Sunday, August 4, 2013

Project Update * Tornado: Icing or Cake?

After about a week of tinkering with and discovering the limitations of Windows Movie Maker, I think I'm pretty much done with pre-production. After several versions, cuts, additions, and tweaking, the video is pretty much set. I always know when I reach that point, because I have every edit memorized by audio cues. I could literally erase the project, reload all the raw clips, and have it re-edited in the time it takes to physically make the changes. Now I'll just sit back and wait to see if we score anything in the Fall, and if we do, I've already got "Plan B" lined out regarding what's going to get chopped to make room. Other than that, the only thing remaining are the credit details, which themselves can be a little taxing.

One thing I've always prided myself on, is the ability to remember the people who have helped me along the way, and to recognize them. Before I even made one DVD, I always knew I would have to have extended credits, because there were so many people I wanted to thank. There still are. Even the most insignificant-seeming action or experience can be, to me, a very memorable moment that I appreciate and don't forget (Steve Miller OK made the 'LOVE' credits for simply stopping alongside the highway one time to see if we needed any help). But with giving credit where it's due comes the task of remembering all those little moments on cue, altogether, which can sometimes be impossible for me. I can randomly remember them all, just going through my day, but sitting down with a pen and a notebook and forcing myself to write down every name like a school roll call, that can be daunting. Not because writing down names is difficult, but because of the fear of unintentionally omitting one or two (like Scott Bennett on the 'Out of the Blue' credits, a huge oversight because he supplied the phone for The Debris Show which added an incredible dynamic to the show).

So this time around I'm doing it differently. In the past I've always waited until production, and made the list up in a matter of minutes, literally while sitting in front of the computer staring at the storyboard. Cramming, basically. I figured this time, why not just start now and add as I remember them naturally. Just before I began writing this post, another name came to mind that I didn't write down yesterday, so it's working LOL. I know the people themselves might not care whether or not their name appears on an obscure DVD credit roll, hell they might not even remember the things that earned them their place. But it means something to me to recognize those who, as far as I'm concerned, helped me out in some way, shape, or form during the period of time the DVD covers. Offering me a ride, stopping to see if I need help, buying us dinner, or just hanging out with us one night after a chase, just enjoying the company. When you live to chase, it all means something to you. And it's all worthy of a "thank you" at the end.

Jumping topics now, I've been seeing the old familiar chaser phrase "who needs a tornado when...." popping up a lot lately. I intentionally left the end of that open because, in my opinion, it doesn't matter why they're saying it, just that they do. One of the most rehashed subjects in the world of chasing is the "tornado" versus "storm" chaser conversation. The overwhelming perception is, the storm chaser is a noble, humble breed who will take great structure over a tornado, and actually prefers it. The reality is, the storm chaser is pretty much like any chaser, except he/she will take structure on a day when they don't see any tornadoes. There are some pure structure storm chasers, who will actually target areas where they expect to see great storm structure, with no regard to tornado potential. But most of those I would consider photographers first. This is not a slight, just an observation and subsequent opinion.

The reason the words "who needs a tornado when..." bother me is because it means the person saying them feels they need to somehow justify that they (1) missed a tornado, (2) didn't see any tornadoes because there were none, or (3) don't hold the tornado as the ultimate prize but merely icing. If it's the first one, who cares? So you missed the tornado but got great structure - congrats!!! If it's the middle reason, again, who cares? You got great structure and didn't miss any tubes because there weren't any - congrats!!! If it's the last one...who cares? So you don't chase for tornadoes. This means your success rate is about 4-5 times higher than most chasers' - congrats!!!

There are chasers out there who, when experiencing one of the first two situations described above, are truly, perfectly happy coming home with just great structure. There are chasers out there whose chasing agenda and philosophy match the third description. And none of these chasers ever utter the words "Who needs a tornado when..." This is just my opinion, but I believe the people who do use that term are doing nothing more than attempting to sooth themselves after coming home with no tornado. If the tornado isn't the single most sought-after, polarizing phenomenon chasers hunt, then why must it be referenced every time a chase ends with anything just shy of it? If all these chasers truly consider the tornado "just icing" (and if you peruse the net and look at enough chaser bios you'll see this is a recurring theme) then why even mention it when it doesn't happen? Because at the end of the day, what every chaser who speaks the term "who needs a tornado when..." really wants, is a tornado.


  1. When I started struggling through the steep storm chase learning curve a few years ago, I remember reading yours and other chasers' thoughts about this topic at Stormtrack and on your blog. I'm glad I had a chance early-on to weigh those perspectives versus what I thought my goals were. Since then, it's come up in my mind at some point each time I've gone out on a serious chase.

    The basic perspective I had started to develop was: as much of a newbie as I was (and still am) what are the odds I'm going to actually witness a tornado on a given trip? If I forecast for tornadoes, I figure the most likely scenario is that I won't observe one. But by shooting for that goal, I'll still have positioned myself for better odds at seeing some other really awesome weather. I guess that thinking is sort of like a pessimistic hedge. If I don't get the prize, I'll still hope to have varying degrees of satisfaction with other sights & sounds & whatever. But the tornado is definitely the main goal. (I've specifically chased a few setups where tornadoes were not on the menu, but I've considered those to be a whole different situation.)

    I count myself _really_ fortunate to have witnessed tornadoes in 2010, 12, and 13. But in 2011, I drove 3700 miles for a 4-day chase, and came away with one ominous, nighttime shelf cloud, and otherwise out of position and on the wrong side of a bunch of other messy severe/tornado-warned storms with nothing to show for it but mangled outflow scud and some lightning. I do count it a valuable learning experience of all the possible things I could screw up for forecasting, strategy, positioning, road choices blah blah blah. But it's also a trip I'd much rather forget. At the time, I tried to console myself with the things I did experience, sights, smells, towns, nonstop lightning, open road, excitement & anticipation, but it was still a big let down. If I'd have at least seen some great structure, I think it would have taken some of the edge off, but nailing down a tornado on a trip where you're forecasting for one really is the main prize.

    Anyway, I'm pretty sure I share a lot of your perspective on this: if tornadoes are a possibility during a chase, they're not just the icing, they're definitely the cake. A really hard to reach cake. ...and if I can't get the cake, I'll still do what I can with the crumbs...yummy, but part of me will still wish I'd have gotten the cake.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful posts, Shane!

  2. Hey Jeremy,

    I like how you put it. You try to console yourself for a lack of tornado with the other forms of severe weather you might have seen....but in the end, nothing really takes the sting away of not seeing a tube. I guess i was so tornado-centric in my chasing philosophy from the start, I just accepted the fact I would fail most of the time. I literally have seen amazing supercells and large hail/high winds on a chase but failed to see a tornado...and came home very disappointed while my partners were reveling. They used to get upset with me because I was "debbie downer" after chases where we saw great storms but no tornadoes. For me, it's worth it to have such a high failure rate for what I'm out there to see. One great tornado can erase a year's worth or more of disappointments, at least in my eyes.

    Thanks again for your interest in this blog, I appreciate it very much.