Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Identity Crisis * Blogs: Endangered Species?

For the whatevereth time, I'm attempting to maintain a blog that both (1) supplies frequent material and (2) is worth reading. That balance hasn't been easy for me since I first began with the blog format nearly eight years ago. Part of the problem, at least for me, is that in my opinion blogs aren't timeless. I've gone back more than once over the years, read some of my older stuff, and thought "this just isn't relevant anymore." Not that the piece wasn't well-written and entertaining, just dated. Topics that inspire my entries often are "current events" within the world of storm chasing, and as everything in the world today, have a shelf life. Chase summaries aside, I see no reason to leave a blog up after so many years.

Originally, the reason I began to go back and delete older posts was because blogger.com has a data limit, which I somehow used up within a few years by merely posting text-only entries. That of course pissed me off, so I just stopped blogging. But eventually my creative juices began to flow again, and I wanted that voice back. I created the second incarnation of the Passion Twist blog, which was very active from late 2007 through all of 2008. After an extended break, during which the blog title and direction changed, I started again in late 2009. That version lasted until the beginning of this month, and its demise is where this one begins.

I'll admit it. I've spent way too much time worrying about my blog identity. I have two distinct sides, and they don't really work well together. I'm either the boring, nerdy statistician who posts mostly vanilla offerings that reflect my pure chasing results/projects (such as what the body of this new blog consists of thus far), or the abrasive, opinionated asshole which the former personality keeps in a darkened basement, feeding it only enough to sustain its life until its next burst through the padlock and out into the world again. The nerd is more akin to who I truly am, day to day, in the world (or at least what I allow the world to see). However the asshole is also very much alive each and every moment, but is kept much more at bay. I've been trying to make the two mesh successfully online forever, and it's still a work in progress. Or maybe the solution is, that is my identity, and I should stop thinking so damn much and just write.

It occurs to me just now that I've completely gone off into left field and forgotten the entire point of this post: are blogs dying? When I first embraced the blog format in 2005, it was the latest craze. A fresh new platform that was both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly, and something that lured many chasers into abandoning the traditional website for this new animal. Eventually, so many chasers jumped to the blog format that they started referring to their blogs as websites. To me, as a pure website enthusiast and user, this was crap. Abandon the website for the blog if you must, but you're not going to tell me one is now the other. It's a blog dude.

Not long ago, while searching out storm chasing blogs in an attempt to build a links page on this thing, I discovered that about 90% of all the blogs I clicked on were either gone or hadn't been updated in years. Not unlike it's always been, but with the advent of social media, it seems as if the pure blog platform may be suffering much the same way the pure website platform did at its hand nearly a decade ago. I guess what I keep wondering is, what's gonna kill social media? I don't think I want to know.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

May 29 Tornado

OUN has confirmed a brief tornado south of Erick, OK from May 29. On that day we observed what we thought was a small area of outflow dust, even though I was somewhat suspicious at the time. Nevertheless, I thought nothing of it until a few days later when I saw a Facebook post by JR Hehnly showing the same feature but from the opposite angle. Another person commented that the Doppler radar guys had observed a low-end tornadic circulation in the same place at the same time. This was enough to get me to submit my video to OUN as a possible tornado.

I never heard anything back, so I decided to email Doug Speheger directly, the person who's been responsible for Oklahoma tornado data for several years now. After another few weeks, Doug replied, got my information, and said he'd get back to me. Within a few days, he'd researched the radar data and discovered a velocity increase - for just one volume scan - in the same spot as my report. After learning about the Doppler observations, he asked to see my video (which I'd taken down a few weeks before). I put the clip back up on Youtube, and after seeing it, Doug was convinced. He sent me an email yesterday to let me know it was being added to the 2013 OK tornado count. Not a prize catch by any stretch, but important nonetheless because it keeps the data that much more in tune with reality. So a big thanks to Doug for his efforts in coordinating the archived data with my observations to help get this event sorted out.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

New DVD Project

I'm pleased to report that there will finally be a new DVD coming at the end of the year. Needless to say, it's been a pretty lean stretch the past few seasons, so it's taken me a while to accumulate enough material to make a DVD I deem worthy of existence (and considering my standards are much lower than most folks', that's saying something). But alas, after three long years (the longest gap ever between DVDs for me) the follow up to "Out of the Blue" will be seeing the light of day sometime towards the end of this year.

The first rough demo is done, and just the raw video alone runs at around 97 minutes. No doubt some trimming will be in the works, as with additional bells and whistles such as titles, transitions, and a menu page, I'll be pushing my time limit of two hours (I like everything on a single DVD). I still shoot in standard definition video, simply because I can't afford the hardware necessary to store hours and hours of HD video. The laptop I'm writing this entry on is my only computer, and it just doesn't have the space (or power) to handle that type of storage and still be functional. I'm well aware how unpopular SD video is these days, and how far behind the 8-ball it puts a person who's throwing product out there to compete with the HD Vegas and Premiere using people, but I have no choice. This is what I can afford, and this is what I'll move forward with.

This is going to be a very raw, straight-forward DVD, like all of my others. There's a lot of imperfections. I've already discussed the format "limitation", but that isn't the extent of its amateurish charm. There will be little editing, which means a lot of running in/out of the car, frantically grabbing and setting up tripods. There will be some shakiness, as my low-end, lightweight equipment is often battered by strong inflow winds. But within all of that, I feel there is a nostalgic type of quality that, to a person with an open mind who isn't blinded by format and technological superiority, will make this a charming little "homebrew" of a DVD. Very modest, very real. I believe the lack of technical prowess will be overshadowed by what's in front of the camera.

As far as content, this DVD will consist mainly of just two events. There are a total of seven events that make up the first demo, but I can already tell you at least one of those isn't going to make the cut. Should we have a great Fall chase later this year, other smaller events will be in danger as well. April 14, 2012 and May 18, 2013 (barring an incredible Fall event later this year) will be the meat of the DVD. The Rozel, KS clip is one of my all-time favorite tornado sequences I've ever shot, and IMO will be the flagship tornado of the DVD. The flow of this video so far reminds me of older tornado videos or television specials. I can't really explain why, but I just get that "90s" feel when I watch it, which I love.

So anyway, there it is. New DVD in the works. I will be posting more on this as it gets closer to fruition, with more details such as the title (which I've had for over a year now) and the latest cutting room floor casualties. Thanks to all of you who read this blog and follow my chasing exploits. Your interest is appreciated more than I could ever say.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013 Review

I think it's safe to say enough time has passed that I can now do a true season review. This has actually been true for over a month now, as try as I might, I can never seem to get out there after May 31 anymore. But that's another entry for another time. As for the moment, here's a look back on what was a rather strange year for us.

Typically my tornado successes have always been spread out fairly evenly throughout a given year, even in years when I only had a few tornado days. There have been occasional clusters of success, but those have always happened within an overall even keel type of year. But 2013 was different. This year was basically three months of nothing followed by three days of awesomeness. Literally. By mid-May, 2013 was, bar none, the worst season of my career. I had only chased six times, seen no tornadoes, and no real tornadic storms. It wasn't just a numbers fail, it was an opportunities fail. There simply had not been much to chase after. It was a year that had reminded me much of 2004, when things were more or less dead until the middle part of May, and then it became one of the best seasons ever. I held out hope throughout 2013's drought that it could do the same to some degree, if for no other reason, to insure my sanity for a bit longer. Eventually it did, although I was not able to capitalize on it as much as I did in 2004.

Our big break finally happened on May 15, and that began what would be our entire year: a five-day, three-chase run of tornadic success. The 15th was a backyard chase that nobody really saw coming, but we were able to take advantage of it due to the close proximity which allowed us to sit and monitor mesoscale trends and get a better idea what was happening before bolting out the door. Although several chasers were on this event, we somehow ended up getting tornadoes and angles no one else did, a hallmark of my chasing career since inception. Despite the fact we missed the main show earlier and later than our tornadoes, our exclusive earned us a couple of video sales. So after three months of bleh, we suddenly had tornadoes under our belts, extra money on the way, and even better opportunities right in front of us. This changed 2013 from my worst season ever to potentially one of my best. I was pleased but not surprised; I had been extremely patient and calm during what became the longest tornado drought of my life, but through it all one phrase kept ringing true in my mind: "It only takes one day."  And sometimes, in regards to the world of chasing, that's not just hyperbole.

After a few days off, during which we saw King's X live and missed another local tornado because we had to pick Adam Reagan up at the airport, it was off to Kansas to start a three-day chase trip. May 18 started things off, and would end up being the highlight not only of the trip, but of the entire Spring. More or less nailing the forecast, we were on our storm from birth, and followed as it produced a pair of tornadoes, the first of which ranks up in my top-ten all-time. A majestic, 25-minute dream. The colors, the company, the moment, and the tornado itself. It was one of those times when you realize how special something is as it's happening; you don't need a day or a week to look back and think "wow."  You just know right then. The twenty magical minutes we spent in that lonely Kansas field watching this amazing twister spin away as the sun gradually bled out onto the horizon are some of the most cherished of my entire chasing life. Every heartache, every missed opportunity, every scream, every tantrum of failure. It's all worth it, for as long as it lasts, just to get a glimpse of happiness on that sort of level. Even in great tornado years, those don't just come along every day.

May 19 was the dessert to the previous day. My original forecast was off, as I realized upon walking outside the first time that morning, but we were in a great position to adjust and did so quite nicely. We were able to get on the first storm of the day, and see the first tornado of the day. However, it was downhill from there. But the brief tornado early on helped ease the frustration. Despite that, this would be our last tornado success of the Spring.

After two consecutive years in which we chased less than 15 times each, it's become obvious to me that my days of 25-30 chases a year have come to an end, at least for the short term. We simply don't have the resources to be out that many times. But we also don't have to be. I used to think that more chasing equaled more success, simply through the law of averages. But I chased many times in my formative years and saw nothing. Days I could've stayed home and saved my money and time for better opportunities. But back then that was an impossible decision, because I didn't know enough to make that kind of choice. I had to chase everything. I had to grab every opportunity to get out there, because I wasn't good at it. I needed the law of averages to help me see stuff. Fortunately for me, exposure and time can do quite a lot for someone who simply doesn't learn well through typical means. I can't sit down with a book and read up on something and then be able to do it. I have to try to physically do it, fail, fail some more, and eventually I'll either get it or quit. As far as chasing goes, I finally got it. That allows me to sit back today and be more picky, to scrutinize, to make those sometimes tough choices. I can see now in 10-15 tries what it used to take me 25-30 to accomplish. So despite the fact chasing might be slowly becoming less of my life, as far as the time per year I get to dedicate to it, my success isn't waning. One Rozel can get a guy like me through a lot of long, boring, trying times in regular life, until it's time to get back out there and start doing it again the following year.

I don't need 70 chases and 50 tornadoes, I just need as many opportunities as fate hands me in a given year. I'm all about body-of-work. I'm not out each year trying to set records inside of that particular calendar. I don't need or want to be the best or most popular or whatever chaser of the year. I'm building something bigger than that, something I watched chasers like Jim Leonard and Tim Marshall build as I stood wide-eyed on the sidelines, only dreaming of such wonders for myself. Something they continue to build today, as I join them in my own adventure. Something every chaser who's in it for the storms and tornadoes and who stays around long enough eventually builds. Call it a career, call it a legacy, call it a life's work. The name isn't important, just that it exists.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Something New

You might notice this is a new blog page. The reason I created it was because I got really tired of having to log in and out of multiple accounts. When Google took everything over, that included all my accounts linked to my long-standing yahoo.com email address. This happened before I ever had a G+ or a gmail account, which meant once I decided to go all-in with Google and have everything (email/blog/youtube/etc etc) linked, I had to start brand new profiles in everything. Yesterday I created my new Youtube account. Today it's my new blog.

Anyway, I just chose the basic template I thought looked the coolest and went with that. The days of customizing this thing to death are over. I'll trust in the stylings of the more than competent designers that work for Google or whoever. Admittedly, I did throw in that cheesy purple streaky background, but the name is "Passion Twist" so why not. The main purpose of this post is simply to see what it looks like on the settings I've chosen. There may be changes forthcoming depending on how I like it.

I'm using this for just chase-related news. My opinions and other rants, etc (even those pertaining to chasing and /or weather) are a thing of the past on here. I lead the pack for years when it comes to controversy and telling it like it is, and to be frank, I really don't have the stomach for it anymore. I'm older. I want to really focus on the storms and tornadoes. I want to get good tornado video. I don't care what other people are doing anymore, at least not enough to blog about it or talk about it on some web show. So, while the opinions and thoughts you've come to expect from me are still alive and well, they'll remain with me, making appearances only during real-world, face-to-face conversations.

So there you have it. This is the new chasing blog. I'm not going to promise timely updates or even interesting content. But, if you're interested in my chasing endeavors, you probably won't be disappointed.