BEFORE WE BEGIN

Let’s talk about backups. Do you back up your data?

I do…but not all of it, and not consistently.

Remember that last blog post? Driving out to Las Animas…lone chaser on a great looking storm?

My hard drive crashed. It’s all gone. All of my pictures and video.

That blog post and the linked Flickr pictures and Youtube video are all that remain. I’m lucky to even have that.

The annoying part is that I lost the data trying to fix this very problem. I’ll explain.

Back in July, I was concerned that the hard drive I use for storage was approaching five years old. That’s well out of warranty and old enough to start thinking about potential disk failures. So a few weeks before we moved out of Spider House, I bought a brand new Seagate 4TB replacement drive. The newer, larger drive would solve some swiftly approaching capacity issues too.

I installed the new drive, copied everything over to it, and unplugged the old drive. While I was at it, I did another copy of my data to an external 3TB USB drive.

August 8th rolled around. I went storm chasing. After the chase I copied everything from both cameras to the computer. As usual, once I confirmed everything made it, I reformatted my memory cards to prepare for the next chase.

I did not back up my data afterward.

The NEW drive crashed on August 30th. Totally dead; hardware failure. I couldn’t pull anything off it. I even pulled the drive out of the computer and stuck on a USB 3.0 mount to see if I could make the computer recognize it.

No luck.

I guess I’m sort of glad that my busy schedule didn’t allow for more storm chasing, otherwise more would have been lost. I should’ve been smarter about my backup plan; hell, I work in IT so I know better.

I never bothered to set up a backup plan because for a long time, I didn’t really have anything on the computer that I cared that much about. The occasional manual backup to a flash drive or (later) to the USB drive was fine.

Once I started chasing, all those pictures and video I was generating meant that I cared a lot more.

There’s now a replacement hard drive from Seagate in my computer. It’s all formatted and ready to use.  I haven’t touched it. I’m just watching it suspiciously for awhile.

ALSO BEFORE WE BEGIN, BUT NOT AS IMPORTANT

This post will cover two chase days, probably the last ones of the year for me. One was a short hop through eastern Colorado, and a bust. The other was…well, you can read it and see what you think.

Additionally, Heather wrote a blog post about these chase days too. Check it out!


9/30/2017

12Z SPC Outlook for 9/30/2017

Initial Target: Genoa, CO

Heather wanted to go see fall colors today. I wanted to go storm chasing today.

We went storm chasing. 🙂

We left around 1PM for Limon, watching some storms pop up on radar near Colorado Springs and Pueblo the whole time. 1

We got to Limon and grabbed a quick lunch, then continued east for Burlington. Once we got to Burlington, the storms that had started near Pueblo and had marched northeast across the state became too tempting to ignore. Also, it was really the only game in town. We headed south to intercept the leading edge of the line.

The results weren’t especially great as far as storm photography goes, but we got a pretty sunset and a huge rainbow. Here’s a small album of what I got. Click the pictures for bigger versions.

9-30-2017 Storm Chase | Burlington CO

Lessons Learned

  • “Pueblo is the place to be!” is a sentence I never thought I’d type.
  • Today was a better “fall leaves day” than a storm chase day. Sorry Heather.
  • Leaves are overrated. The correct decision was made. I’m secretly not sorry at all. STORMS.

10/1/2017

12Z SPC Outlook for 10/01/2017. No, that is not a penis.

Target: Enders, NE

Heather wanted to go see fall colors today. I wanted to go storm chasing again today.

We went storm chasing again.2

We headed out a bit earlier today at around 11:30AM, and stopped for a few minutes in Atwood, CO to watch storms pop up behind us near Ft. Morgan. Tempting, but it was early in the day and I didn’t think the environment was primed quite yet. Always good to wait a little while and see; Colorado is wonky like that.

Continuing on, we got to Sterling and grabbed some lunch at Wendy’s, then took Highway 6 to Fleming. We stopped outside of Fleming to take a few photos of a storm approaching from the southwest, out near Otis.

Supercell near Otis, CO

This one had my attention. It was strong, showed signs of rotating on radar, and was moving slowly. Once we hit Haxtun, I decided we’d try for an intercept and hope things were livelier than what I was seeing on radar once we got there. I really wanted to get in position south of the storm, which meant we had to cross the path.

I think that sounds more dangerous than it really was, which is not my intention. The storm wasn’t severe warned and it was moving pretty slowly. The only real concern was large amounts (or size) of hail and poor visibility at that point. We turned south on CO-59.

We timed things well and plopped ourselves right underneath the rain-free base as it came past. However, it was clear that I’d mistimed the timing of the intercept. This thing needed more time and better conditions to really get going.

Underneath the updraft base

So…right place, wrong time. The storm was still strengthening though. We continued south to Yuma, then turned east on Highway 34 towards Wray and a possible second intercept.

I swear if I see another tornado at Wray I’m moving there.

The storm went severe warned as it approached highway 385, well north of Wray. As we entered Wray though I had a suspicion that we wouldn’t be able to get as far north as quickly as we needed to. I was also worried about limited road options to the east without punching through our target again, a bigger concern now.  So after wrestling with the options. I opted to continue east towards Benkelman, Nebraska. My plan was to head north again out of Benkelman and re-intercept around Imperial, Nebraska.

As we headed to Benkelman, I was also eyeing a line of storms on radar near Hoxie, KS. There was no way we could get there in time though, as it was already around 3PM. Still, they looked really organized and apparently a lot of other chasers thought so too.

Reaching Benkelman, we turned north onto NE-61 towards Enders, proceeding with the plan. However  there was this little storm I’d been watching gather strength on radar as we drove. My initial thought was that we’d pass through it and get rained on. But as we got closer, it matured into this.

Growing supercell near Binkelman, NE

We followed the storm , just behind the path of the hail core (we found dime sized pieces), and stopped.

Supercell moving away from Binkelman, NE

Wow. Super photogenic. This storm became our primary focus for the rest of the day. We just sat next to the highway shooting pictures and video.

As it started to slip further away, I thought that we might be able to intercept it again. We ran north towards Enders, then turned east back onto Highway 6 towards Palisade. A slight jog northeast and north onto NE-25 and we were approaching it again, near Hayes Center, Nebraska.

At Hayes Center we took Francis St/Rd 737 east and hoped for good road conditions.

It’s paved! Now It’s dirt….it’s….mud.

We got a little ways out of town and managed to slog up onto a hill. We stopped because it just didn’t seem smart to continue and camped on our muddy hill, with the storms cycling and retreating northeast away from us.

Supercell near Hayes Center, NE

Cloud structure near Hayes Center, NE

We stayed there probably 30 minutes and talked about packing it up. I didn’t want to let it go, but we had no good east/west road options. I tried briefly to head down the muddy road further but road conditions got worse quickly. My poor Hyundai had reached its off-road threshold. It just wasn’t worth getting stuck away from town, and with a four hour drive ahead of us with the next day being a work day, we called it.

The lightning show behind us on the way home was amazing. I wish we’d had more time to set up for it.

Lessons Learned

  • I keep saying it, but I’m not really doing it. I really, REALLY need to work on my understanding of meteorology and surface conditions when I’m out in the field. I tend to pick my targets based off my limited understanding of the various forecasting models and doggedly stick to them. This makes me doubt my decisions when I (sometimes) detect that things have changed.
    • For example, the line of storms in northwest Kansas was the better play today. I didn’t really grasp that at all until another chaser on Facebook mentioned why.
  • Bring actual food on chases!
    • This year I’ve gotten into a habit of eating fast on the road. While that fine occasionally, this weekend was pretty much Poor Life Choices: Food Edition.
    • I mean…c’mon. We had ham sandwiches for Wray last year and we saw a great tornado and ate healthier. Therefore, more ham sandwiches are required for tornadoes.
  • So remember when your girlfriend tried out your camera on that last fall colors trip? Remember when you mentioned that she could adjust the diopter for the viewfinder if she needed to? You don’t?
    • Seriously. I’ve quietly been having huge concerns about my eyesight for the last few weeks because things looked blurry in my camera viewfinder. I was even worried about whether or not I could continue to use my mirrorless camera at all. I thought maybe i just couldn’t focus on a LCD viewfinder anymore. Turns out when you actually fix the diopter, everything is ok again. And now I feel old.
  • I’m still working out the best way to use the GoPro for chases. It’s not the greatest dashcam because of the lens distortion when I shoot wide, so this chase I finally switched it to linear mode and that really helped. My windshield is pitted with tiny hail marks though, making most footage lackluster, so it’s kind of a waste there. The microphone is also on the front of it, which means it doesn’t catch a lot of conversation (not usually important but sometimes it helps jog my memory about chase decisions). I keep filming trips and then tossing away ~90% of the footage because it’s boring. Utilize this thing better!
    • Also, I shot this chase at 2K instead of 4K resolution so that I could get 60 frames per second. Then I went and made timelapses of everything, which rendered the 60fps thing meaningless.
    • Also, my old version of Vegas doesn’t want to render anything in 2K, 60fps.
  • Another GoPro problem keeps popping up, although more of a tripod problem. The combination of the light GoPro and my cheap, light aluminum tripod means that it likes to fall over a lot. It’s done this three times now and I’ve gotten lucky each time because of where it fell. That luck is going to run out soon. I need to get a sturdier tripod if I’m going to keep using it outside, or at least a portable shrub that it can fall into).
    • This issue is also making it so that I have to watch the tripod like a hawk, meaning I’m not focus on composition enough when taking pictures. Trying to split my time between two devices and ending up half-assing both options isn’t acceptable.
  • Remember to put your stuff on the right side of the car when you have a chase partner! I kept having to run to the other side of the car to get my stuff. Also, dump more situational stuff in the trunk and out of the way.
  • Don’t wear your good pair of shoes storm chasing. No idea why I did this.

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