Today marks the start of Tornado Week 2013 at The Weather Channel. I have been a weather geek since I was a little girl, and I’ve passed this love on to my children. (A few years ago, my son requested a tornado chase for his 16th birthday.) In honor of this week dedicated to the swirling super storms that inspire both awe and fear, I decided to take a look at the business of storm chasing.

Storm chasing for science

In my opinion, the most important aspect of the entire storm-chasing scene is for the scientific data gathered each year. The more that meteorologists know about tornados, the better. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the “current average lead-time for tornado warnings is 13 minutes.” Unfortunately, NOAA researchers feel that this lead-time has reached a plateau and new technological advancements are needed to improve forecasting.

Forecasting is just one of several tornado research areas that NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) is focusing on. The primary purpose of the Warn-on-Forecast research program is to “increase tornado, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warning lead times. Increasing the lead time and accuracy for hazardous weather and water warnings and forecasts, in order to reduce loss of life, injury, and damage to the economy is one of the strategic goals of NOAA.”

Tornado footage

Storm chasers can turn their hobby into a bit of a money-making venture when they sell their video footage or still photographs of a tornado or other severe storm event. One of the most well-known companies is Reed Timmer’s TornadoVideos.Net.

Timmer, a meteorologist, is featured on the popular Discovery Channel series "Storm Chasers." With cameras rolling, Timmer and his team drove a beefed-up SUV, nicknamed The Dominator, into a tornado. The video footage they shot was amazing, and since The Dominator is also equipped with a bevy of scientific equipment, they also gathered a good deal of data.

Storm chasing tours

Spending a week in a van traversing the Plains searching for a proverbial needle in the haystack isn’t the ideal vacation for everyone. It takes a very special kind of geek to be comfortable putting his life into someone else’s hands in the hopes of seeing a tornado, but that is exactly what happens every spring and summer.

There are dozens of storm chasing companies that want to help you (and I!) see and film a tornado. I’ve seen rotating wall clouds, but I’ve never seen an actual funnel on the ground. Seeing a tornado is on my bucket list, but I need to save up my pennies before I go.

These trips aren’t cheap – a storm chasing vacation can easily top $2,500 for five days and that only covers lodging and ground transportation. By the time you add in airfare and meals, you’re looking at $3,500 for one person. Good thing I have a few years before my son turns 16!

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