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For some reason I feel compelled today to post a clarification of my personal expectations regarding chasing storms. There are a number of folks who either by self-admission or by deeds are what I call “tornado chasers”, i.e. their goal is to witness a tornado while out chasing. Anything less than that is considered a “busted” chase.

Let me be the first to say that there is nothing wrong with that mindset…it just doesn’t fit me. While I too am excited to see funnels and tornadoes – as long as they don’t create havoc for the residents of that area – my main fascination has always been with the entire thunderstorm. As a visible (and audible) atmospheric engine the thunderstorm is an incredible complex of physics and thermodynamic processes that never ceases to amaze me.

Visually identifying the different parts of every new storm (inflow, outflow, updrafts, downdrafts, and so forth) is like watching classroom taught mathematical equations come to life in an outdoor laboratory. The sensory rush created by lighting and thunder coupled with quickly changing winds, temperature, air pressure, and moisture levels all combine to scratch an itch that is difficult to describe to non-chasers.

Severe thunderstorms only add to the sensory overload. Large hail, wall clouds, shelf clouds, and – yes – funnels & tornadoes multiply my awe at what can happen when Nature’s power exerts itself. Throw in some sunlit mammatus and the feeling of being overwhelmed becomes intense enough to defy description.

d34b2-virginiamammatus

Mammatus

Photographs and video clips help to recapture those feelings. I can enjoy storm images recorded by others but I generally prefer my own because they serve to remind me of what it was like to be there at the time. Even after years have passed a glance at a photograph of a storm can rekindle the feelings I had when I pressed the shutter button.

So I’m a storm chaser. The lack of a tornado or funnel cloud during a given chase doesn’t dismay me in the least. However clear skies and no storms when I’m expecting convection are a different story!!

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