Storm Chase-cation 2015

For the last few years (here's last year's writeup), I've headed out storm chasing (explanations here and here) on the Great Plains as soon as my classes end, which is also generally also the end of peak chasing season in the southern plains.  This year I flew into Dallas (best flight/car rental pricing), and then headed up to Wichita Falls, Texas. This time last year, Wichita Falls was under an epic drought; this year, they got years' worth of rain just in the month of May.  I've got before and after photos of Lake Arrowhead here.  And from there, I ended up doing 3500 miles in a couple giant loops of north Texas and southern Oklahoma, with a brief jaunt into eastern New Mexico.

The first part of the trip there wasn't a whole lot going on weather wise, and I missed some of the few big storms that happened, but I did see flooding in Wichita Falls, a severe-warned gust front gust front, and then more flooding, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, and even a wild boar.  I saw him jump across a little gap in a field and then he was washed away and had a long swim.  After that, I got on the north side of a crazy tornado-warned blob of hail, and it ended up chasing me into suburban Wichita Falls, TX, where I rode the storm out in a car wash (there was big hail in this storm).

Click on any photo for a larger version:

On May 27, I picked a target of Shamrock, TX, which put me in a great position to get on the amazing (and well documented by 100's of chasers) Canadian, Texas storm.  This storm moved slowly and erratically, and I was one of only a handful of chasers to end up on the back (West) side of the main tornado, as you can see in the photos below.  This storm moved slowly and dropped at least four tornadoes if not more.

After that storm, things got spotty again, and I drifted back to Amarillo (and the Cadillac ranch) and then onto Lubbock where I set up for the arrival of a huge severe-warned gust front.  I didn't get great photos because I got road raged by a redneck in the first town I set up in, then eaten alive by mosquitoes in several other spots because of the severe and widespread flooding.  I ended up in a bank drive through west of Lubbock and held down the tripod through 30-50 MPH winds and many technical problems to get a few lightning shots.

The weather then moved too far north for me to get to and make it back in time to Dallas for my flight, so I met some old friends in Fort Worth and saw a couple great bands (photos here) thanks to the recommendation from another friend.  I also saw some of the Trinity River flooding.

All in all, it was a great trip, and I hope to be back out there again next year...

The Water Woes of Wichita Falls, Texas

Last year when I was out storm chasing (highlights here), I stayed in Wichita Falls, Texas, which has been under a multi-year, extreme drought. On May 28 last year, I took photos of Lake Arrowhead, which is part of Wichita Falls' drinking water supply.  After the extreme rains of the last month, I stopped by there yesterday, and the change is dramatic.  Here's some before and after photos:

A couple more from last year:

Of course, all that rain, while so beneficial to drinking water supplies, has caused some serious flooding problems as well.

Chasing Mountains in the Sky

Mount Everest is a little over 29,000 feet tall.  The supercell thunderstorms I’m chasing for the next 10 days in the great plains can be almost twice as tall. Seeing one of these things from a distance can be amazing and even beautiful--the secrets of the atmosphere are revealed, especially if you have studied the science of the clouds. But getting closer to one of these storms, as I wrote last year in my blog entry, “Out Here in the Middle”, can be truly awe inspiring, or even scary--especially when the storm is producing a tornado. I’ve done a lot of things with a lot of potential risk, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I’m happiest when I manage the edge can rather than plunging over it.

Storm chasing is an expensive and sometimes tedious undertaking; you have to figure out where and when storms are going to be, drive (typically 100’s of miles a day--last year I drove about 6000 miles in 9 days) to get in position in time, wait for storms to fire, race and towards the storms as fast as possible down roads you’ve never seen before.  If you’re lucky enough to get on a storm you have to keep on top of the storm's dynamics, monitor the positions and activities of other chasers (not all of whom exhibit good judgement), and try and shoot photos while maintaining a workable escape route at all times in a location to which you’ve never been before.  And then you have to find a place to sleep, and start thinking about what tomorrow will bring.  Chasers nomadically live by the rhythm of nature, and chasing through the wide open spaces of the plains the beauty and silence of the sky is clearly evident.   

This endeavor is also incredibly engrossing, and when on the hunt, I'm typically in a constant state of "flow".  In one of my first-ever Midwest chases, I got in front of a beast of a (non-tornadic) storm, and shot the photo above. By sunset, I was really exhausted and and then eventually got stuck in a bad location with sideways rain (and fortunately no hail). I realized at that point my thinking was kind of cloudy because I hadn’t eaten anything in about 8 hours.  Anyone who knows me knows that that is a rare occurrence for me.

Another really satisfying part of chasing for me has been learning the sky. With these tiny (by global standards) storms, even the best forecast just gets you in the general area where storms might initiate--after that you're on your own with the sky (and the radar), because weather science is pretty good at telling us that the sky is going to boil with storms but it’s not good enough yet to predict where the first bubble will be.  I spotted the storm that produced the storm below before it even showed up on radar, and then stayed on it for several hours.

After this crazy school year I'm burned out and ready for a break in the routine, and looking forward to the next week.  

I'll be posting updates from "out there" on Instagram/Twitter.

Carson & Barnes Circus Tent Opening In Strong Winds

I've worked in show business for 30+ years and have "The show must go on" in my blood.  But there are times when the show at least should be delayed. Here's an example apparently from the 7:30 show in Angleton, TX at the Carson & Barnes Circus from "Laura Cucagirl Solis" on Facebook:

Well so much for having a good time at the circus ... the whole tent started collapsing here is a video of what I caught

Posted by Laura Cudagirl Solis on Friday, April 17, 2015

Thankfully, according to a local media report, no one was injured, but severe weather was predicted for the Angleton area yesterday, and in fact there's reports of pretty significant hail from the SPC, including this one that (if I'm doing the UTC time conversion right) was 10 minutes after the show start time:


Apparently the tent structure survived fine, but this was certainly a scary event for the audience, and it seems to me that the ringmaster should have held the show, addressed the issue, and initiated a pre-determined action plan.  I was nervous too with an acrobat in the air when the tent structure was most certainly moving a lot and rain was entering the tent.

I've written a so many blog posts about severe weather and show safety that I have a whole category on them (click here to see). 

Chasing Ice and Snow In New York City

For a storm chaser, winter can be frustrating. This winter, I've been making the best of it and have been out chasing ice and snow in the outer boroughs whenever possible.  

Yesterday at sunset on Jamaica Bay in the Rockaways was a scene seemingly from the arctic:

Further east, you can see the bay frozen, with a channel cut for barge access to JFK airport:

And back at the head of the bay, it's frozen solid (JFK channel in the distance):

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge had ice flowing out under it yesterday with the tide:

Friday further up the East River, there was lots of pancake ice in the Brooklyn Bridge Park embayments:


Further up under the Brooklyn Bridge:

Still further up the East River back on January 31, I caught the FDNY fireboat Fire Fighter II at work on the Williamsburg warehouse fire:

And back on January 26, I was out in Coney Island for the big snowstorm bust:


And back on January 9th I caught a sunset in Coney Island after the snow:

And of course I covered the Idiotarod, full post here.

I posted most of these photos on my Instagram feed, be sure and follow me there, and for my full "best of" storm chasing photo gallery, see my portfolio site at (prints available there).