Friday, May 21, 2010

A note on chaser convergence

Chaser convergence 5/19/10 (Source: J.R. Hehnly via Patrick Marsh)

Today has been a PR nightmare for VORTEX2. A video, which I will not link here, surfaced of the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) and its follow vehicles/Discovery Channel presumably passing on a blind hill during Wednesday's massive chaser convergence. This coincided with a somewhat heated beginning to the morning weather briefing, at which Josh Wurman expressed all our frustration with the chaser convergence (see picture). He also made a public statement through The Weather Channel, which in addition to the video has people across the chasing community/internet all in a flurry. Here are my thoughts on Wednesday's chase, the result, and the ongoing aftermath:

1. As you can tell from the photographs, it was physically impossible for VORTEX2 to complete its mission on Wednesday. Our mission necessitates that we be ahead of the storm, while the mission of most of the other chasers is to remain almost parallel to (or on Wednesday, underneath) the mesocyclone. Once 33 turned into a parking lot, mobile mesonet vehicles were unable to complete transects in crucial portions of the storm, the mobile radars were unable to maintain leapfrogging dual-Doppler lobes, and pod deployment teams (me) could not get ahead of the rain-wrapped tornado that was on the ground to deploy our instruments.

2. Amateur and "professional" (whatever that means in this instance) chasers have just as much right to be on the roads as VORTEX2 does. It is a free country, and God bless America you can go pretty much wherever you darn well please. That being said...please let us through. This is not a selfish request. We have one overarching goal: to improve the science of tornado forecasting/understanding. By better understanding tornadic supercells and other storms we can increase forecast times and hopefully save lives. The "save lives" creed might sound trite and overused, but it's the reason we are out here. With literally hundreds of vehicles on the road, things can get dangerous really quickly for all of us, and the "save lives" issue becomes much more immediate. If you are in chase mode, please be the same safe and courteous driver I know you normally are.

3. Sean Casey and the TIV have worked closely with Josh Wurman and CSWR over the years, but the TIV and its follow vehicles are not affiliated with VORTEX2 in any way, shape, or form. The CSWR decals on their vehicles that everyone has pointed out in the chaser video have ended up there from years past while on "Storm Chasers," and do not belong there for this project.

4. Josh Wurman's comments to The Weather Channel probably come off strong to a lot of people and may even infuriate some chasers...but that's just Josh. I think a lot of the backlash at Josh comes from the belief that he's being hypocritical after the TIV video surfaced, but let me reiterate: the TIV is not part of VORTEX2.

I really want to stress that I am not saying the 1147 other chasers on Wednesday's storm had no right to be there: free country, etc. I am pleading, however, for cooperation from the chasing community. I've seen threats to intentionally sabotage the V2 mission in internet comments from chasers, and I shudder to think of the implications those threats have. In addition to making all but last year's Goshen County, WY deployment failures, intentional sabotage of the V2 mission sends the message of "I care more that I am offended at a request to pull over for 30 seconds than I do about the fact that this project is designed to improve life not only for myself and my family, but for all those living with the threat of severe weather." That attitude is frightening to me.


On a happier note, I want to thank those chasers that were truly helpful to our mission on Wednesday. One in particular stopped our probes from going down a dirt road with a bridge out at the end as precipitation made its way towards us. Another saw our probe trying to turn left onto 33 and stopped traffic to let us through. The V2 teams are definitely not the best thing since sliced bread, but it's really uplifting to see support in the field. Thank you to everyone that supports our mission!


  1. I feel like everyone wants to be the next Reed Timmer, which is leading to the me-first attitude. Then again, I'm not out there, so you'd know better than me what the prevailing attitudes are.

    Hope you don't run into these problems again. :(

  2. Very well said!! I'm sorry y'all are having a difficult time with some of those chasers. Those who care will appreciate your comments, and those who only care about what they want will not. :( Be careful!!

  3. Not everyone out there was a "chaser". Some were spotters. I was one. I was third car behind the TIV as well as being second behind the DOW...yes, they were working illegally on those roads. Yes, they were inconsiderate, even going so far as to leave a line of vehicles stuck on a side road as the heaviest downpours hit. Everyone was going the same place, and this "research mission" is NOT more important than the spotters who are out there reporting to the NWS (a government agency)to warn those who are in danger immediately. What is this, sacrifice the few to save the many?

    Yes, the convergance was a circus, but who put the chase hobby out on TV for all to see?? Who popularized it?? Sean and Josh! Reed and Joel! Y'all are to blame for this influx of people, because you showed them that it wasn't as dangerous or scary as they thought it was. You all created the monster...don't cry now because of your fans wanting to be out there with you!

  4. Being that V2 is a multi-million dollar endeavor, you would think something as simple and foreseeable as chaser convergence, which has been documented as a problem since the late 90's, would have been planned for.

  5. Terra Seright nailed it.

  6. Hi Terra. We actually are in constant contact with the NWS; you may notice storm reports listed from "VORTEX2 spotters." In fact, I have an NWS employee in my vehicle who remains in constant contact with the people issuing warnings. All lives are precious, and the immediate warnings are just as essential to our mission.

    In response to your other comment, this project consists of over 100 scientists, not only Josh Wurman, so I and almost everyone else on the project has had nothing to do with the sensationalism of television chasing. I also cannot speak about Josh's intentions in starting the show, nor do I think that matters.

  7. Hi Tanner, unfortunately millions of dollars do nothing for control over traffic, road networks, storm location, storm motion, or other free-willed people.

  8. You tell 'em! Good luck out there, and keep up the good work! We need more selfless people like you out there :)

  9. I am sorry to see these others impeding the work of my tax dollars that are invested in V2. Chasers and gawkers will be out there long after V2 is finished so let V2 through. Courtesy people, courtesy!

    I'll be real sorry if I live to read about a "storm-related death" because someone trying to escape a storm was hit head-on and killed because someone else wanted to be an idiot and drive recklessly into it. That will be the real tragedy.


  10. Met, what I'm saying is this was extremely foreseeable. Complaining about it is like writing a 2 million dollar grant proposal to observe an eclipse in Times Square, and then saying "sorry about the wasted money, there was no space to set up" when it turns out to be packed. There's no excuse for people impeding the progress of V2, but a greater amount of the blame should be placed upon those who planned it - note that I'm not saying those working on it. V2 is simply plagued with problems that should have been accounted for prior to its commencement; that's not the hallmark of a good use of grant money.

    Again, the people who are actually working day-to-day on V2 are doing a great job working within the constraints of what they've been given. But I think a solid argument can be made that maybe the money for this project, if split into many individual grants, would have yielded a bit more utility. Frankly, I think this is an opinion privately shared by more than a few V2 participants.

  11. Wow! I knew there were other people out there besides you guys, but dang! That picture is just like, omfa. That's a lot of people. I'd definitely be tucked away in my basement...>.<