2018 in retrospect and a look ahead to 2019

As the 2018 chase season ends, many chasers are saying “good riddance.” A very unsatisfying year for most, 2018 will be near the lowest total tornado count on record for the United States, with no violent tornadoes (a real anomaly), and the southern Plains in particular had a bad year. 2018 was good to me, with three great chase days (May 1st, May 14th, June 26th) and Kansas overall was better in 2018 than in 2017. However, that was not the case for most. 2018 had some fantastic tornadoes (Laramie WY June 6th, Camp Crook SD June 28th, Douglas WY July 28th) but few chasers saw the best ones. The High Plains of WY/MT/SD, along with Iowa, had a banner year, but elsewhere 2018 will not be missed. In my “look ahead to 2018 post” I think I did a fairly good job of diagnosing the possibility of another subpar season, and it seems 2002 and 2014 were fairly decent analogs to 2018. What does 2019 have in store?

It’s going to be tough to be worse than 2017-18 for chasing. Perhaps the worst two year stretch since 2001-02, chasers have been pretty downtrodden lately. I do have good news for everyone: I expect 2019 to be better than 2018. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look at analogs and ENSO and the like.

We are in the midst of a weak-moderate “Modoki” El Nino event with a slightly negative PDO. El Nino is predicted to remain steady-state until the spring when it should wane. the PDO may start to go positive again as we enter 2019. I saw an interesting graphic (which I can’t seem to find now) a few months ago showing every year since 2000 and their related ENSO strength. Most of the years in the weak-moderate Nino category were good chase seasons. Taking a look at ENSO, overall SST anomalies and other factors led me to pick some analogs for 2019.

My top 5 analogs for 2019 are 1987, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2015. This is pretty good news for chasers, as the only subpar year in that group is 1987, and even 1987 may be an improvement over 2018. 2005 and 2015 were OK-to-good, and 1995 and 2003 were very good years.

1995 and 2003 were both very good years with some high-end events. May 1995 was a very active month, with much of the country getting in on the action. The beginning of June was a landmark period in the Texas Panhandle, with multiple days of significant activity. 2003 was slow until mid-April, but a couple of decent days in OK started off the chase season. The first ten days in May were incredibly active, with an astonishing 401 tornadoes recorded from April 30th to May 11th. There was at least one F3+ tornado on May 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. May 15th featured a big day across the TX/OK panhandles into SW KS. Late June was another big sequence, with South Dakota having a huge day on the 23rd. I would be more than happy if 2019 is similar to 1995 or 2003.

2005 and 2015 were decent years with some positives and negatives. 2005 had a nice event in late April and again in mid May, but early June was quite active with multiple memorable chase days. 2015 had many good chase days from early April through June, but more than once days failed to reach their high ceilings, leaving a bad taste in chasers’ mouths. Still, spring and summer 2015 was pretty good, and multiple big days in November and December made 2015 a pretty decent year.

1987 was the worst of the five analogs, and it was quite bad. The only memorable stretch was in late May in Texas. We really need to hope 2019 isn’t like 1987.

So how do I see 2019 playing out? A fairly slow start to tornado season seems plausible, with significant tornado activity waiting until mid-late March possible. April might not be too active, but May should be a big month (especially relative to 2018). June will also be active in my opinion. Overall, there is a pretty good shot at a nice chase year.