One of the most common questions we receive in regards to which tour to choose is “which tour has the best chances of seeing a tornado?” On our tour schedule you’ll notice that we only offer storm chasing tours during the height of tornado season in the Great Plains. To help you decide on the tour that is right for you, we’ve put together this article to give you the information needed to make a great decision.
In short, every storm chasing tour we offer has the same exact chances of witnessing a tornado event. Tornado season throughout the Great Plains starts in early March and lasts well into late summer, and even early fall. However, we only offer tours when the season is at its peak, and this is generally the months of May and June. The basis of our knowledge of when and where this happens comes from our lives of living in the Great Plains, but thankfully that National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center has some great visual tools that we can use to validate our information.
We need to basically look at two things:
- The location where the majority of tornadoes happen.
- The time period with the highest frequency of tornadoes in our “chase zone” or “Tornado Alley”.
“Tornado Alley” is a section of the Great Plains that generally runs from the Texas Panhandle through central Oklahoma and then north towards the Dakotas. This is our “chase zone”, altogether it’s more than a half-million square miles!
While it’s true that tornadoes do occur in other areas of the United States, they are typically very difficult to get “chaseable” storms due to inconsistent road networks and lack of good viewing due to obstacles such as thick trees and a lot of hills.
Tornado Alley on the other hand is mostly farmland. It’s flat and there are few forested areas because of the presence of big agriculture of grain crops. Due to the lack of trees and hills, this makes this area of the Great Plains ideal for viewing thunderstorms.
Another great feature of Tornado Alley is the road network. Agriculture is big business and, since farmers need access to their fields, most parts of Tornado Alley have a gridded network of roads called a “mile section”.
In general, there is a road (of various quality) just about every 1 mile in a gridded pattern. Road quality can vary greatly. In Texas, for example, most roads are paved while in west Kansas only the highways offer pavements and the farm roads are mostly gravel.
We will only chase in “Tornado Alley”, and in fairness, we should state that what we consider to be “Tornado Alley” is slightly larger than the blue area on the map shown on this page. We would also include parts of Wyoming, Montana, all of the Dakotas and parts of Iowa and Minnesota. Altogether, our “playing field” is more than 500,000 square miles!
As a general rule-of-thumb, storm systems move into Tornado Alley about once to twice a week during the height of the spring storm season. If we were to chase a storm system into the southeastern states (e.g., Alabama, Georgia, etc…) it could take a couple of days to drive to those states while on a tour, and a couple of days to return to the central plains regions of Oklahoma and Kansas. Worse, while we were in southeast, our viewing possibilities would be extremely limited due to obstacles such as trees and if a storm system moved into Tornado Alley during this time we would miss it, both factors would make a storm chasing tour quite miserable! This is why we generally stick to Tornado Alley.
On the next page we’ll discuss storm chasing during the height of tornado season!