Choosing the best seat in a storm chasing vehicle

view from inside chase vehicle

I have just finished a thorough investigation of all the tour companies on this website (that offers scheduled chase tours) and was positively surprised to realize that every single tour company nowadays have a window seat guarantee! Historically, this has not always been the case and with some tour companies you could risk ending up in the middle seat on some days. If you are stuck in the middle seat it is not only less comfortable but also the place where you see the least and you may risk missing out on brief tornadoes etc. when you don’t have time to stop.

All tour companies I have chased with encourages the tour guests to rotate the seats throughout a tour so no matter which seat you have on a particular day, you are likely to get another the other day. So, which seat should you choose, if you have the chance? As most tour companie have chase vehicles with room for 5 tour guests, this is what I base this blog post on.

There is one seat with the best overall visibility of the storm action and that is the driver’s seat but that is off course out of the question. Actually, the driver has to keep his/her eyes on the road so it is questionable this is the best “viewing place” anyway.

…and the winner is…

Some tour companies offer the front passenger seat to the tour guests but not all. I don’t, however, believe this to be the best tour guest seat in a van – the best seat is the one behind the driver! Let me explain.

Usually, when you are chasing storms you want to be south/southeast of the storm and that is usually where you end up as well. The storms moves east in one way or another which will make you drive east while looking left towards the storm just north of you. During the most active part of the storm chasing the best view will thus be in the seats to the left in the chase vehicle! During chases when the storm motion is fast you hardly have any time to stop at all so the “front seat of the action” is actually in the back seat, behind the driver.

Your second best option

The exception to this rule is, however, when you are driving under the base of the storm or towards a storm where the front seat usually will provide better visibility. Actually, if you are driving under the base a tornado could happen pretty much anywhere so it does not really matter where you are sitting in the car but since you are likely to look upwards, the view through the windshield is preferable as it allows you the best look upwards. Thus, the second best seat is in the front seat. Another benefit of the front seat is that you are close to the tour guide/driver in case you want to ask something.

Other things to consider

Depending on which type of chase vehicle you are chasing with you should also consider the ease of getting out and if you have the ability to roll down your window. If you are sitting behind the driver and can’t roll down the window you may see much but with a lot of dirt on the windows it can reduce the quality of your view and your ability to take good photos.

In a van with six seats the left, back seat is likely to be better than any of the other two right hand side back seats in the van in terms of view while chasing. If the van, however, is difficult to get out of, like if you need to fold the seats to get out – this can be a source of frustration when there is a tornado on the ground and you have a very little time to get out!

The last thing to consider is comfort and space for your stuff, like cameras. If you sit in the back seat, you are more likely to have the center seat to put bags etc providing you with some extra, valuable space.

So, in any given 6-seated chase vehicle this would be my top list of seats, excluding the driver’s seat:

  1. The seat just behind the driver (+B est view most of the time)
  2. Front passenger seat (+ Best view close to the storm, – Difficult to see north)
  3. Left back seat (+ Good view to the north, – Difficult to get out)
  4. Right middle seat (+ Easy to get out with a sliding door)
  5. Right back seat (- Worst seat in the vehicle)

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