Tornado Alley, USA
I never imagined my primary source of food coming from gas station convenient stores
Or forcing myself to pee at every pit stop
Or witnessing a multitude of colors in a sunset
Or dinners after my normal bedtime every night
Or spotting so many cows
Or gazing at thousands of stars at night dazzle along the Milky Way
Or taking gourmet refuge at fast food restaurants
Or meeting a group of amazing people
Or being in a van for over 3000 miles of driving
Or traveling to eight new states (Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas)
Or learning so much about supercells
Or seeing not one, but four tornadoes
This was my experience Storm Chasing. If you are thinking about a trip like this for yourself, I cannot recommend the experience with Tempest Tours enough. Here are a few things you should know before booking to make sure this is the right trip for you.
A typical tour day (when there is severe weather) is on the road around 9AM and driving with a few pit stops until you reach your target storm area around 4PM and chasing until 10PM at night with little to no stops along the way.
- You must be flexible
- There is no itinerary for the trip- you go where the storms are!
- As a planner, it was truly the most relaxing vacation we have ever done because there is no plan. It was shockingly therapeutic for me. I never picked up the Kindle I brought. I spent the hours in the van staring out into the endless fields in the most zen mentality I have ever been in!
- Because there is no plan, you must be flexible for dining options, hotel accommodations, and bathroom breaks
- There is no guarantee of severe weather or tornadoes
- You cannot book expecting the weather you want
- There is nothing the company or you can do to make severe weather or tornadoes happen so you have to be ok with the prospect of not seeing a tornado at the end of your trip
- Having an open mind and no expectations will allow you to enjoy whatever the tour has to offer you for the week you book
- Food is not gourmet
- Good chasing means little time for food so you have to be ok with snacking and eating on the go
- Our stops often including gas station convenient stores and fast food stops (McDonald’s, Subway, Arby’s, Sonic, etc)
- Our dinners were after 10PM each night if we opted to go (sometimes we skipped it all together) since you chase from 3PM or 4PM until the end of the storm or sunset
- If time permits, the tour director will always opt for a sit down meal but since we had severe storms to chase every day, this was a rare occurrence for us
- With self control and discipline, you can still eat healthy
- Opt for healthier snacks at the convenient stores: nuts, pretzels, popcorn, fruit
- Only eat when you are actually hungry… do not eat in the car because there is food there
- Stay hydrated with water! We often confuse the thirst signal for hunger and eat instead of drinking water.
- Choose items off of the lighter menu at the fast food places since they have adopted a healthier culture in recent years
- Our tour had a vacationer who was a vegetarian and another who was gluten free and both survived the trip easily so do not be discouraged by the seemingly few options
- Public bathrooms galore
- While there may be minimal bathroom breaks while chasing, there are plenty before and after
- The tour directors give many bathroom stops along the way and right before a chase is about to start so use the bathroom at each stop
- If you ask and the group is able, they will always stop for you
- If you have a public bathroom phobia… you may want to reconsider
- Nomadic sleeping
- Often times storm chasing takes you into the middle of no where and the hotel choices are slim
- Some places will be more modern than others but the tour director does take experiences and reviews into account before booking hotels for the group
- If every member of your group is an individual room, the tour director will need at least 16 rooms for the night and sometimes cannot determine a good location until the storm chasing begins to know a reasonable location
- They have a budget to keep as well
- You must pack light
- You are moving every single night and will never fully unpack on this trip
- This is not a trip to dress up for- leave it all at home, dress comfortably
- Small suitcase, duffle bag, or backpack
- Small carry on for the car ride
Even with the light packing I did on this trip, I still over packed!
Must bring items:
- Sneakers/closed shoes- protect against fire ants, snakes, plants, dirt, severe weather etc
- Long pants/yoga or gym pants- protect against fire ants, snakes, plants, dirt, severe weather etc
- Rain jacket (obvious!)- this one is light weight and packable but also dries very quickly
- Heavier jacket- it gets very cold during and after a severe storm
- Layers for shirts- it can be very hot before a storm (tank top) then breezy right before the storm (long sleeve) then gets very cold during and after a storm (heavier jacket)
Items I did not use:
- Contacts- the wind during storms kicked up so much dirt and dust into my eyes with glasses on, it would have been a disaster for me if I put contacts in!
- Bathing suit- I had read it was over 90 degrees in parts of the country we visited so it was a small enough “just in case” item but never touched it. Even if the hotels we stayed in had a pool, we were always so exhausted getting in so late at night.
- Umbrella– another silly “just in case” item. Use the rain jacket, it gets way to windy for an umbrella and it is not typically that rainy.
- Kindle– all those hours of driving and I did not touch the Kindle. Mostly because I was scared of getting car sick while driving for 6 hours but I really did enjoy the “off” my brain experienced and it was also fun talking in the van with everyone. With this in mind, my husband did a lot of reading on this trip so his Kindle was a well used item.
- Snacks- I packed granola bars and nut packets anticipating the sparsity of meals. However, I did not anticipate the multiple stops a day at gas station convenient stores where snacks are bountiful.
Here is my full packing list (adapted from Packing in a Carry On for Long (or Short) Trips):
- Liquid bag of travel size items
- Drawstring bag (carry on item for the van)
- Snacks- brought nuts and granola bars (unless you have specific needs, tour spots multiple times a day if you need snacks so no need to bring your own)
- Northface packable rain jacket
- Small packing cube filled with toiletry items
- Toiletry essentials
- Lush solid shampoo in tin
- Solid sun screen
- I also brought car sickness medication, just in case
- In mesh compartment: light jacket and long sleeve button down for layering
- Packed medium and large packing cubes along with flip flops in main compartment
- Medium packing cube contained smaller clothing items such as socks, underwear, pajamas, tank tops, and that bathing suit I never wore
- Large packing cube contained clothes
- Two pairs of shorts
- Two yoga pants
- Two long sleeved shirts
- Four t-shirts
- Several tank tops to mix and match
- In my crossbody purse
- Passports (needed in case we had to chase storms in Canada)
- Phone charger
- Eye mask for sleeping on the plane
- Chap stick
- What I wore on the plane
- Long sleeve shirt with colored tank top
- Heavier jacket
I hope you found this article helpful in learning more about what a storm chasing trip would entail. It really was an amazing trip and cannot encourage you enough to give it a try if you are considering it and I highly recommend Tempest Tours. Do you have questions I did not address? Feel free to reach out and I would be happy to chat!