Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Saw A Tornado*

Maybe I'm out of place ... and if so, feel free to put me there, but there's something I need to get off my chest...

Before I moved to Colorado in 2004, I was completely unaware of the "social" aspect of storm chasing. Any chasing that I had done previously in southwestern Montana consisted of me driving outside of the city to intercept an incoming storm and by doing so, having a good view. Following a storm through the mountains is pretty much impossible. Though I spent a lot of time on the internet, all I really knew of the world of storm chasing came from watching television. The only chaser's name that I knew was Warren Faidley ... from his videos I saw on The Weather Channel.

So, over the last few years, I've slowly expanded my chase territory from the areas adjacent Denver to further out into Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. I've spent a lot of time online meeting other chasers (especially here on Storm Track for the last two years). Many of you I've come to respect for your passion and expertise. This goes the same for many chasers I've met locally in Colorado and whom I have befriended.

I can't help but feel a little disheartened this year, though. I know it hasn't been the most ideal year for tornadoes. Sure, there have been a lot of reports and some towns damaged, but it seems like most of the tornado reports here on Storm Track this year (including one which I made on the March 7th day) are of brief spin-ups or gustnadoes or I saw the funnel cloud but couldn't see the ground and I'm relying on someone else's report to of a "spin-up".

I let myself be convinced that what I saw on March 7th was "technically" a tornado, but I wasn't ever really comfortable with that. I've since retracted on this. It listened to others telling me what I saw was a tornado when I knew damn well it was just circumstantial evidence.

Then came March 23rd. We were on that same great supercell that everyone else was. It was like the storm was teasing us all day. We saw a gustnado while it was in Oklahoma and then that amazing wall cloud before it moved past Arkansas City, KS. There were many tornado reports on that storm ... all of them "brief spin-ups" ... well, and one photoshopped tornado later, but that's another pathetic story I'm not going to get into right now.

Thinking back, this year has not been good for photogenic tornadoes. I think the best I've seen is the Saint Jo, Texas one. Correct me if I'm wrong ... I'd love to see some nice, fully condensed ones from this year!

... it just seems like we're counting anything to get our numbers up. The way I look at it, if you see the funnel but can't see the ground (or any debris), YOU CAN'T SEE THE TORNADO. Maybe I'm wrong. If you were to just have your own eyes to go on, would you call in the feature as a funnel or a tornado? But where draw the line? What if you're just looking at the storm from afar ... and there's a tornado reported. Can you see the tornado? Is any dust swirl near the updraft a tornado?

I mean, I know it's tough with the lack of moisture this year ... "fully condensed" is hard to achieve. It's just hard when I see veteran chasers ...people that I really respect, counting anything and everything. I'm not making any specific accusations here and I'm not going to call the chaser police on anyone or tell anyone what they saw or didn't see is or is not a tornado (unless it is shamefully photoshopped) My point is, I think we should personally hold ourselves to higher standards. Arguably, the tornado is the biggest goal of *most* storm chasers. It should mean something. I've only seen one ... and it meant a lot to me. ... and I've been chasing since 1997 ... 53 storm chases, not a record many would be proud of. :) I just know that if I'm going to tell someone I've seen a tornado, I want to be able to show them documented proof. I'm not trying to sound elitist. I'll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about being out, chasing storms. Every time out, it seems like something surprises me and leaves me scratching my head.

There are a lot of [B]new[/B] chasers out there this year and they're looking up to some of you as examples of how to do things right. Just keep that in mind.

Next week: Multiple vortex tornadoes and multiple touchdowns from the same tornado cyclone ... count them one or twenty? haha


Jason Boggs said...

I agree with you 100% my friend.

CraigM said...

I agree with most of what you wrote Dann but I can tell you as a VERY conservative chaser and as a chaser who was driving the KAKE storm chase van on March 23rd 2009 with 2 partners and who was actually in the bears cage of the Geuda Springs Kansas storm there was most certainly a tornado near Geuda Springs, in fact it was the scariest chase of my life and we were approximately 200 yards away unlike everyone else :) Now whether other chasers saw it I can't speak for them but I definitely know what a tornado looks like :) I also don't count my tornados anymore, there is no real reason for me to :) I don't believe there was a tornado near Beatrice yesterday and all I saw was some nice structure and a few high based funnel clouds (no brief touch downs here) LOL

Michael O'Keeffe said...

The thing about the Beatrice funnel was I never thought it could've been a tornado. it wasn't until I got home saw the report and heard what others said when I thought it may be a possible tornado. But just to make it clear I decided to change my mind NOT count the Beatrice tornado until I get real definite proof that it was in fact a legit tornado.

But its all in good fun, counting it doesn't really mean anything to me anyway. Sure I'll count a spin-up under a wall cloud, but on March 23 we saw 1 tornado and 2 gustnadoes, one of the gustnadoes was bigger than the tornado, but it was under a shelf cloud so it wasn't a nader.

Andrew Pritchard said...

You may or may not have seen my reply in the ST thread yesterday (which after a long weekend probably ended up as more "angry" than it needed to), but I'd been getting slightly bothered by the issue as well. Had decided to stay away from ST with it though, until I saw you'd started a thread already. Had already made my little "Tornado ID" blog post though, which you're welcome to check out.

grzych said...

You know what I think it is... there's a lot of chasers out there anxious and ready to chase, but it's just not really chase season yet. It seems to happen every year and some years are better than others, but March and April just aren't classic set ups to get slow moving tornadic supercells. Early season is filled with frustrating, fast moving, overly dynamic, lack of deep gulf moisture --- systems, which are usually less than ideal for tornado viewing (or like this year... tornado producing). Lot's of people seem to be WISHCASTing this year. Once we start seeing 60+ dewpoints back a little further west and less dynamic systems as we progress into May... we should start seeing better tornado producing storms. We just need to be patient.

Dann Cianca said...

Jason: Thanks man. :)

Craig: I wasn't trying to sound like I didn't think there was a tornado there. From the look of that beastly wall, I would have been surprised if there hadn't been an interaction with the ground. I couldn't see the surface there, so even though it was a "tornado", I don't count it for myself as I was unable to document it. Does that make sense? I'm not trying to lessen your chase. Did you say you had video? I'd love to see it (I'm not saying that for proof or anything) I just thought it was an amazing storm and would love to see what was going on at the surface. Also, I believe we saw you off of 166 as we passed by. We didn't get north fast enough and got locked into our direction by the damn river. :)

Michael: We discussed this on Storm Track PM, but I just wanted to say again that I wasn't singling anyone out with the post. It was a general post. As far as the gustnado you guys saw ... I thought it was the best looking tube all day!

Andrew: Yes, I saw your blog. I too am guilty of going a little overboard with my post. I was kind of worked up when I wrote it.

Kaylee (mint): Was that a legitmate post or are you just advertising a grill. Little confused here.

Matt: Aw some on man ... want to go to West Texas this weekend? :)

Anonymous said...

For someone who's seen 1 tornado in their life, and that 1 tornado was, well, WEAK, you sure are an expert. ;)

Dann Cianca said...

Thank you anonymous. I'm sure if you really meant that or any integrity, you'd sign your name.