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.


  1. I enjoy reading the narratives of your chases, and your overall perspectives on chasing, Shane. Thanks for posting this. I'm glad 2013 finally served up a batch of good opportunities, and that you were in a position to forecast and witness those tornadoes...especially Rozel!

    Hoping you see and record some good ones in 2014.

    Jeremy Perez

  2. Jeremy,

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate you reading this blog. Hopefully I can keep it interesting LOL.