Chasing with Extreme Tornado Tours (ETT) was a long awaited trip for me. I was originally scheduled to go with ETT in 2020 but could not go because of Covid. It was not until this year (2023) I could finally go – after the longest hiatus I have had in storm chasing since 2009-2013. For the first time since 2013 I also went in early May but unfortunately, just as in 2013, the weather did not play along very well. I arrived to a so called “Omega Block” which made the chances for severe weather weak. Fortunately, it was not the “Death Ridge” that chasers talked about, we would get some severe weather.
The way it turned out we got three days with no severe weather (albeit some thunderstorms) and three days with severe weather – and only one day with real tornado potential. When the severe weather did arrive, the better portion of it was outside of our reach (Iowa) for this rather short tour.
ETT had two vans running on this Tour #2, and I was with in the van with tour guides Alec Scholten and Trey Greenwood. In comparison with other tours I have been on, this was the youngest tour guides I have had (in their 30:s) but they certainly do not lack experience. Trey have experienced over 220 tornadoes and 6 hurricanes for example, which is exceptional.
As a tour guide you have three main responsibilities in my opinion:
- Getting the tour guests to the best possible storm of the day
- Handling the administrative parts of the tour to make things comfortable and pleasant
- Keep everyone safe
I believe the tour guides (as well as the backend part of ETT) performed really well. I felt safe all the time with no hazardous driving, no watching the phone while driving, and no unsafe behavior in terms of weather. It felt like we were making the correct decisions in terms of forecasting and storm picking. That does not necessarily mean we ended up on the best performing storm every day, or the best position of the storm, but given the options we had on each given moment – I believe the tour guides made good decisions.
In terms of all “secondary” tour guide aspects: being informative, handling hotel procedures, and just taking care of the group I believe they did a good job too. We had a morning weather debriefing of about 5-10 minutes, it was always clear what our objective was, no confusion because of lack of information etc. and every hotel checkin was fast. These things do matter, you don’t notice it when things are running smooth (as it did) but if there is no system around it, it will be a source of frustration.
Nick Drieschman (ETT owner) is mostly the tour guide during ETT tours but could not be the tour guide on our tour. He did come out with us on one of the days and although I hadn’t really thought about missing it before, he took leadership in the field in terms of thoroughly explaining what was happening and why. I really enjoyed this but it did surface the fact that the other tour guides hadn’t really done been as informative and clear in the field.
I always want to add a note about the chase vehicles. ETT uses the same Ford E-series vans as every other large tour company. And just as the rest of them, they are not bad, but not great either. No head rests makes it difficult to rest/sleep in the van, the window positions make the visibility (especially forward) quite limited etc. It is what it is though. A good thing was that the front window was not crowded with cameras (as can be the case) and they had a fold-down computer screen so we could see the radar image while chasing.
Running a tour when the weather is not playing along is difficult. The tour guests have paid a lot of money to fulfill dreams of experiencing extreme weather and although most tour guests are well aware of the risk, it could potentially be a source of negativity in a tour group. I think ETT and the tour guides did a great job at finding the storms at hand, and also explaining the reasoning about why we could not access other storms. Given the circumstances, I felt well catered for and felt like I was in good hands.
So, despite the lack of great weather, I feel very confident in recommending ETT.