Monday, April 10, 2006

virtual chasing

i mentioned in my last post (however inelegantly) that if you are planning on going storm chasing in the future, that you start off now by chasing virtually.

what do i mean by that?

well, go on a thought experiment storm chase.

okay, that's a big idea for so few words. how do you go about doing that?

i'm glad you asked. let me explain.

storm chasing (real storm chasing, that is) is a combination of meteorological skill, travel planning, navigation, and more than a little bit of luck. so to chase virtually you need to try mixing together all of those things; unfortunately, sometimes they combine to create an unfortunate goulash.

when i wake up for a virtual chase (well for any chase, really), i take my time doing the morning analyses. i print out the upper and surface charts and analyze them carefully, noting any features that might be a positive or a negative for storms that day. i look particularly carefully at the surface map, as that often has more of a bearing on how things develop than the other charts.

then i decide where i would go. i give myself until, say, 10 o'clock to decide what my original destination is, and live with it. (when you're for-real storm chasing, this is one of the most important decisions you will make; living with it is a good way to learn very quickly.)

at this point i'll usually do some other stuff--work on weather central (although not recently, he said with more than a touch of shame), do some reading, whatever. because during this virtual time all you'd be doing is driving.

now, during this "drive" i'll allow myself the occasional look at real data--this would be analagous to having nowcasting support or simply stopping in a library to get the current conditions. (how long the "drive" is is determined by where i "stayed overnight".) (i can tell this post might get unwieldy with the quotes, but bear with me.)

once i get to my "destination", i allow myself to dig deeply again into any data available on the internet. nowadays, thankfully, it's a lot more plentiful than it was even 3 years ago. and a lot of the credit must go to the college of dupage for their amazing site--one that is accessed, i've been told, by numerous people, including big names from the united states. i can then decide where to "go" from there or not, based on what i've learned.

the tough, un-virtual-able part of it (i know it's not a word, but you know what i mean!) is when in storm intercept mode--you can't see what a storm looks like visually if you're not really there. and that's where virtual chasing breaks away from the real thing. but in its stead i look at copious amounts of radar data, and try to correlate it all with pictures i'll inevitably see online of this storm or that storm. after a while, you build up a catalogue of "this on radar looks like this in reality". i mean, it's not perfect, but it works not too badly.

virtual chasing as i've described here is a simple process--although it involves my favourite 3 words--analysis, diagnosis, and prognosis; as well, it involves a 4th word that i don't use often enough: reanalysis. but hey, like i've been saying for some time now, it's those three things that make our money as meteorologists.

so i forecast, and i "drive", and i "wait", and i "go". once storms go, i "see" what they "look like" based on radar and "navigate" around them using maps and storm speed (remember, if they're travelling quickly, your chances of catching something good are greatly diminshed), and at the end of it all i look at what went right and what went wrong. some days i miss things completely. and some days, like the hill city, kansas day, i call my target pretty much exactly where the storms go. lucky? yes. but really, there's some skill involved, too.

at least, that's what i like to tell myself. ;)


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