What you may want to know and consider before you book your storm chasing tour

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.

Choosing 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.

1. The tour company

When you choose a certain tour company you are also choosing a certain set of important factors:

  • Tour guide – or tour guides
  • The size of the group you will chase with (for example one van or several vans) which could affect your experience. 
  • Certain tour companies also have certain lodging standards which could affect your experience (especially if you are sensitive to staying at motels).
  • Whether or not the tour company has an insurance could prove to be extremely important in case there is an accident.
  • The price is off course set by the tour company as well – some are highly priced, some are not.
  • In addition, some tour companies (mainly the large ones) have a standardized way of handling forecasts, introduction nights etc. no matter which tour guide you have.

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.

 

2. Who is the tour guide?

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.

Tour guide personality

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.

3. Price?

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:

  • Total price – The list price for the tour. Does it match your budget?
  • Price per day – Longer tours are more expensive than short ones, for obvious reasons. The total price divided by the number of chase days will give you a good tool to compare different tours, regardless of the length of the tour.
  • Discounts that could apply to you – many offer discounts for sharing rooms, early sign-ups, last minute-deals etc.

On the deals page you can find time limited offers and discounts but also a price comparison of the different tours.

3. Will the tour dates work for you?

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.

4. How safe, comfortable and practical is the chase vehicle?

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:

  • How comfortable are the seats? – This is particularly important if you have any medical problems with your back, or similar. Unless the tour operator have provided a photo of the interior to StormChasingUSA.com or onto their own website, make sure you ask. Typically, SUV:s are much more comfortable than large vans.
  • Will you be guaranteed a window seat, every day? – This should not be an issue any longer since, nowadays, all tour companies guarantee window seats. It is however a good idea to double check because some days you may more or less only be chasing from the vehicle. If you are stuck in between two people you may not see anything. If the tour operator does not guarantee window seats, it could mean they fill up every seat in the van and this could be very uncomfortable in the long run. So, if the tour company crams in three people per seat row, stay away! 
  • Do all seats have seat belts? – Do not accept a ‘No’ to this question. 
  • Extras – Some vans have free WiFi, USB/electricity-sockets, extra radar screen for the tour guests, as well as DVD-players. This will make the long hours in the van more pleasant. The ability to easily watch the tour guides computer screen could also prove to be really interesting.

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.

5. Going with a Small or a Big tour company? 

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.

Pros and cons with Big tour companies

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.

Pros and cons with Small tour companies

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.

 

6. Hotel comfort level

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.

7. Special needs

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.

8. Special tours

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.

9. Extras included in the tour

These are things that are not likely to be deal breakers but that would be interesting to know when you compare the tour companies:

  • How long are the weather briefings in the mornings? If you are interested in understanding the weather you are watching make sure you pick a tour that emphasizes learning. Some tour companies have quick briefings and some go through the entire forecast with you.
  • Will you get an exclusive tour t-shirt? This is very common. 
  • Do the tour operator create a DVD with footage from the tour, that you get after the tour?

What you should expect to pay, and not pay, for

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:

  • Flights to and from your home to the departure city.
  • Hotel room charges for the night before the tour starts (i.e. the departure date)
  • Your own meals during the tour
  • Souvenirs etc
  • Trips back to the departure city, in case you want to end the tour in advance.
  • Transportation to the location of the tour group, in case you arrive too late and need to catch up.
  • Hospital bills – in case you need to visit an hospital.
  • Travel insurance

You should not expect to pay extra for

  • Hotel rooms and lodging during the tour.
  • Car rental or similar
  • Gas
  • Reparations to the vehicle in case it gets damaged.

…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 hotel night last night of the tour, when you come back to the departure city.
  • Extra insurance, if needed, during your trip.

How can you know if a tour operator is good or not?

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:

  • Read the reviews posted on this website. Note that the reviews are separated in validated revies and unvalidated reviews. The unvalidated reviews should be reviewed with great caution since they cannot be confirmed to be legit.
  • Check references and make sure they are legit.
  • Check if the tour company has a money back guarantee
  • Assume a healthy critical stand point to what you hear from the tour company itself. No one can guarantee anything about the weather for example.
  • Check the track record and read the stories from the different tours. Many tours publish this information on their websites.

Being listed on StormChasingUSA.com is no quality marker

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 transparity 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 list with them due to reports of scams and/or reports of not showing up for tours! The reason for not outing these companies openly in a blacklist is the lack of real evidence to call them out.

Good companies are not afraid to be transparent

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 informaiton.

How long has the tour company been around?

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.

Look up the tour company

You can look up the tour company over the internet, quite easily:

  • Google the tour company – StormChasingUSA.com does not hold all answers and other websites (such as TripAdvisor) and forums may have discussed the tour company.

Try also to google with key words such as the tour company name and negative words like “scam”, “fraud”, “law suits” and “fake”. 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.

  • Check StormTrack.org – If you are not sure about the quality of a certain tour company and you cannot find, or trust, the information on StormChasingUSA.com, try to search the storm chaser forum StormTrack.org or ask the members there. You will get the opinion of many storm chasers that may be able to deepen your information on the tour company.
  • Check Twitter – Twitter is the #1 social media for storm chasing. Ask the community about a certain storm chasing tour company and hopefully you will get answers. Tag your request with @stormchasingusa and you will be retweeted and I will give my best effort to help you.

Can you trust the information on this site?

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.

Things that can go wrong

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 vehicle breaks down
  • If really unlucky, the vehicle could crash.
  • You could get sick and not be able to follow the tour for a few days. Will someone (the tour company) pick you up?
  • You could get injured by hail, lightning or strong winds.
  • You might be unlucky with the weather and see close to nothing for the full extent of the tour
  • You might be too late or just not there for an amazing tornado that virtually “everyone” else saw
  • You might dislike some other tour member but still have to spend a lot of time in a small van together with that person.

Don’t worry

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!

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