Tag Archives: storm chasing

All Hail!

I am having the time of my life here at WDT. I’ve shifted some focus over to our hail map product.

Weather Decision Technologies is at the forefront of severe weather and is the leading weather data provider. The latest in-house dual-pol hail algorithms able us to produce stunning, highly accurate street-level hail maps for use by those in the roofing, construction and other industries. Unlike other hail maps, our contours are produced from proprietary hail algorithms utilizing high resolution dual-pol radar data at all elevation scans. Computing clusters at our state-of-the-art, redundant data center process this information in real-time, outputting hailswath data every hour. This is the fastest, most reliable data available on the market today!

FTWorth6_14With this maps I could see the hail swath growing across central and southern Ft Worth right away this morning. As the pictures started coming in on social media I could clearly see the maps were dead on.

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By 7:09 Ft Worth, TX was under full assault with falling hail measuring up to 3″ in diameter. The detail of the hail maps being generated were fascinating to me as I also watched radar simultaneously.

HailSwath I am having a blast. I finally feel I’ve landed in field I can be passionate about. Because I love weather, it has felt like I’ve been on vacation since Christmas.

Now that I am the hail guru here, (their words not mine) stay tuned for more hail focused posts.

Don’t Believe The Hype

Storm chasing and amateur forecasting have found a platform and incredibly large following throughout most realms in social media. Unfortunately a large portion of it is total crap and can be misleading. So pay attention here.

My disclaimer: I am a amateur forecaster, self educated in the field of meteorology for storm chasing purposes only. I do not hold a degree or even a certificate of course study. Most on twitter, facebook or whatever platform you use do not either. So read them with caution

As the title states, don’t believe the hype. Just don’t! In most cases these fools, trolls or whatever you call them are elevating themselves as an experts in storm chasing and meteorology. You’ll hear terms like “Death Ridge” being used in March where one does not exist or “Tornado Outbreak” used on just about every set up. The problem is they are being misused and many of those people’s followers are none the wiser and bite hook, line and sinker. Those same “Storm Chasers” and I use that term loosely anymore, will come unglued when the media promotes the same hype failing to realize their own ignorance in the matter. I’m not saying these amateurs should not post their forecasts because some of them are great reads, the problem is, the crap cut and paste forecast. It’s a combination of bits and pieces from around the internet. These people will grab 1 or 2 conditions from the SPC, failing to look at the whole discussion and take a slight risk for isolated supercells and tornadoes and start screaming the sky is falling. People get all in a frenzy and start getting ready for the end. I think and its only an opinion, drill down and say why something will or will not occur.

The issue with these HYPER forecasts is, many are totally wrong and only add to the misinformation abound. Most of these internet meteorologists haven’t the foggiest idea what they are even posting about, only posting because someone else said it. They only thing they are doing is promoting bullshit. Hell some of them are now photoshopping their chasing history because they have none. Chasing anymore has become more about look at me than look at the storm. They go so far as to make their own weather maps with hatch marks in an attempt to look official, when a few barely drive yet.

Here are a couple of observations regarding this area:
People that can truly forecast avoid posting the hyper forecasts (With the exception of Reed Timmer) but will post insightful thoughts on a particular setup. Now since I mentioned Reed, I will say he is now competing for a audience with noobs that don’t know shit from shinola so I guess in his case some hype is required. But legit forecasters, whether college educated, or self-educated, some even just starting will add to a setup discussion instead of typical regurgitation of another’s forecast and posting SPC most is the most irritating. I usually see the mad scramble to be first on Facebook after the SPC does an update and then boom boom boom. If you were forecasting, post the map you were using. There are a lot of sources of weather models and my belief is many just look for pretty colors when they post forecast and only mention areas of high CAPE or EHI totally missing other environmental triggers or lack there of. Ask them what the forcing mechanism is and you get huh? I’m no great forecaster, but I don’t do it for the public, I do it so I don’t burn a bunch of gas for nothing. I will take the see text or very low slight risk because I have looked and calculated the potential. You will seldom see me right in the middle of the 5% box. I try and play with some type of strategy based on my forecast. Sometimes I’m wrong, and if I bust I look at how the day unfolded so I can learn from my mistakes.

When I chase, I also rarely hook up with other chasers unless it was planned or we play the same discrete option. If I do end up in the chaser caravan I will make my own play leaving the group. That’s just me. I hate chase roaches and do my best to avoid playing someone else’s strategy. But since this post is about forecasting I will through out another term
FORECAST ROACH: One who lacks the skill to post an insightful forecast so they roach and re post others as their own.

I sound like an elitist, I get that. That is not my goal. But the shear amount of bullshit anymore is maddening. (notice that weather term I threw in there) I just call it like I see it. I just like chasing. I have had the privilege to meet and chase with some really good people with some talent. But you don’t here much about that because they’re too busy chasing. Oh and if you post a pic asking “What is this?” YOU SUCK and need to take a frickin Skywarn class again. Be what your gonna be, but be true to what you are. You will always have to work for what you want but know if you shortcut and bullshit your way… It will burn you. Age has nothing to do with it. You get what you put in.

Everything is big in TX

txSecond chase of the season on 3-18-2012 takes me to TX but the original target was Kinsley, KS. This time Mike Vetter and Carl Brakke were chasing with me. It was time for Mike and I to tune in for the season. Mike and I have a great chaser relationship and we have a system where we can get things done with a nod and a glance most times, hence the need to tune in. Mike is a data head and usually rides the seat. He is great at processing information quickly and makes decisions on the fly and we trust each other completely with our roles. Plus I like to drive, I trust no one else’s driving in a storm situation except my own. Well until now but we’ll get to that later.

So we arrive at our target and gassed up ready for the chase but Mike did not like how capped the area still was and wanted to push south in to the Oklahoma panhandle. So south we went. About 50miles into OK we lost our data and virtually flying blind. Normally this would not frazzle us because we lose data all the time, but this time it was aggravating because we feared leaving our target was going to be a huge mistake. But we pushed southward deeper into OK still with no data or cell signal to even make a nowcasting call. We went into Arnett, OK thinking there had to be a signal there and there was but it was from a open router in someone’s home and we tapped in and grabbed a radar update. Storms were well underway in TX and it appeared KS was going to be a bust so we all made the call to go play these storms. The only other alternative was to lick our wounds and go home empty handed. That was not a choice neither Carl, Mike or I wanted so off we went pulling away from our hotspot we lost data again. No need for data at this point we knew our play, we just needed storms to cooperate with our plan.

We played pretty aggressive but our plan also included staying out of the chaser mess. There were plenty of other chasers on this storm. Not that I feel special or anything but I like to make different plays than everyone else. Sometimes it works sometimes not. This time it did not as we could not see the tornado near Mangum but had a spectacular view of that storm as it made its way towards Willow, OK.

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This storm was absolutely beautiful and offered us a fantastic lightning show and threw a little hail at us too. We switched drivers and Crazy Carl took the wheel. We continued on this storm as it made its way north. It appeared as though it wanted to keep going and cycled a few times but ultimately died along with the sunlight.

Another  cell fired near Claredon, TX and we decided to play it. We came all this way, why not.  We bugged north to I40 and headed to McLean, TX to watch some awesome CG lightning. This storm was firing lightning bolts like mad and the three of us were enjoying the show. We headed back east on I40 and took the Shamrock exit heading north 83. DSCN4262We were just about in Wheeler,  TX  and BOOM lightning struck about 5-7 miles to our northeast. We all knew something got hit because we all saw a very large mushroom cloud. We knew it was not good and we had to get there and see what it was. With crazy Carl at the wheel we took the dirt floating on the road  like a hovercraft. Carl did not break a sweat. That guy was as cool as a cucumber. I have now found another that I trust driving my car in a storm and most importantly, safely. We were still dealing with heavy rain and lighting, but Carl owned that dirt road, making ever so slight corrections as the car floated and wanted to go into the ditch.  The closer we got we could see the glow of what we knew was a big fire. We just didn’t know what it was at this point.

DSCN4282Well we got on the scene of a very large fire and TX does not disappoint with big fires either. It was a crude oil transfer station that was hit and the entire facility was engulfed in flames. Crude oil is trucked into these transfer stations from the well and offloaded into the storage tanks before being trucked to the pipelines. We arrived as the first fire crews made it on scene. These guys were not prepared for this. The only fire apparatus that arrived on the scene were what appeared to be brush trucks. This fire was hot too, and we had a perfect vantage point directly across the street. We could hear additional explosions so Carl backed up slightly so we didn’t get hit by any airborne debris. You could hear the metal creaking as it melted and buckled from the high heat.  There was also a tanker truck that was offloading when this explosion occurred. DSCN4280The fire crew rolled up next to this tanker and started hitting it with water to cool it down before it blew too. And then some bad ass jumped in the truck and pulled it out of the fire. All they could do after that was watch it burn and make sure the fire did not spread to the nearby trees and field. This thing roared on for quite some time with the occasional pop and small booms.

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This chase did not disappoint at all and TX did not let us down with big things which is why I make it from SD quite a few times.

Made it 1640 miles round trip and another overnighter back to Sioux Falls. We were all late for work the next day, but any road time to or from a chase sure beats working any day.

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Welcome to the jungle….

After about a decade of turning down chasing in the jungle I finally went on 3/2/2012. I quickly realized why I didn’t go before. It’s not fun and games as the song says. You can’t see squat through the trees. I do think I saw bigfoot, but then again it was only a brief peak through the forest.

It was a great chase don’t get me wrong, I was just not properly prepared and did not have a good strategy in place for dealing with the trees.  I chased the trees in WI but Dixie Alley offers a whole other challenge. The main one being the road network. Every town had a spider web leading out of town, but with 10 years of the grid system I had become spoiled.

Those of you that know the way I chase, know that there is not a road I will not take to get to a storm. With that said we discovered within that spider web the roads were very narrow and full of switchbacks that prevented us from attacking the storm like I am use too. But this chase afforded me an opportunity to learn new things as each chase does, but this was a little different. It wasn’t weather I was learning, it was about a completely different style of chasing. Chasing the Dixie Alley jungle is unique.

This by no means a bust chase. One thing I pride myself on is target and timing. My targets are usually spot on, and as far as timing is concerned, my ADHD prevents me from sitting for any length of time. So I focus on time of initiation to prevent that. Those that chase with me like the many times we just drive right up to tornadoes.This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens more times than not.

Ok back to this chase. Carl Brakke was my chase partner this trip and our target was Bowling Green, KY. As it turns out it was a great target. One problem, we got there early. If you have been paying attention, this is bad. Our timing was based on storms that would be rolling through KS and MO overnight and early morning with severe potential. Our plan was to intercept these by about the time we hit St. Louis. Which we did. Had a SVR warned hailer roll through right on time. So this was no bust and gave us high hopes for the day.

We arrived in KY about 10am as planned but unfortunately gave me way too much time to make adjustments to the playbook for the day. Storms were fireing in IN and there was no way I would be sitting still with storm in my reach. So off to IN we went, traveling those switchback roads for an intercept. FAILED at the river. I was so damn frustrated it began to cloud my decision making process. I was in such a hurry to score on the trip that it didn’t matter it was only 11:30.

DSCN4196By later afternoon we were intercepting a storm near Sturgis KY, redemption was within our grasp. We cut through town with the tornado sirens blowing like mad and people wandering around not concerned one bit. I’ll save that for later.

We could see a tornado as we made our play just outside of town and the storm was booking at about 50kts (57.6 MPH). So we crushed it to get a better view but that was not happening. So in classic Marcus fashion, I punched in. We could not get close enough. Capture_rainwrapped

Once the rain went horizontal and the trees started laying over I knew well enough to get out of there. The road was only as wide as a driveway and there were cells right behind this one and picking up speed.

Got out of the core but never could catch these storms again. The roads we were on sucked and it appeared the closer we got to catching them the faster they moved.

We bugged south towards Nashville, TN as it was in the crosshairs missing the tornado by about 10 minutes but the storm continued putting down decent hail so we stayed on it.

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Never did produce another tornado but we were satisfied in a great chase. Next time the jungle will not get the best of me.

First chase of the season 1873 miles and a double overnighter. That boys and girls is my kinda chase.

 

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First Chase of 2011 Kansas

The first chase of 2011 went off without a hitch. Picked up Joe Miller and Greg Rardin, in Rock Valley, IA at 8:30 a.m. and headed out to our initial target of Emporia, KS. with a planned stop in Ottawa, KS to meet up with Brent Koops.

The trip was just humming along great, we were all chatting it up on the ride and planning a strategy on how we would chase once storms fired up. We arrived in in Topeka, KS and I was in heaven with 93 degree temps (low 40’s in SD) and kept pushing through towards Lyndon, KS and Brent called to tell us he was just about 2 miles from Lyndon so we all decided to just meet there and hang out a bit.
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We decided to continue on to Emporia and grab some dinner and top off the tank and wait. But being the impatient man that I am I made the call to move back toward Lyndon and hold up somewhere between there. Joe Miller was talking with Ben Holcomb on spotterchat and he was just a few exits ahead of us sitting at a crapping gas station so we met up with Ben and Mike Boik and waited some more. I was seriously looking like a CAP bust and just before all hope was lost BOOM, there it was.DSCN1185

The shear was intense and was cutting the tops off of the towers but this think kept building so we all took off after it. In hindsight we should have 5-10mins earlier but the chase was on. This storm was turning into a beast.

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As we pushed closer to the storm just off to my left we could see the a small gustnado form. For those of you who don’t know, a gustnado is a specific type of short-lived, low-level cyclonic cloud that can form in a severe thunderstorm. 

We didn’t see the gustnado that caused damage but the video and images I have seen lead me to believe that it indeed was a gustnado.

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After this, the storm was just moving to fast to catch back up with it so at dusk we gave up a pointed north.

I am satisfied with the chase. Logged 869 miles on the first chase of the season and getting ready for more this season.

Starting a new chapter in my life

Now begins a new chapter in my life and certainly an exciting challenge.

What I’m referring to is the start of Extreme Weather Media LLC. This is a company I started with one of my chase partners from the passion we share for storm chasing and my need for a good business challenge that as of late has been lacking.

For those of you that do not know me personally I will fill you in a little more of my professional background, and yes it even includes some storm chasing. My corporate experience was working for a large, what I’ll call “insurance support services” company that was basically an insurance company without the risk. We handled all facets of claims. I rose up the ladder rather quickly in this environment and in just 3 short years I was the National IA Manager that was responsible for Independent Appraisers nationwide, with training, claims procedures, and their workflow back to our clients. We’re talking 600+ and that’s how I came to Sioux Falls, SD from the East Coast, when the company moved a division to South Dakota.

Anyway in 2001 I started a  third party claims administration company called Claims Administration and Technical Services Inc. or C.A.T.S. for short, an S corporation that specialized in weather related catastrophe, mainly hail and hurricane claims for both commercial and personal policy holders.  My personal specialty was HAIL. I use to get the nastiest gorilla hail claims because I was good at them and in a lot of cases I was already there. When I started getting involved with storms and chasing, I also had this company that had my entire savings tied up and I needed to compete. And my angle was being there first. I would chase down storms in hopes my clients would have policy holders in the areas affected.

The problem with this type of chasing was it wasn’t for the storm it was for the paycheck. And I didn’t get to keep chasing I had to stay behind and do hail claims. (you think IA sucks for chasing, try being there with the insurance company checkbook for a month) But over time I got better at picking the storms that would produce the biggest check for me. I could make BANK on one commercial loss. As an example my first paycheck under this new company was 6k for 3 days work (and the check hangs on my wall today) But you could end up 6-8 months a year away from home chasing storm damage claims. But one of the things that speaks to my professionalism and trust in my business was the fact I could write checks on behalf of a client company up to 500k without approval which was unheard of. This business continued until about 6months after Katrina where to be honest myself and the entire staff were beat. We didn’t even see N.O., most were stuck in Atlanta pushing paperwork for 18-20 hours a day. But we all made a ton of money so I sold the book of business and continued training and consulting until present where I find a new business opportunity that again  involves weather. 

This new opportunity presents many challenges to overcome and this is something we have discussed for a long time. Extreme Weather Media LLC was not just an overnight deal. We planned this carefully to understand the market, to learn we needed to do to be different and consulted the very clients that we aim to serve with ideas and share their thoughts on how to make the process easier. And we did it!

This company is ready to go and serve the needs of chasers and media partners. There are some other secrets within this opportunity but if I told you now I would have to kill you!