Storm Chasing Tours
Providing The Most Exciting Tornado Tours In Tornado Alley
About Our Adventures
We are the world’s most exciting storm chase adventure tour company and have been safely providing our guests the vacation of a lifetime since 2008. Our veteran professional storm chasing Meteorologists and guide team have logged literally hundreds of tornadoes for our guests to witness firsthand since our inception and have over 50 years of combined experience. We are here to make your storm chasing dreams come true as we hunt down the strongest weather on the planet together in Tornado Alley!
Safety is our number one priority here at Extreme Tornado Tours, period. While our name might insinuate that we do things a little different than most, we can assure you that our chasing practices are in line with the safest of touring companies out there. With experience in storm chasing comes better safety procedures and our guides are some of the best storm chasers in the world having logged hundreds of tornado sightings between them with over 50 years combined experience.
why you should chase with us
There are a few choices out there, so why chase with us? To answer that question, you would want to learn about what separates the best storm chasing tour companies from the rest. So, what makes a tour company great? There are a lot of storm chasing tours out there, but only a few that actually operate as full-fledged businesses. It is important to be wary of those that don’t operate with a fleet of tour ready vehicles and a team of professionals to keep you safe with a successful outcome for your touring efforts.
Tornado Tours Stories
Stories and recaps of life on the road with our storm tours.
Extreme Tornado Tours began in 2008 when our founder Reed Timmer of Discovery Channel’s television show “Storm Chasers” also known for being the most prolific storm chaser on the planet, created a way for storm enthusiasts from all over the world to join in on these storm chasing experiences firsthand. Since our founding Extreme Tornado…
There are a few choices out there, so why chase with us? To answer that question, you would want to learn about what separates the best storm chasing tour companies from the rest. So, what makes a tour company great? There are a lot of storm chasing tours out there, but only a few that…
Safety is our number one priority here at Extreme Tornado Tours, period. While our name might insinuate that we do things a little different than most, we can assure you that our chasing practices are in line with the safest of touring companies out there. With experience in storm chasing comes better safety procedures and…
2019 was an excellent touring season for us here at Extreme Tornado Tours and included some of the more memorable storm chasing we have done to date, including a close-range intercept of an EF3 monster tornado in the Texas Panhandle, to a pancake stacked mothership supercell of the ages in western Kansas. Overall, we chased…
The Storm Chasing Experience
What is storm chasing with Extreme Tornado Tours like?
Simply put, we are a storm chasing tour company. But what does storm chasing entail? Per Wikipedia: “Storm chasing is broadly defined as the pursuit of any severe weather condition, regardless of motive, which can be curiosity, adventure, scientific investigation, or for news or media coverage.” In short, we take you, our client with us while handling all of the logistics of what it requires to safely and successfully chase storms. We operate within the curiosity and adventure portion of storm chasing, realizing the dreams of our clients of witnessing these amazing severe weather events firsthand.
You will not only be able to document the storms we find together; you will be encouraged to do so while learning from our talented guides about how to use your devices to best capture these events if you so wish. Of equal importance you will learn from some of the best storm chasers on the planet, and our tour Meteorologist, about the process we use to safely and successfully chase some of the strongest storms Mother Nature has to offer. Whether your interests lie in something as simple as being taken along for the ride and snapping the occasional phone photo, or learning how to chase from professionals in the field while shooting with professional equipment; ETT has something to offer for storm lovers of all kinds. One thing that is very special about what we do is bringing people together, in one place, with a common interest in severe weather, to experience it in person. You can only imagine what it’s like to take in a storm in Tornado Alley with new friends that share your interest, with professionals by your side to explain what is happening every step of the way. Our tours are one of the most unique vacations you could ever take, and the memories and stories we make together will last a lifetime.
A typical day of storm chasing on our tours begins with a preset time to meet the next morning that is given the night before at either our host hotel or one of the hotels we stay in on the road. As storm chasing doesn’t typically begin until the atmosphere is primed from the suns heat in the late afternoon/evening, we get in a little later at night after dinner, usually around 8-11pm depending on the situation. As such we will usually meet the next morning around 9-11am to get some rest the night before.
Once we meet in the morning, we will have either a meeting in the hotel’s meeting area, lobby, or sometimes at a coffee shop if we have enough time. Depending on the possibilities for the day, your tour director, or our Meteorologist, will give you a briefing on our thoughts for what we think will transpire for the days chasing opportunities. Each day the tour director will make sure you are properly informed on the day’s activities, whether that be for chasing, travel, or down days (more on those type of days later). On the more significant chase days our Meteorologist will set up a laptop computer and guide you through our process for forecasting and where and when we think we might end up. During this process we encourage questions and do our best to not only inform, but educate those trying to learn more about storm chasing and the details we use to hone in on a particular area for the day’s storm chase.
When doing a briefing we are obviously looking at the weather first and foremost, but we are also looking at items that will help with not only our probabilities of finding the best storms but making sure we are safe when doing so. As safety is our first priority when operating the tours this begins with our navigation process in and around our chasing target. Our first and foremost rule when chasing is to always have at least a few unobstructed routes away from the storms if need be. This could be anything from checking road conditions for construction delays to road closures and issues well in advance of our chase in the area we expect storms. Flooding, which is a common occurrence in springtime with these weather systems is always a concern for road blockages and is something we take into account as well. Of the utmost importance is the actual road network itself; will we be in an area that has a larger highway or interstate system that allows us to move more quickly with higher speed limits, or are we in a rural area that might hinder our progression or ability to have more than one safety route?
Is there a natural obstruction like a river with limited crossings or a canyon that might change the path we would like to take later? All these things are extremely important to our safety and ability to interact with storms in a safe manner and as such make up an important part of our early planning on the day of a chase. At the end of our briefing we will notify our guests about general timelines for the days chase. We will do our best to inform them of what times we expect to have lunch and when we think we will be on the storms. Finally, we will answer any questions the guests might have, or any special requests. Please keep in mind there are sometimes when we don’t have the time for a lengthy briefing. In these cases we will default to our morning meeting with our Tour Director and Meteorologist for a condensed version of the day’s thoughts. Either way, we will always make sure that you are well informed.
After our briefing we will load up the vans and start heading towards our chasing target. Depending on the timelines for the day, a number of things could happen from here. Typically, we will need to put some miles on to get closer to the target area, but sometimes we might be closer and have some extra time. If we do have some extra time we will try and stop by an interesting spot that could be anything from a national park to a museum, and if able we always try for something that is either weather minded or notable. Some good examples of these type of spots could be the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, the memorial of Team Twistex in El Reno, Oklahoma to a notable restaurant you might have seen on TV or read about. One of the coolest things we hear from our guests has to do with the food we are able try on tour, and it can be amazing! Everything from the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo to Sid’s Diner in El Reno serving the most amazing burgers in the world.
If we have the time we might try for a nice sit down lunch at a special stop, but other times we might need to move a little quicker and as such that might involve some fast food. Even then we try for our more regional fast food locations so you might try something you have never had before, a good example being Freddy’s with their delicious burgers and frozen custards. After some travel, lunch, or a quick stop at a cool location, we move on to our chase. During the initial start to our day your guides and Meteorologists have been keeping constant watch on the weather conditions, and things might need some changes as we refine the forecast.
Having been intent on following what the guides have been looking at, you, the guest, are ecstatic to hear that we finally see what we have been looking for either on the computers or in the sky in front of us and it’s time to load up the vans and head out. Last minute bathroom breaks are handled, tanks are topped off and away we go headed towards hopefully the storm of the day. Many times once we are on the road you will actually be able to see the storm forming in the distance, and sometimes our guides will use our drop down HD monitors to display their laptop screens and the advanced radar programs we use so you can stay up to date on what we see. This is a great time to learn from us and ask your navigating/forecast guide in the passenger seat some questions as the driver focuses on the road. We also like to turn around and give you guys an update every once in a while, on our thoughts about the storms maturing process. You might be awestruck by the sheer size of these storms, sometimes climbing in height to over twice the height that airplanes cruise at and sometimes close 20 kilometers in width! Once you see the beginnings to a plains or prairies supercell, you begin to understand just how powerful they and the tornadoes they produce really are!
Now that you have a physical target of the storm we are about to chase, it’s time to move near the storm and get a good look at what is going on. To see the mechanics of these storms at work or to see a tornado, you must get next to or underneath the base of the storm. At this time, we move into full “chase mode”. Since we have acquired our target and it is of the best quality that we are able to chase at the moment, the guides move their focus from forecasting to the chase. This is when we start using our eyes to visually look at cues around us like cloud structure, wind speed and direction from the grass or flags blowing for example, and the way the atmosphere is reacting around us. We use radar as well, but typically only to verify what we see in person to what we think is happening.
Supercells, for the most part, travel in a north or east trajectory and most commonly directly northeast. While there are exceptions to this route, especially after a storm or group of storms has matured when they sometimes turn south, the majority of what we chase behaves in this way. As such we tend to “stairstep” the storm heading east a ways, then north and repeating as the road network and storm allows. This allows us to do two things with the first and most important part being safety. When we chase storms in this matter, we are paralleling the storm which keeps us from putting ourselves in the way of its path. This also gives us more than one option for a route away from the storm, in case the storm gives us a reason to keep our distance. The second reason is that it allows us to keep close sight of storm features, so we can watch the storm evolve and go through it’s varying cycles. Many times we can chase like this for hours, and although not all storms travel in this manner, it is always safer to stay on a storms good side rather than chancing riskier behavior like being too close to an area of rotation wrapped in rain or a barrage of giant hail stones that could end your chase quickly.
As we stair-step the storm, many times we find ourselves on a gridded road network, with roads also known as farm to market or county-maintained roads. These roads tend to be in a directionally orientated manner (east to west, north to south) which makes our job of being ever vigilant of our direction versus the storms directional progress a lot easier. You might like to think of the gridded road network out there as “veins” while the two and sometimes four lane highways are the “arteries”. The highways are our main mode of travel and are certainly preferred as they are of better quality and act as way to get a jump on or create distance from or to a storm.
Once we are on a great storm, a proper road network and everything falls into place, we can find a safe place to pull over and let the guests out to experience the storm in all of its glory. We use a color coded, easy to understand safety system for this instance to let our guests know the intensity of the stop. As we need to constantly stay on the go out there most times, this system allows us to inform the guest about if this will be a quick stop or if they will have more time, and is divided into green, yellow and red categories. This helps us to make sure that we can get everyone back into the vans at a moment’s notice in case something changes with the stop that could affect the safety of the guests. Once out of the vans we encourage guests to take photos and videos and to take it all in while staying in ear shot of your guides. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just experience what is happening around you as it might be the only time in your life that you ever witness something like it. After all, that’s why you came with us in the first place, right?
After wrapping up a chase we will travel a bit to a new hotel and will get dinner along the way or nearby after checking in. We realize that some of our guests may have had a full day and would like to get in as early as possible after a long day, and some might like to stay up a bit later and partake in an adult beverage after dinner to celebrate their day. We do our best to accommodate everyone depending on where we end up and at what time of the night we arrive. Once we arrive and get everyone their hotel keys if able time and situation permitting, we arrange dinner plans and have our final meeting of the day that explains our thoughts on the next day’s plans and what time to meet the next morning. Then we start the fun all over again!
So now that you’re up to date on what a chase day with us looks like from beginning to end and all of the details that go with it, you might be asking yourself just how many of those days do we get on tour and what do we do if there is an “off” day. Actually, we have three types of days on tour; “chase” days, “travel” days and “down” days. Chase days have already been explained in detail so we will concentrate on the travel and down days. Travel days are pretty self-explanatory as well and mean that we are just pushing forward to get closer to our next location for storm chances. Along the way these might hybridize into down day activities depending on location we are traveling in and time allowed. While travelling we make sure you are comfortable, never putting more than 6-7 guests in our 15 passenger vans at a time, that allows you to have some room on either side of you and a window seat. The vans have AC (home style) power plugs and USB ports for charging, a 17” drop down HD LCD monitor that we play movies on (like Twister!) and our personal best storm footage, as well as Nintendo video games, wireless headphones and upgraded sound systems with satellite radio. We also keep a large cooler in the back with ice cold water for all of our guests.
If we end up with a down day, it means that we have neither a chase day nor travel day at the moment. This is rare for the tours and usually means that we are in between a trough that brings these large-scale storm systems into our area, and typically only lasts a day or so until we are back on the chase again. As multiple chase days can be grueling, sometimes these days and the activities they provide can be a welcome break from our efforts. Most tours end up with no down days at all, and we try and fit activities into our travel days on those if able. These down days can actually be pretty awesome, as we have a variety of different places we visit that are weather minded or famous. Some examples would be a trip to Wakita, Oklahoma to visit the town made famous by the movie Twister, and The Twister Museum there for a private presentation by our friend and amazing curator, Linda Wade. The National Weather Center in our hometown of Norman is another one, that houses the Storm Prediction Center that controls all severe weather warnings on a national level. Other times we could end up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at the Garden of the Gods, to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore/Deadwood nearby. Add in the amazing food stops we do, a hot dog roast by the lake with a campfire if able and we are sure to create a memorable experience for you as a side note to the amazing storms we will experience.
Storm chasing begins with looking at forecast models well in advance of a chase day to begin to see the possibilities of the ingredients required to create notable severe weather. There are many types of forecasting models, but those used by storm chasers the most are numerical weather forecasting models. These models use mathematical processes and current real time weather conditions to create an idea of what might occur in the future with possible weather events. These numerical forecasting models are created by some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and for good reason. Their job requires filtering through countless amounts of data to match past events with current weather conditions to create a new “run” based on a mathematical algorithm. For example, let’s say there was a notable tornado event in a certain area in the past.
This event had precise weather ingredients that lead up to it that were recorded as accessible data for the supercomputer associated with a certain numerical weather forecasting model. This model, maybe even many years later is able to coordinate this past data with current weather observations and say that the conditions are very close right now to this past event. As such it provides us chasers with this data in a format we are used to looking at, which would be weather observation tools like a map of the US or more localized sectors with overlays of certain conditions like wind speed/direction and moisture, all at different heights of the atmosphere. Since the model has provided us with a close to match to this event, we might start to see the ingredients it takes to begin planning a storm chase in the near future. The different types of information we look for from these models is vast but at the very core of severe weather forecasting lies the atmospheric rivers we call jet streams. Our interest lies with the mid-latitude jet that focuses itself over the continental U.S. This jet stream is high over our heads, near the altitude of where commercial airlines fly. You might have noticed a flight you took be aided or hindered by the jet and location and strength that day.
As jet streams move from west to east, your direct flight from Denver to New York could have taken an hour less this time because your aircraft able to take advantage of increased airspeed from a concentrated fast-moving jet stream. When talking about severe forecasting and the jet stream, we focus on a few different variables that can increase a severe weather threat. The jet typically begins affecting the continental U.S. in the Pacific northwest, and moves across the country in varying paths, strengths and heights. The first thing we look for in a jet that is capable of providing a severe weather threat is how far south it is able to travel. Moisture is a key ingredient for thunderstorm development, and there is a lot of it coming off the Gulf of Mexico. A low “digging” jet that is able to swing down south enough to introduce itself to that moisture might be able to transport it up into the plains and prairies of the central U.S. where it is needed for severe weather development.
The night before an event we will start to be able to refine the chase quality and target into a more defined area, or sometimes more than one area. You might hear your guides mention the “zero Z run” that typically arrives around 7-8pm depending on what time zone we are in. This is a forecast run time that allows more data from more models and is usually more reliable than anything we have seen for the event so far. This is important to the tours, because at some point we need to make a decision about how far we need to travel if at all to get us into better position for the next day’s event and allows us to make a plan on where to stay that night. More often times than not we’ll have had a good idea of where we thought we might end up, so by the time we get the “zero Z runs” hopefully we are already having dinner nearby our hotel already. It’s also worth noting that chase days can be more than one day in length when a strong system rolls through, and it makes things easier as we can move with the system and not have to travel very far to an entirely area. In rare circumstances we might be given two chase days with each being far apart. In this instance our job becomes difficult as we need to either choose the better of the two days and miss the other or try for both. Sometimes in these situations we need to travel into the night and wake up early again, but we push to get our guests the best chances of seeing tornadoes. After all you have travelled far and wide having paid a great deal to be with us, so it’s very important to us that we get you what you came for. At the very least you are able to rest as we travel as a passenger in the vans, while we take care of all of the work.
The morning of a chase day the forecasting changes. We move from using computer generated models to looking at real time weather conditions. While modern technology, especially in the last five years has gotten much better at producing reliable models the day of an event, we typically glance at them once or twice earlier and then pay attention to surface observations, local NWS station weather balloon launches, and radar. Surface observations come from weather stations operated by a number of different entities including the government, universities and sometimes private sectors like airports for example. You might hear your guides mention “Mesonets” or “Metars”. This refers to the weather stations mentioned earlier. These stations provide us with current data like windspeed and direction, dewpoint and air temperature, pressure and even soil moisture content. They are accessible by government created websites through NOAA, applications or sites created by local universities or as data fed into our specialized radar programs. They are absolutely essential to storm chasing. Being able to understand and read this data is something that separates the inexperienced storm chaser from the best. When looking at the data these stations provide on the morning of a chase day, we are looking for a number of different parameters that could enhance or hinder storm development and those storms chances of producing the type of severe weather we are after. They can show us what area is most likely for storm initiation to occur, and that provides us with a location to point the vans towards.
Once we have some good data we start by finding our forcing mechanism that is hopefully capable of producing convection. Convection in short is basically the storm itself, and something like a cold front or outflow boundary is the spoon that stirs the ingredients “pot”, creating a storm. Using our surface plots, we are able to see that there is a sharp gradient of temperature and moisture that forms a line, and we can say with confidence that we have found one of our mechanisms. You might have seen meteorologists use a blue or red line with some shapes in their forecasts, these are what we are looking for. Our thoughts can now move into figuring out just how “good” the ingredients in the “pot” are ahead of our forcing mechanism. This is where our necessary parameters for supercellular convection come into play. Using what we know about how these storms form we are able to look into moisture content, wind speed and direction among many other things to find a location ahead of our forcing mechanism to home in on a sweet spot for not only storm development, but eventual supercellular and possibly tornadic activity. As the day moves on, we watch as things change, further reinforcing or dissipating our thoughts as to where we should end up. This is why the day of a chase many times seems to be a little unorganized as our location could vary by many miles. At some point you will have to commit to a location and that is why it is so important to constantly monitor things and make sure that you are making the best decision. Once we are committed to a location we make our way towards it and hopefully the beginnings to a storms formation, towering cumulus! Although showing up on time is ideal, it’s often not the case and like many things in life it is better to be there early than late, so in many cases we might have to do some waiting.
Given that we are required to be in a certain location that we have never been to before, usually in the middle of nowhere, our waiting might be done at gas station, small café or fast food restaurant where our guests have a place to relax, use the restrooms or grab a bite. If there is a cool location nearby, we will always try and make the best out of our time by checking it out. Sometimes these stops are the best as we explore places, we would have never been in the first place. Over the years we have found real life ghost towns, historical landmarks, or cool little shops or antique stores that offer something of interest. While waiting our guides are hyper focused on the weather now, and it only takes one blip to pop up and before you know it, the chase itself is on!
At the very core of a successful tornado chase is a supercell. Although tornadoes can be formed without one, the ones you are used to seeing in the movies, TV and our tours are typically always supercell derived tornadoes. Simply put a supercell is a thunderstorm with a rotating updraft, or mesocyclone, rotating well up into the heart of the storm. This mesocyclone and its associated rotation are what is needed to create a tornado. But to have a mesocyclone you must first have a storm, and only after a storm develops a mesocyclone will it become a supercell. Thunderstorms in the plains and prairies are created when opposing airmasses collide and create instability. One airmass is usually cool and dry and the other is a warm and moist. Instability is the lift of a parcel of air, and as we know warm air rises. When temperature and moisture are just right, convection occurs. This looks like billowing cauliflower from thunderheads we see as a storm forms, and now all it needs to do is rotate. Once rotation has begun, you have a mesocyclone within the storm, and it can now be called a supercell. A mesocyclone is formed within a parent storm through a number or circumstances. Take a pen between two hands and give it a roll horizontally. Now imagine that there are strong winds coming from the perfect direction to take that roll and twist it vertically. You now have a vertically rotating pen, and in a thunderstorm, you would have a rotating updraft, or a mesocyclone.
When all the ingredients are in place and a supercell and its rotating updraft are in harmony, the opportunity for a tornado to form exists. The science behind why one supercell produces a tornado and others don’t is the focus of modern tornado forecasting and debate, and something we don’t completely understand just yet. That being said, there are some things we do know, and chasers like us use these to help us to decide if the storm we want to chase is one that could make our day a lot more interesting. A tornado is formed when our supercell becomes surface based, meaning the bottom, or base of the storm is low enough to the ground to take advantage of multiple processes. As cold air sinks below the storm, and warmer air below and from the storm and surrounding atmosphere start to mix and collide, the ingredients for a tornado are taking shape. As these processes occur there needs to be an outside force that steers them into a compact and defined vortex. Since the cold and warm air are going back and forth next to each other, creating vortices of their own, they are typically flung about the surface horizontally.
When one of these defined horizontal vortices are pushed vertical by a strong ground level wind moving towards the storm typically out of the southeast depending on storm movement direction, a tornado begins to form. As the tornado forms it spins faster and faster until its momentum creates a pull inwards to its center of rotation, and a tornado is formed. Many times, in a tornadoes birth you might not see the actual “look” of a tornado but rather a spinning mass of dust and debris at the surface. This is because the tornado has not yet formed its condensation cloud around the funnel, and even then, some never do although they are still considered tornadoes. The condensation cloud is created by moisture being compressed in low pressure from the funnel and is further enhanced by temperature in some cases. In many cases, you will actually see the base of the supercell extend down into the funnel of the tornado and vice versa. One of the coolest things you can see while watching certain tornadoes is the condensation cloud literally appearing and disappearing very quickly along different areas of the funnel, typically at the end of a tornadoes life or what we call a “rope out”.
When you’re out there you can see many things that will absolutely take your breath away. From a beautiful, calm, elephant trunk tornado slowly snaking its way through a field, to a mammatus filled sunset exploding with color. Vivid, constant lightning, monster hail stones, and what appears to be a cloud 10 times the size of a football stadium rotating around at unimaginable speeds upside down above your head. It’s hard to put into words a description for just how special it is to see the strongest storms in the planet at work, we constantly hear from our guests that it was just as they dreamed it could be and more. The amazing photos and videos you have seen of these events are nothing compared to seeing these events firsthand in person, and bring our guests happiness and sometimes tears of joy in realizing just how special and little we are in this incredible world we live in.
Over the years ETT has become very good at what we do from not just a storm chasing standpoint, but a logistical one as well. Each new season, and each new tour within it we put ourselves in the shoes of our guests making sure that you are taken care of the way that we would want to be if we were guests. From the pure entertainment standpoint to the educational aspect, from visiting new places you never would have otherwise, we will surprise you with just how much we can accomplish for you out there. And most importantly you’ll be experiencing it together with a group of amazing people from all over that have the same unique love for severe weather that you do! Are you ready to BE THERE with us?
What Our Guests Say
Testimonials from our past tour guests about the Extreme Tornado Tours Experience