Choosing a Storm Chase Target: Warm Fronts

When it comes to warm fronts there’s a real love/hate relationship storm chasers possess with them.

On one hand, some incredible cyclic tornado machines have occurred on them — on the other they can be quite fickle when it comes to getting the right ingredients to come together.

Let’s learn about them!

Why Warm Fronts Work

At their best, warm fronts will create an incredible west-east region of enhanced vorticity and low LCLs. This is an ideal tornado environment with tons of potential.

You will want to target these when it looks likely storms will form and stay relatively isolated. This is especially true when storm motion roughly lines up parallel to a fronts orientation.

Avoid When

If capping is strong or a warm front is moving north, you definitely want to avoid targeting them.

Choosing a Storm Chase Target: Triple Points

When it comes to storm chasing, dry lines may be the bread and butter of targeting — but triple points are oftentimes the bullseye that demands attention.

This region is also often an overlooked target for new storm chasers. Don’t ignore it.

The triple point is usually where the dryline meets a warm front or stationary front — and also where the center of low pressure resides. All of these ingredients create a vorticity rich zone which favors tornado formation.

When Triple Points Work

A strong surface low pressure with a strong moisture gradient on the dryline and a somewhat diffuse warm front is the perfect combination for triple point tornadoes.

In fact, there are some days that the target becomes painfully obvious when all of these factors come into play.

Another time when you might target this region is when capping is stronger. Triple points tend to see the cap broken more often than other targets.

When to avoid

If there isn’t much capping and a lot of forcing, avoid triple points.

Usually in this scenario there will be a messy/complicated and perhaps impossible chase situation develop. At the very least, storms will display almost zero photogenic characteristics.

Choosing a Storm Chase Target: Ingredients to look for

Making a successful storm chase forecast and getting the best storm chasing targeting involves a lot of work.

Severe storms need lift, ample wind shear and ample instability to sustain themselves.

Hence, a lot of the work in forecasting storms hinges on these three ingredients.

These main ingredients make up the fundamental elements you always forecast for severe storms.

Wind Shear

Wind shear is one of the main ingredients to look for storm organization.

See More: What is Wind Shear?

Wind shear is the change of direction or speed of winds with height in the atmosphere. We look for higher shear environments for the potential for supercells to form.

Instability

Instability is, in short, storm juice.

See More: What is instability?

We measure instability commonly with an ingredient called CAPE. Ideally, we look for CAPE values of over 1000 j/kg for the most favorable severe storm environments. But, the higher the better when it comes to CAPE.

Lift

Lift is an important ingredient for storm formation. No lift, no storms. Thus, this one is a pretty overlooked but essential storm ingredient.

See More: The Basics of Atmospheric Lift

When it comes to lift we look for it on two levels. The first is at the surface with surface boundaries. You’ll learn about these in the other videos in this series. The other is via upper air lift.

The Basics of a Storm Chase Forecast

So with those three basic ingredients in mind, here’s a bit of a more in-depth discussion via video of what to look for with each ingredient.

In this video we discuss wind shear, CAPE/Instability, and what surface boundaries you can look for while planning out a storm chase target.

Choosing a Storm Chase Target: Drylines

When it comes to a bread and butter surface boundary for storm chasers, it is hard to argue with the dryline being anything but that.

Present each spring where the dry and hot airmass of the desert SW interfaces with the warm and moist airmass of the Gulf of Mexico, drylines are what make a storm chaser’s season many years in tornado alley.

Why Target Drylines

Drylines are potentially one of the best targets for a storm chaser. We are quite high on them as most of the big historical plains outbreak days were also dryline days.

You should target these boundaries especially when forcing and capping are both moderate. This results in impressive, isolated storms which are incredible for photography.

Avoid When…

If capping is strong along the dryline, find a new target. Sometimes boom or bust days are fun. But, there are other days when it is better to just find a better target.

Also if the instability axis is super narrow, it’s a good bet storms will struggle.

Also, it goes without saying, but sometimes there are just better targets for the day to pursue.

Choosing a Storm Chase Target: Boundaries

Surface boundaries are the basic storm chase target.

In this video, we discuss the different boundaries you can target for storms while out chasing.

There are numerous boundary types to keep in mind from dry lines to warm fronts to cold fronts to outflow boundaries and more.

We’ll talk about the different surface boundaries and what they mean in this video. We dive into each deeper and how to target more effectively for them in other videos!

Why Surface Boundaries?

Surface based storms need lift at the surface to form. Thus, you need a boundary based at the surface to generate some of the initial lift to create storm clouds.

However, the presence of a surface boundary is not a guarantee storms will form. Typically storms will also need lift in the mid and upper atmosphere to form and sustain themselves.

But, nine times out of ten you will target surface boundaries for storm formation. In fact, it is quite rare that you are not targeting some sort of a boundary on a storm chase day.

Be sure to check out each individual lesson to learn more about each type of boundary you can target.