Is Storm Chasing Expensive?

gas_2015Simply put, is storm chasing expensive? Perhaps a better question is: Does storm chasing have to be expensive? To that, my answer is a resounding no. Some chasers will spend tens of thousands of dollars or more for fancy equipment, special vehicles, professional cameras and expensive weather instruments. Others will chase dozens of events a year, in which case, the costs quickly add up. Then there are people who chase alone (more expensive), stay at fancy hotels while chasing, etc. There is absolutely no reason for storm chasing to be expensive, if you are someone who simply wants to track down a storm, take a few photographs and enjoy the breathtaking views.

Here are some ways to save money while storm chasing:

Chase with a partner or group
This is probably the easiest way to save money, while chasing, not to mention it can be safer. Essentially cut your costs in half if you chase with a partner. Have a group of four in the same vehicle and then the cost is decreased by 75%. Also, if you’re new to chasing and/or not comfortable with driving toward a storm, find someone who’s more experienced to tag along with. (It’s always a good idea to ask first!)

Vehicle and gas
Unless you are lucky or happen to live in the heart of tornado alley, you’re going to need a vehicle to storm chase. While an SUV or other rugged vehicle may help with getting around on dirt roads and in other tough driving conditions, consider gas mileage, especially if you plan on driving longer distances to chase. Most mid-sized cars can get 30-40 miles per gallon, especially with the longer, fairly straight drives across the Plains. Don’t feel that you have to have a gas guzzler or anything fancy to chase. At least gas prices are fairly low and may continue to fall through 2016! I’ve been chasing with a Toyota Camry for years and not only is it fuel efficient, but it’s reliable too. And back on the gas topic, Texas and Oklahoma are among the states with the cheapest gas in the entire country. Want to save even more? Try the GasBuddy app to find the most inexpensive gas stations around you and it will also help you stay within a safe distance of gas stations, before you risk running low on gas.

Hotel costs
Don’t feel that you have to sleep in your vehicle during a storm chase and don’t let the potential costs of a hotel scare you off. There are plenty of quality, inexpensive hotels/motels out there, you just have to do some research. I recommend looking at reviews before picking a bargain motel. Also, an app like Expedia can help with that process, all while offering deals of 15-40% or even more off your stay. With Expedia, you gain points for booking, so the more you stay, the more you can save over time. Here is a list I have compiled of comfortable, safe and affordable hotels and motels around the Plains and Midwest. Most of them are less than $75 per night, and several are even under $50. Affordable, Yet Comfortable Plains/Midwest Lodging

Visit family and friends
You don’t even have to exclusively rely on hotels when chasing. Have any family members out in the Plains? I got to spend time with my Aunt in Oklahoma over the past few years between chases and not only is it convenient, but it’s great to see family that you otherwise don’t get to spend too much time with. What about a long-lost friend? Chances are, you probably know some people out in tornado alley that might be willing to let you crash a night or two. Again, it’s a good idea to ask first and don’t take advantage of someone who’s being gracious. I brought my aunt a weather radio last year and kept her updated during every severe weather event. I even mowed the lawn for her a few times and picked up groceries! It’s give and take. If someone is nice enough to let you spend time with them, return the favor.

Food and drink
One of the most preventable added costs of chasing is eating out and buying things to drink. While it may seem cheap to grab something from the gas station or a fast food restaurant, packing before you chase is even less expensive and saves time. You won’t be rushing to try to find a place to eat while in the middle of a storm chase. Not to mention, sometimes you may be over an hour away from the next restaurant or gas station anyway! One of my easy tips is to freeze a couple of bottles of water before a chase. They’ll gradually melt through the day, giving you something cold to drink, at least for the first part of a chase. That also doubles as a way to keep food cold, at least for a while. Think about packing healthy snacks like fresh fruit and/or sandwiches for the ride. I personally like Clif Bars, because they are healthy, give you an added boost of energy and are filling, essentially replacing a small meal.

Stay safe
Getting too close to a storm can prove very costly. Repairs from hail damage and flat tires can add up very quickly. Even the most experienced chasers can and do have accidental run-ins with large hail. Storm debris can come out of nowhere. After the November 17th, 2013 chase, I drove over a thousand miles before I realized I had two slowly deflating tires. I must have run over debris somewhere, but the tires could have just as easily gone flat before I made it back to Connecticut. Also, if you’re relying on car insurance, don’t expect free windshield replacements (if you have that coverage) every time you encounter hail. Sure, a windshield may shatter once in awhile from stray hail or a rock on the road, but if you have a pattern of driving into hail storms, chances are your car insurance company will wave red flags.

Consider selling footage
If you want to make your storm chases profitable, or at least gain a few bucks back, look into selling storm footage. Talk to an experienced chaser and find out what company they work with and/or who their broker(s) are. It may take some patience, but you can eventually make money off of chasing, if you are able to grab compelling footage. I personally have no problem with sharing some footage free on social media and in fact, it’s a good way to get our name out there. However, you should not be giving away free videos of a destructive tornado at close range. While news outlets want free footage, most are willing to pay up for the more “extreme” shots.

Things to avoid
Don’t think a storm chasing kickstarter is the way to go. Sure, if you’re a content provider or have a YouTube channel, then it’s not really a bad thing to charge for content. On the other hand, don’t expect free handouts for someone to pay for your chases. If you’re really serious about making money, start your own YouTube channel and seek out Patreons, who can donate to your effort. Another way to make money, aside from selling footage, is to consider making t-shirts, calendars or other ways of sharing your chase memorabilia with the public. If you can create a large enough following (or even just support from family members), you can make some cash on the side that way.

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Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design. He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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