How can I become a storm chaser? That is one of the most frequent questions that we get asked while out on a Storm Chasing Tour, or just out chasing storms in general. And while there are literally thousands of Storm Chasers out on the roads during the storm chasing season at any given time, many if not most started storm chasing or tornado chasing much in the same way. Generally it starts with an intense interest in weather or tornadoes, or even maybe a close call or interaction with severe weather at some point in their lives. Much the same way owner, Lanny Dean had when he was 7 years old. Some folks then turn that fear into fascination, and then the fascination grows into a deep interest. In turn, the interest turns into knowledge and wanting to learn as much about severe weather, tornadoes and storm chasing. Some go on to college to get a degree or some turn to their local spotter networks and become trained storm spotters through the National Weather Service. These folks however, are not storm chasers, they are Storm Spotters for their local areas via their local NWS offices.
HOW DO YOU GET STARTED IN STORM CHASING?
I saw my first tornado when I was 7 while on vacation with my family. The fear as described above turned into fascination and it just started then. When I really started storm chasing there weren't many people chasing at that time. This was in 1990 and storm chasing had not gone to the mainstream yet. The movie Twister was not even a concept and it would be another 6 years before it would come out. I had done it as a hobby and anytime a storm would be within 25 miles I would go chase it! I then started going on chases much further away. Each chase I went on was different as each tornado was as well. And eventually I wanted to share what I was seeing and experiencing - the feelings, the sights, and the sounds of storm chasing. I wanted to share it with the world because to me, there was no better feeling in the world than storm chasing. So I started Extreme Chase Tours in 1999 per time. As they say, the rest is history.
HOW DO I BECOME A STORM CHASER?
Unfortunately there are no real ways of becoming a storm chaser. There are no schools that offer storm chasing as we know it, and there are no real instruction manuals per se. There are a number of books on the market that may teach you the basic book knowledge of storm structure or what severe weather and storms may look like. One such book is called The Storm Chasing Handbook written by meteorologist and veteran storm chaser, Tim Vasquez. It has a ton of information and graphic context in it and it would be a good place to start for the novice. The direct link to The Storm Chasers Handbook from Amazon can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Chasing-Handbook-Tim-Vasquez/dp/0970684037
BUT AREN'T THERE SOME KINDS OFSTORM CHASING CLASSES AVAILABLE?
There is no course work you can go and take to become a storm chaser. Most of it is learned by going out and chasing. The local National Weather Service in your area will provide Storm Spotter training sessions usually in the early spring before tornado and severe weather season starts. These training sessions are usually just a basic presentation of storm spotting and structure and are in no means a way of explaining or learning to chase tornadoes or storm chasing. While these are wonderful events to attend, especially for the novice, there is no storm chasing instructional manual or knowledge given. These events are meant for Storm Spotting.
SO HOW CAN I START STORM CHASING OR BECOME A STORM CHASER?
We obviously recommend going with a storm chasing and tornado tour company. One that has many years of storm chasing tours experience and has veteran guides who are willing to educate and teach you about storm structure, how to read radar, verbiage and the science behind it all. Your best bet is to go with a smaller storm chasing tour company as they can spend more one on one time with you. This means they are more personal and will be willing to answer any questions you might have and to help guide you to severe weather and tornadoes - all while explaining what is happening so you can understand. Depending on your interest and desire to learn, we recommend going with a tour company for at east two years. This time frame will allow you to learn and will give you a very good idea if storm chasing is right for you, and if it is, you may want to go to school for meteorology or atmospheric sciences.
ARE THERE JOBS AS A STORM CHASER?
The short answer is no. There are no formal jobs as a storm chaser. You might be able to join a field campaign study if you decide to go to college for meteorology, or with many years of hard work chasing, you might be able to chase for a local media outlet but the pay is nominal at best.
SO MY BEST BET IS TO GO WITH A STORM CHASING TOUR COMPANY OR WITH SOMEONE WHO IS EXPERIENCED?
YES! Storm chasing can be dangerous or even deadly to those who are untrained. Period. Never go chasing on your own, start with a tour company as outlined above and then transition from there if you would like. Don’t go chasing unless you have knowledge of storm structure and interaction. Currently there are about 12 legitimate storm chasing tours and tornado tours vacation companies in the industry right now. So choose wisely and make sure you do your homework about the tour company you decide to go with. How many years have they been chasing or how long have they been in business? What is their safety record? Do they take precautions to keep you safe at all times? Have hey seen tornadoes? Do they have REAL tornado pictures and videos on their website? Are they reputable? Insured? These are just a few questions to start with to help you get on your way to becoming a Storm Chaser.