If there is one article you should read on this website, it is this one. There are a few things you may want to know and consider before you book your storm chasing tour.
The purpose for this article is to give you a good overview of what you should know, research and understand before you invest in a storm chasing tour – an experience of a life-time!
If you are not familiar with what storm chasing is, please start by reading the introduction to storm chasing before you book your tour. Make sure you know what you are booking and what you can expect from a storm chasing tour.
At the moment there are over 100 tours available from over 15 different storm chasing tour companies. One purpose of this website is to help you choose between all these tours and tour companies. This is the checklist of things to consider when you book your tour company and tour.
When you choose a certain tour company you are also choosing a certain set of important factors:
Choosing the tour guide primarily?
A tour company often equals a certain tour guide, especially for smaller tour companies and choosing a tour guide could often be more important than choosing a certain tour company! Even though tour companies with several tour guides hire tour guides with similar experiences and skills – you could end up with very a different experience with the same tour company for that reason. This is especially important if you chase with a tour company which is run and owned by a specific tour guide and he cannot chase for some reason. In that case he, or she, will be forced to use a backup that may not be used to running tours.
Finding storms is a matter of skill, experience, and probabilites. A tour company is never better than the skill and experience of their tour guides. A tour company can never be great without having great tour guides.
The basic reason of going on a storm chasing tour is to see storms and in order to do so you should choose a tour company that you trust to have skilled and experienced tour guides.
A great tour guide will not always find the best storm, from the best position, every day but a great tour guide are more likely to do so on a consistent basis. Every tour guide could get lucky but a great tour guide will be “lucky” on a consistent basis.
Any experienced storm chaser will be able to find storms, especially on good days but only the great ones will be able to position themselves for the best storms day after day, tour after tour.
Another aspect of choosing a tour guide is his or her personality which could be an important part of the tour experience. There is a wide range of personalities of tour guides ranging from calm and maybe introvert to outspoken and perhaps even controversial.What do you think you would prefer?
For example, a tour guide that shows a lot of enthusiasm could be interpreted as either being passionate or annoying whereas a calm tour guide could be perceived as more professional by some and boring by others. The only good way of getting an idea about the tour guide’s personality is to read reviews by former tour guests.
Things to look for:
– Information about your tour guide, where number of years chasing is the most important as experience is important in storm chasing.Most tour guides have over 10-15 years of storm chasing experience. A meteorology degree is great but many of the best storm chasers do not have a degree.
Things to avoid:
– Unclear information on who will be the guide on your tour and / or unclear information on the experience of your tour guide.
Price is of course an important factor when choosing a tour but don’t let it be the only factor. There are a few things regarding the price you may want to consider when you book your tour:
On the deals page you can find time limited offers and discounts but also a price comparison of the different tours.
The tornado season stretches from April to July with a peak around May and early June. You can use our search form in order to find all the tours that are available during the dates you are able to go. There is no sure time to go but statistically May has the most, and most violent, tornadoes. June, on the other hand, usually have more picturesque tornadoes and slow moving storms. April often have the storms further apart (with down days in between) but can have spectacular tornado outbreaks.
Take the time to read the article on when to go on storm chasing to read more on when to go.
The vehicle you chase in might not seem as an important thing when you go on a tour, but it really is. The longer the tour, the more important it is. Expect to be sitting in this vehicle for 5-10 hours a day which could sum up to over 100 hours on a 14 day tour!
Things to consider:
On each tour operator listed on StormChasingUSA.com you can find out more information about their vehicles. If some information is missing, make sure you ask your tour operastor.
There are a number of tour companies and they can be categorized as Small or Big (my definition, based on whether they have one vehicle or more). Please note that the following are generalizations that does not apply to all tour companies of either category at all times.
The Big ones are usually the ones that have been offering chase tours for a long time: Cloud 9, Tempest Tours, Silver Lining Tours, and Extreme Tornado Tours – they have several vans and typically chase with more than one van. The Small tour companies chase with one SUV or one van. Generally, they have not been around as long but there are always exceptions (Extreme Chase Tours is an exception as they are one of the first tour companies). Some smaller tour companies can, on occasion, use a second vehicle.
An important note is that a Big tour company running a small tour with only one van (which happens) could be considered a Small tour company for that particular tour.
The Big companies usually have more tour guests mainly because their business has grown over the years. With over a few hundred or even thousand guests served, the word of mouth have spread and former guests tend to recommend what they have tried themselves and former tour guests usually return to the same tour company, if it is good. The benefit of going with a Big company is that getting recurrent tour guests and growing over the years is also a good sign that the company are offering good tours. The Big companies also typically have well known tour guides with decades of experience.
The downside of going with a Big company is that it is usually less personal. Since there are several guests on each tour each stop usually takes longer time (bathroom stops, getting into your hotel room at night, stopping to watch a storm etc).
You may not get to chase in the same van as the tour guide every day and thus is at a larger risk of not getting all the information you want. Thus, chasing with a Big company could mean the chase experience is more passive and less personal than with a Small company.
The opposite goes for Small tour companies. There are less people in the group so you can be faster and more flexible. As you are always in the same van as the tour guide you know you always have access to him for updates, questions, listening to stories etc. It is easier getting to know both the tour guide and the other tour guests as well.
The downside of going with a Small tour company is that the tour guides are usually not as experienced. This does not mean they are not skilled or have sufficient experience but they may not have the 20+ years of chasing experience as many of the tour guides in the Big companies have. Small tour companies could also be more vulnerable to unexpected risks, like if the tour guide gets sick and there are no backups. Another common issue for Small tour companies is that they are usually new on the market and it may be difficult to know if they are good or not.
Usually, if you ask around, storm chasers will typically recommend the Big companies as they can vouch for the tour guides skill and experience as well as the tour company to be run professionally (having insurance etc) – unless they know the tour guide of a Small company.
If you ask a Small tour company they usually pride themselves of being close and personal and not having “herds of people” in comparison to the Big tour companies. The Big companies, in turn, usually take pride in having tour guides with years of experience and a well known brand with lots of satisfied customers and could refer to Small companies as “have never heard of Company X and its tour guide Y and have no idea if he is good or not”. All companies, Big and Small, refer to themselves as of having a great track record of finding tornadoes as well as a high rate of recurring customers.
Most tour companies stay at certain hotel chains, or hotels with a similar budget level, throughout an entire tour as the tour company often get discounts from loyalty programs etc. This could either be motels like Super 8, Days Inn etc or hotel brands like Comfort Suites etc. Lower end hotels and motels typically offer a descent but not great standard of rooms and the breakfast is usually very limited. Hotel chains have a better room standard, better breakfast and utilities and you are less likely to have a bad experience. As always, there are exceptions to every rule.
Depending on your own personal standard, you may inquire with the tour company what line of hotels they usually use. Hotel costs are a large portion of the tour cost and if you want to go with a tour company that go for a higher end of lodging you will typically pay more for the tour as well.
Generally, expect a basic standard on lodging (i.e. motels) unless the tour explicitly specifies otherwise with examples of hotel chains they use.
If you have a medical condition, make sure you let the tour operator know if they can take care of your needs. Some tour companies offer tours for people with special needs and with disabilities. Some tour companies will not allow you to go if you have certain medical conditions.
Some tour companies offer special tours to meet the demand of different people. The most common is to have photography tours where you focus more on photography than in regular storm chasing tours. Photography tours sometimes stay further away from the storms to get better, and different, pictures. Other types of special tours are “Close encounter tours” where the aim is to get close to tornadoes or “Lecture tours” where you get to learn storm chasing forecasting at a deep level. Another type of special tour are “Monsoon tours” which take place during the monsoon which is great for lightning photography.
These are things that are not likely to be deal breakers but that would be interesting to know when you compare the tour companies:
There are some things you should expect to pay for, and other things you should expect to get included into the tour price.
You should expect to pay, out of your own pocket, for:
You should not expect to pay extra for
…unless stated explicitly otherwise when you book the tour.
Note that some private tour operators have a different set-up, offering tours where you pay only for the tour guide and his or her equipment. You are then expected to arrange (and pay for) the vehicle, gas, hotel etc. Double check if this applies to the private tour you are going on!
You should check with your tour operator if the following is included in the tour price:
The storm chasing tour industry is still rather young and the quality could vary between the different tour operators. Since customers come from all over the world and bad news may not reach everyone, it is still possible to run a low quality tour with a good website and still get customers.
First of all:
StormChasingUSA.com has received reports of downright scams but are unable to validate these reports. In order to guide you towards the good quality tour operators, please note the following:
Being listed on StormChasingUSA.com is NOT a quality marker in itself. We list every tour operator we know that offers tours and the listing is free, in order for fair competition and to promote transparancy and easy comparison between different tours.
StormChasingUSA does not blacklist any tour operators but if a tour operator is not listed among the scheduled tours or private tours, it could mean we have decided not to co-operate with them or that they have requested not to be on the website.
A good tour company will have no problem blogging about the tours, tweeting everyday, even on bust days, down days etc. A tour company that will not provide this information could be afraid to show how and why they missed out on this. Not having a chase blog is of course not a sign of a bad tour company, but having one is typically a sign of a good one!
The same goes for a Facebook page, if people are able to communicate freely and openly with the tour company it is usually a good sign since it shows the company is not afraid of public scrutiny.
Lack of phone number or contact e-mail could also be signs that the tour company needs to be investigated further. You should ask yourself why they do not provide this information.
If the tour company has been around for one or two decades they are more likely to be of high quality. The opposite, being a young company is of course not a useful marker to determine if a tour company is bad.
One way to validate the age (established date) of a tour company is too check the registration date of the company. Another, less trustable, way is to use the Wayback Machine at Archive.org and see how long they have offered tours online.
You can look up the tour company over the internet, quite easily:
Try also to google with keywords such as the tour company name and negative words like “scam”, “fraud”, “law suits”, “scandal”, “accident”, “fake” etc. This way you may find out if they have had a lot of accusations (that may, or may not, be true).
You can also check Better Business Bureau to find out more about the tour company. If the tour company has provided this information to StormChasingUSA.com you can find it on the tour operator page.
You should have a healthy critical standpoint towards StormChasingUSA.com just as any other website. Read more about how you can make up your own opinion about how trustworthy the information on this site is in the article can you trust the information on StormChasingUSA.com.
The nature of Storm chasing allows for a lot of things to happen, most of them fantastic but some may be unfortunate. This is a short list of things that could go wrong and that you may take into consideration before booking.
Please note though that just because they could go wrong does not mean they are very common (Moore’s law does not necessarily apply here!). These are however a few unfortunate things that could happen.
The intention of this article is to bring out questions and situations that you may want to look up. This does not mean that problems, injuries, scams etc are common. You do not need to worry!
Have a nice and exciting storm chasing trip!