Storm chasing, despite its reputation as a dangerous activity that requires training and meteorological knowledge, remains a popular hobby endeavor for many people. It is so popular among enthusiasts, in fact, that an entire industry of storm tourism has popped up to serve an appetite for being near tornadoes.
Are these services a fun alternative vacation or a symptom of a growing problem?
Storm Chasing Is Getting Crowded
Chasing storms is easier now than it has ever been in the past, thanks in large part to the hard work of storm chasers who have honed prediction and mapping methods. It’s not difficult for any enthusiast to download an app and start chasing a storm with the aid of a live weather map. This, in turn, has led to a massive increase in the number of people trying to get close to tornadoes.
The problem of overcrowded roads, reckless driving, and outright dangerous behavior around tornadoes is now well-documented. We’ve even covered the overcrowding issue on this very site. In short, there are so many people thronging towards tornadoes that the community is one bad accident away from a major catastrophe. At this point, it’s a question of when, not if, amateur chasers get hurt.
Is Storm Tourism Contributing to This Problem?
Companies that offer guided tours of storm chasing activity have been accused by some of contributing to this growing problem. However, things aren’t black and white with storm tourism. The safest thing to do with a tornado, of course, is to get away from it. However, if you’re going to insist on driving headlong towards it, it’s not a bad idea to have a guide.
Most storm tours are insured and have knowledgeable guides who will drive a van full of tour-takers into the proximity of an active tornado. This allows the tourists to take pictures and videos of a tornado up-close without adding a ton of extra vehicles and amateur chasers to the roads. In an ideal situation, this is preferable to the chaos of hundreds of people all driving on Midwestern back roads towards a storm.
So, Storm Tours Are a Good Thing?
However, the industry isn’t blameless, either. Some tour guides are unprofessional and just as bad as the worst wannabe chasers. They can act irrationally, driving far too close to the storm or otherwise endangering the people they’re guiding. In these cases, the tours are simply another part of the growing problem of storm crowding.
In short, the industry is a mixed bag. While it’s preferable that amateurs have some guidance when chasing storms, the problem of storm overcrowding has no simple answers. At the end of the day, there’s truly no safe way to get close to a destructive force of nature.