lack of wind shear:
1. Storms quickly became blobs.
2. Storms had slow and at times chaotic storm motions.
3. Flash flooding was everywhere.
4. Follow the boundaries.
The combination of constant forecast analysis, nonstop hustle to get to storm targets, the grind of chasing 10 days in a row (a new personal record) and incredible teamwork among my crew (Seth, Jen, Alex, Harry, Andrew, and Allison) means we scored tornadoes, astonishing storm structure, and learned a lot along the way!
Our best intercept was an open country tornado outside Stratford, Texas. This was one of the most memorable tornado intercepts I’ve ever had over my career in storm chasing, and that’s because of how the day went leading up to it.
My chase partner Seth and I started the day in Lubbock where we took our time eating breakfast. We slowly drove north through Amarillo and stopped for a sit-down lunch in Dumas. (It’s rare to have a sit-down lunch on a chase day!). We drove farther north, where we went for a walk in a beautiful park in Guymon, Oklahoma. When we saw the storm pop off in the distance, we drove up to it and perched on a hill that we had all to ourselves where we sat on the hood of our iconic Crown Vic, ate snacks, and simply took in the storm, listening to the “cannonball thunder” resonate across the open landscape. After a while, we met up with our friends, several Hokies, and chatted for a bit. Shortly after, we split to surround the storm, intercepting the tornado from all sides.
On a day when we weren’t expecting much, we intercepted a slow-moving, photogenic, and most importantly a non-damaging tornado (due to it staying over open land).
Storm Chasing Meets Monarch
Now after nearly 5,000 miles driven and several tornadoes later, the weather I witnessed and the storms I captured made me a better Meteorologist once again.
It’s one thing to learn about nature’s fury in a textbook, or report on a catastrophic event from a desk. It’s another to see it with your own eyes; the blank slabs where a house once stood, or a stairway to nowhere when the rest of a school was wiped away. It’s the deep empathy that comes from this hands-on experience of real-time forecasting combined with first-hand experience of tornado damage and aftermath that makes Monarch unique in its approach to helping people navigate our changing climate.
I could write a novel about my experiences in storm chasing over the years, including anecdotes about the beauty of the Great Plains and stories about all of the people I’ve met over the years, but in the interest of word count will leave it here for now.
Shout out to everyone I shared a storm with in 2023 and to all the others I’ve met ‘under the meso’ through the years!
About Monarch Weather & Climate Intelligence
We are a woman-owned business with a team of Certified Consulting Meteorologists (CCM) and GIS Analysts, providing meteorological and climate services via custom forecasting, modeling and advisory within the insurance, tech, energy, real estate, transportation and agricultural sectors.
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