Tornado Titans Want to Teach You About Storms

It’s the end of May, tornado season is at its peak on the Southern Plains, but Chris Sanner is already mentally compiling his off-season “To Do” list.  A bit like “summer vacation,” the off-season gives storm chasers much-needed time to rest, sort through the backlog of the past few month’s storm chase video, and edit the hundreds of photographs they’ve taken over the course of the storm season. 

What “ends” a chase season is subjective.  Some storm chasers choose to shift from the Southern Plains to the Northern Plains and Midwest at the beginning of June, as the severe weather threat pushes North.  Sanner rarely chases outside of the area he calls home, so once the summer heat moves into Oklahoma–decreasing the severe weather probability for his area to a minimum–he has the freedom to begin work on projects he’s shelved for the last few months.

For instance, Sanner has a backyard mole problem he needs to tackle, and he and his wife are excited to start as Youth Ministers at a congregation in nearby Yukon, OK.  One of the biggest projects Chris will be working on this summer, is creating more content for “Titan U.”

Though they’d been chasing storms since the age of sixteen, neither Sanner nor Brandon Goforth chose to study meteorology in college.  The extensive knowledge they posess today was gained of their own accord, through multiple sources and a bit of trial-and-error.  A spike in the popularity of storm chasing led Sanner to recognize the need for an interactive learning experience to help educate the newest crop of storm chasers.  

When the men launched Tornado Titans in 2009, a conscious effort was made to move in a different direction from most storm chasing websites; the majority of which are presented more like online portfolios, rather than informational tools.

“We started this team with the idea of doing something big.  We wanted to do something that was definitely unique,” Sanner explained in a 2011 interview.

As the Tornado Titans web presence grew, the team developed a mission statement which is briefly summarized in three words, “Educate.  Inform.  Share.”  

Chris Sanner monitors his exposure while shooting timelapse video of a storm near Clarendon, TX.  The footage was later incorporated into a Titan U lesson, embedded at the end of this article.

“I wanted to be, to these newer chasers, what so many [other chasers] were to me when I was starting out,” Sanner explained.  “So I figured I’d take that concept––helping newer chasers––and do it [using] video.”

Video was what first put Tornado Titans on the proverbial map––even giving them their name.  The team’s moniker was initially just a fun alliteration used as the title for their webseries, which debuted in 2010.

Titan U material began to hit the internet after the 2011 tornado season, and was initially geared solely toward those interested in pursuing storm chasing as a hobby.  Lessons ranged from the basics of thunderstorm development, up to advanced forecasting tools.  The expertise of the entire Tornado Titans team (in addition to Sanner & Goforth, includes Brandon Sullivan, Eugene Thieszen, Josh Ward and Brett Wright) proved invaluable to the project; the extra insight ensuring that Titan U lessons were as comprehensive as possible.  Despite all of the hard work put into content creation, Titan U was (and still is) offered to the public free of charge.

Back to Basics

On paper, the 2013 tornado season looked quiet; the annual count of tornadoes in the United States fell below average.  In fact, based on that number alone, the season was one of the quietest in two decades.  Though the season appears docile in regards to averages, 2013 was a devastating nightmare for Central Oklahoma.  Between May 19 and May 31, 2013, the Oklahoma City Metro was struck by seven separate tornadoes––two of which were considered violent (one EF-4 and one EF-5).  And while Oklahoma City is considered to be the “heart of Tornado Alley,” many residents were ill-prepared for the amount of destruction that occurred.

The Titans watched helplessly as Mother Nature dealt their home a heavy hand–chase after chase beginning and ending not far from their own backyards.  The aftermath revealed the need for better storm education for the Metro, and the Titans answered by developing a “Severe Weather Preparedness” module for Titan U.

A quick glance at the weather app on your smartphone will not prepare you for the possibility of violent, long-track tornadoes… yes, weather like that can be predicted in advance.  The Titan U learning block urges those living within Tornado Alley to pay special attention to multiple sources of weather forecasting (recommending you have at least one primary and one secondary source), and to check back multiple times a day to note any changes.   Unlike the aforementioned content, Titan U’s “SWP” module does not require any prior interest or knowledge of severe weather.  It is designed as a safety resource to keep the general public informed of severe weather hazards, so another May 2013 never occurs.

A dashboard-mounted camera is another source used on chases by the Titans to capture nature’s fury.

Future Plans

The official Beta version of Titan U was launched in 2015, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

“Now, more than ever,” a statement on the web portal reads, “it is time to start getting this content out there and in the hands of all of you.”

Now in the off-season, Sanner has already created new content for the educational venture using footage he and Goforth shot during my chases with the team.  The video embedded below, “What is the dryline?” features footage of the Clarendon, TX LP Supercell from May 24, 2016.

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On the Plains, especially in the Southern Plains, our storm seasons begin and end with a dryline as the focus for storm development. But what is the dryline? In the most simplest terms, the dryline is a surface boundary where warm, moist air to the east meets hot and dry air to the west. Here, these two air masses converge along the dryline causing lift, where storms can typically form. The dryline typically behaves by moving or mixing east during the day and retreating westward at night. Forecasting for the potential of severe storm development along a dryline involves taking several factors into account: How strong is the cap today? How much upper level lift (or subsidence) is there? How strong is the dryline convergence today? Many days, a sharp dryline will be in place but one (or all) of these things will act against storm development and no storms form. The dryline and how it behaves typically signifies how significant of a storm season we see on the Plains. A strong dryline mixed with plentiful jet stream energy aloft typically means an active season — while a more diffuse and weaker dryline alongside weaker jet stream energy will typically signify a quieter year. #storm #weather #sky #nature #instaweather #instanature #natureza #instaweatherpro #stormchasing #thunderstorm #stormysky #stormy #skylovers #igsky #video #atmosphere #science #badweather #stormyweather #naturelovers #instanature #greatplains #stormchasers #tornadoalley #thunderstorm #tornado #lightning

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Much like its parent group, Titan U is “ever evolving” and has a three-tiered mission statement: “For storm spotters to improve how we discern storm structure and behavior, for storm chasers to improve our craft, and for the public to hopefully begin to make wiser decisions around storms.”

Anyone interested should visit the Titan U landing on the Tornado Titans website and look around.  The material is incredibly informative, and written for an audience to understand.

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