What Happens on Storm Chase Tours
Storm chase tours are an ideal way for those with a deep interest in severe weather to go storm chasing. As a result, an experienced guide service provides all the forecasting and strategy planning of the storm chase. This allows the customers to focus entirely on learning and enjoying the chase in a hassle-free environment. The best company to chase storms with is StormTours.com, they have provided storm chasing tours since 1999.
Customers vary from intrigued first-time chasers looking for something a bit different, to self-professed storm chasing “addicts”. And it is very easy to become addicted to a good storm chase. The day typically begins with a group meeting in the hotel’s lobby. The tour guides go over a rough plan of the day, including the general target area. This target area may be as far as 500-miles away.
Once the meeting concludes, the storm chase begins. If there is time, the group may go to a local restaurant for breakfast. The distance to the target area will determine every other detail about the chase day. If the target area is close by, the group may spend time visiting another local attraction until severe storms begin. If the target area is far, the group will spend most of the day en-route to the target area. Storms generally start in the late afternoon and a storm chase extends into the evening hours.
Comfortable and Equipped Storm Chase Vans
This, of course, means the storm chase tours’ group will spend a lot of time in the vans. It’s therefore important that the vans are comfortable. The vans at Storm Tours only seat six passengers each and they’re full-size vans. This means you have a lot of room. In fact, the entire center aisle is a walkway. They are by far the most comfortable storm chase vans in the industry. But, the benefit of these vans doesn’t end with just comfort.
The storm chase team has completely customized these vans for the demands of a storm chase. Everything from the axels under the van to the onboard electronics has been completely customized and built for this task specifically. There is a workstation computer with a touchscreen monitor, radio equipment and much more. For the customers, the back has two LCD screens that can display what the van’s primary computer is showing. As a result, you’ll always know the storm chase tours’ location and what the radar looks like.
Cutting to the Storm Chase
A storm chase is often a complicated situation. Rarely does a day present itself where the target is extremely clear. Often there are two or more possible target areas. One of them may be “the one,” or sometimes severe storms and tornadoes will happen in all of them. Being able to determine which has the best chances is something even the best storm chasers sometimes struggle with. Knowledge and experience are key to successfully intercepting a severe storm and being able to do so safely.
Throughout the day, the storm chase tour will stop and reevaluate the weather to ensure they’re on the right track. This is because the weather is a fluid environment and the target area can shift. A good storm chaser is one who is never afraid to admit their forecast was wrong and can make corrections. Eventually, with modifications to the forecast, the storm chase tour will arrive in the general target area with time to spare.
The goal at this point is to pay close attention to visual clues in order to narrow down the general target area to the target storm. Typically, this including monitoring a boundary such as the dryline where severe storms often initiate. It is not uncommon for such a boundary to produce several storms, often 50 to 100-miles apart. Not every supercell thunderstorm produces tornadoes, so the trick is to pick the storm with the best chances.
Once the storm chase tour has its target storm is when the actual storm chase starts. The tour leader must now plan a safe and effective interception strategy. The goal is to not only see a storm or tornadoes but to be in the best position to obtain good photos. A lot of careful and quick planning has to come into play in order to achieve this. The quality of the road network and the roads themselves are a major factor in this planning.
Some areas of Tornado Alley have high quality paved roads to work with. However, most of Tornado Alley has gravel rural roads. Not all gravel roads are equal however, some are actually rather high quality. Others, however, turn into mud traps very quickly. Experienced storm chasers are often able to judge these roads quite well. A storm chase tour should have good GPS tracking software to help the group navigate these obstacles effectively.
Storm Interception Strategy
A storm chase tour will generally try to stay ahead of the storm. Yes, that means the storm is traveling in the direction of the group. However, this also allows the tour to stay with the storm longer. Once a storm chaser is behind the storm, it is very easy for a storm to “get away”. A storm travels over open land, while storm chasers have to travel with roads. Aside from staying with the storm, being ahead of the storm often gives the best views.
As supercell matures, the updraft base (which is the business end of the storm) can become occluded with rain. This often starts on the west side of an easterly traveling storm. As a result, if you’re on the west side of the storm then all you will see is rain. On the east side, however, there is usually a rain-free base. It is this base that you will want to monitor.
Eventually, the entire base may become wrapped in rain. When this happens, the only way to see under the base is from an area of the storm that storm chasers call the “notch”. This area exists between the base and the precipitation core of the storm. Generally, it’s very close to where a tornado would exist, if one does. And, its also directly in the path of a tornado.
When a storm is ongoing, expect to drive ahead of it by several miles and then stopping. At these stops, passengers get out of the vans to view the storm. This is the best time to get photographs and videos. The storm chase tour guides usually go over these rules during their pre-tour orientation. In general, be courteous to your fellow tour guests and don’t walk in front of their cameras. You spent a long day to get to this point and only have a few moments to get the best photos you can. As the storm approaches, the storm chase tour guides will make the decision to move forward again.
This getting in front of the storm and stopping for photos routine can last throughout the entire evening. It really depends entirely on the situation. If the storm is moving slow enough to work with and how good the roads are is everything. However, there are times when the focus of severe weather will shift from your target storm to a new storm entirely. If this happens, the storm chase tour guides will often attempt to reroute the tour group to the new storm. Once at that stop, it’s the same thing, get in front of the storm and stop for photos.
How late the group stays out depends on the storms and the group itself. If the storm is cooperative, the decision is usually based on a group vote. This may be different from other tours, but at StormTours.com, it’s a group vote. And, nine out of ten times, the storm chase tours’ group will vote to continue with the storm. However, the method of storm chase does change after dark for safety reasons. It is much more difficult to chase what you can’t easily see.
Most of the time, it’s after dark when the greatest lightning photography opportunities exist. If a storm has a lot of lightning in it, then a camera on a tripod fired by remotely trigger it for extended exposure yields the best results. The general idea is to adjudge the f-stop and to allow the least amount of light into the sensor. The shutter is then opened until lightning exposes the photo. This method is almost a 100 percent guarantee of successfully capturing lightning. The storm chase tour guides are experienced photographers who also help customers with their cameras to get the right settings.
How to Pick the Right Storm Chase Tour.
That more or less details how a storm chase day is conducted, but how do you pick the right tour? It’s not so much a matter of picking a tour that will or won’t observe chasable storms, but what areas the storms will happen. In the earlier part of the spring season, storms are common in the Southern and Central Plains. Common states to chase in are Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
As the season progresses, the storms generally move to the High Plains. June storm chase tours start and end from Denver due to its easy interstate access to the High Plains. The most common states to chase storms in will be Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Nebraska. It’s even possible to chase storms in Montana and the Dakotas.
One of the hardest decisions to make is how long to stay out chasing. This is usually, of course, dependent on work and vacation schedules. StormTours.com offers 6-day tours that fit nicely with most work schedules. For those who can do it, they also offer a 10-day tour during the peak of the season and it is one of their most requested tours. The peak of the season when tornado activity is usually at its highest is from mid-May to Memorial Day near the start of June. The general rule-of-thumb is the longer you can stay out and chase, the better chances you have of seeing the most storms.
Getting to the Base City
Storm Tours also has an easy reservation process that is entirely online. Simply pick the week you wish to storm chase from their storm chasing tour schedule and fill out the reservation form. Once the deposit is paid, your spot on the upcoming tour is guaranteed. The remaining balance is due 30-days before the start of the tour and all you have to do is book your flights to the base city.
When you land in either Oklahoma City or Denver, the procedure is to call the hotel provided to you by the storm chase tour company. The hotel will send their shuttle to pick you up at the airport terminal and bring you to the hotel. Once at the hotel you have some time to relax. The tour will begin on the following day, immediately after the mandatory 10 a.m. orientation meeting. The first evening is yours to relax and get ready for the week of storm chasing.
If you have any questions, simply contact the company using the online form on their website or by calling the storm chase tours office at 918-WX-4CAST (994-2278). If you think you’re ready to embark on one of the best adventures you’ll ever take, then go to StormTours.com and book your spot!