Ryan Hoke’s 2019 Storm Chase: Tracking severe weather in the Plains

While not as active as May, the first week of June kept chasers busy

Ryan Hoke reflects on this year's storm chase

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Tornadoes have touched down from Ohio, to Nebraska, to Texas this severe weather season, leaving extensive damage.

The first 30 days of May were very aggressive, with more than 1,000 tornado warnings and 600 tornado reports.

Early June, my storm chase proved to be much less active.

But storm chasers don’t need a severe weather outbreak to stay busy. More isolated severe weather events are easier and safer to chase.

During the first week of June, these more isolated severe storms produced quite the shelf cloud in the Oklahoma Panhandle, a tornado-warned supercell storm in Southeast Colorado, and at least three gustnadoes in Southwest Kansas.

A gustnado spins along the ground near Manter, Kansas on June 3rd, 2019.
A gustnado spins along the ground near Manter, Kansas on June 3rd, 2019.

A gustnado is merely a spinup of storm outflow wind that isn’t in contact with the cloud above, meaning it’s not a tornado. This fast-moving outflow air took storm chasing tour guest Nigel Haines from Worcester, England, by surprise.

“We went to open the door and all of the sudden there was that sudden gust," Haines said. “It blew the hat off from behind, not the peak. You know on a baseball cap you’d expect it to catch the peak."

Nigel Haines, storm chasing tour guest from England
Nigel Haines, storm chasing tour guest from England

For the past 12 years I’ve chased storms with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours, beginning as an apprentice of sorts when I was just 17 years old.

During my chase week in early June, our group traveled 1,924 miles across seven states.

Each year I educate tour guests about the weather during our chase while assisting emergency management and the National Weather Service by sending storm reports.

Ryan Hoke has been storm chasing in the Great Plains since 2008
Ryan Hoke has been storm chasing in the Great Plains since 2008

But Haines is simply in this for the thrill of the chase.

“I want to do it again because I want to see a tornado," he said. "I want to see that with my own eyes and tick it off the list.”

While many on chase tours are looking to fulfill bucket list items, other chasers aim to gather research, like Doppler On Wheels vehicles from Texas Tech and the University of Oklahoma that were near our group at many points during the week.

Some chasers focus on live video like Daniel Shaw from Australia, and have special equipment to protect their windshields from hail damage. The dents all over the rest of Shaw’s vehicle show that he wasn’t totally immune from large-diameter hail, that he describes as being very large.

“I thought they were one to two inch," he said. "They were bigger than two inch. They were wind-driven two point seven five.”

Hail dents on Australian Storm Chaser Daniel Shaw's vehicle
Hail dents on Australian Storm Chaser Daniel Shaw's vehicle

In the midst of such an active and devastating severe weather season out in the Great Plains, it’s important for us now more than ever to be helpful and respectful to those who allow us into their communities to chase storms.

Storm chaser traffic jams were not as big of a problem in early June compared to the crowds during May’s more active weather. Improving radar apps and the increasing popularity of storm chasing mean that problem likely won’t be getting better anytime soon.

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.