Storm Chasing in New England: My Perspective

No doubt you’ve seen these crazy people on TV attempting to intercept supercell thunderstorms in hope that a tornado will be produced: The most cherished prize of most storm chasers. The great plains of the United States provides generally a flat grid of road networks, easy to navigate. And with such an advantage with view, it’s pretty easy to see these majestic storms from miles away.

Well, what about in New England? What do we have? . . . Trees, traffic, hills, horrible road networks that twist and turn and could lead you to who knows where! I’ve heard a few people in these parts, weather enthusiasts like you and me, still refer to it as storm chasing. In my opinion it’s really not because chasing implies you’re actually able to CHASE the storm. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but chasing storms in New England with the given factors, I’ve noted is pretty much next to. Personally, I dub it as “Storm Intercepting” where one gets into the path of a storm, sits, and waits. Granted when we get our storms, they tend to haul butt due to a strong low and mid-level jets at the 850mb and 500mb respectively. We’re talking 50-70mph storm motions! So once these suckers by-pass your location. . . it’s pretty difficult to catch them again.

There’s only one instance when I’ve been able to call it storm chasing in New England, and that was back on June 5th, 2010 when a supercell moved in from New York, briefly followed the Connecticut/Massachusetts state boarder, then drifted east-southeast along I-84.

See video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87G-rrVR2-U

After about 50 miles on back roads through Litchfield and Hartford counties, I hopped onto I-84 and followed the storm into Willimantic, CT where it fizzled out. Was it worth it? Sure it was! I’ll take any storm action I can get up here.

The dangers involved are pretty high too. Consider the number of people, the traffic, and the trees. I’m always worried about trees and power lines when I’m out doin’ my thing. Our storms are notorious for down bursts and straight-line winds. I’ve had my share of hairy situations when in the core, and large tree branches start breaking and landing on power lines.

See video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSnPLRB_kVE

Also, pertaining to traffic, you never know how people are going to react. Most people don’t want to be caught in situations such as severe thunderstorms. They get scared, or nervous and that’s understandable. When doing storm work in New England, you need to have a high guard on for other people around you. It’s pretty nerve-wracking!

I started storm intercepting back in 2005 when I got my driver license, but I’ve been filming and photographing storms since around 2000 (when I was about 13 years old). This past spring I was able to finally go out to the Plains and chase for two weeks. It’s amazing out there. The storm structures you see with that flat land and a sun-set back lightning will be well worth the trip, time, effort, and money. You don’t even need to see a tornado to be in awe.

It’s fantastic and extremely addicting. Ironically last year was the time when Springfield, MA had an EF3 tornado barrel through. I was out in Kansas between multiple supercells trying to produce tornadoes. . . but mostly just beating on our Jeep with golfball-baseball size hail. No tornadoes, but amazing structure. I was upset when I learned about the tornado in Springfield. Also, a tornado in Woodbury (even closer to me, and actually on a road which I mow a lawn for!) about a week after.

I guess my off-point to this topic was to talk about what it’s like to purposely get into severe weather in New England, and bits on how it’s different from storm chasing, and what one can do out on the plains. There’s literally nothing I enjoy more. And maybe you do have to be crazy… eccentric, to do this. But I feel that we’re all a little crazy inside!

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