Travelled with: Tour group
Tour or pre planned: Tour – Storm Chasing Adventure Tours
Have you ever seen the 1996 blockbuster hit movie 'Twister'? It is an American disaster movie starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton acting as storm chasers, researching the force behind tornadoes. It was filmed in the heart of 'Tornado Alley' which is in the smack bang middle of the United States of America. Ever since watching the scene where a twister rips through the drive-in movie theatre I have wanted to see one of these formidable forces of nature first hand. Other notable media sources for storm activity is the Discovery Channels 'Storm Chasers' programme (they get ALOT closer to the action), and the 1939 film the Wizard of Oz (set in Kansas).
Storm season happens in central USA between the months of late April - early July and there are plenty of different tour companies to book a week of storm chasing with. All I had to do was jump on the GOOGLE search engine and start researching. Now none of my friends had ever done such a thing, or even heard of it, so finding a tour which was going to give me the best bang for my buck was a bit hard. I had read plenty of reviews and weighed up the cost factor of each tour, but one stuck out and I had a good gut feeling about this company. I booked with Storm Chasing Adventure Tours and come May 26th 2012, I was officially a storm chaser!
The tours don't come cheap. The tour cost $2400USD for a week long which (most companies ranged from $1900-$2500) included all accommodation, transport and research technology. I decided to bite the bullet and go for the upper range when I booked, as I thought, if I wanted to do this, I wanted to do this right!
Our tour started at a meeting point in Oklahoma City where we had a team briefing/introductions followed by a safety video and education on cloud formations and how the supercells form. Our tour consisted of 13 people (plus 3 staff), some people on the tour were into their 4th or 5th season 'chasing', just to give you an idea of the thrill and excitement they can provide.
Over the next 6 days, we were in for some thrills in chasing different storms across the great prairies of multiple different states in America - be prepared for some long driving days. On day 1 we drove 660 miles (1100km), followed by day 2 clocking in at just over 600 miles (1000km). We covered the states of Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. A typical day would start very early, our tour operator would have a general idea of where the best positions would be to chase later in the day and this information would update throughout the day as you get closer to 'game time' which is generally anytime after 3pm due to the weather conditions.
Over the week we witnessed some amazing cloud formation which put out spectacular lightening shows at night, we endured large sized hail which cracked our windscreen. At one point we drove past the 'Storm Chasers' from the Discovery Channel and got to meet the lads in the Tornado Intercept Vehicle. Oh and I should mention, that yes, we did see a tornado later in the week plus an amazing experience to go with it when the hunters became the hunted and the tornado decided to chase us down (thank god for the small township where we parked next to a building to shelter from it, see video below). This was one of those moments in your life which you will never forget - there really is no place like home.
Remember that storms are all up to mother nature, so you can never be certain of what will come out of these tours, whether it be some wicked lightening storms or the big kahuna tornado you are after.
Overall I’m so happy I booked with Todd Thorn and the Storm Chasing Adventure team as they were definitely experts in their field, getting us as close as possible to the storms, while keeping us as safe as can be. For example, one day the National Weather Service model said there would be a storm in southern Oklahoma, but Todd's expertise and knowledge of the area pointed us north. By the time the storms built up in the afternoon, everyone in Southern Oklahoma were too far away and probably calling it a day, while we were witnessing some amazing formations and funnel clouds.
Points to highlight:
As I said, this business is up to mother nature, so yes we did have a couple of days where there were no storm activity, on these days we were taken to some spectacular scenery points in Kansas (http://www.naturalkansas.org/monument.htm) then on our last day in Colorado we went up Mount Evans, which towers to 14,200ft (over 4km) above sea level for a massive view over Denver and its surrounding area.
If you are going to invest in such an activity, do it right!
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: Yes
Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5