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Becoming a Professional Tornado/Storm Chaser
Living the dream, by Tornado Tim

I think when I first got started tornado chasing I never thought it would become so much of my life. The idea of chasing storms for a living didn't even cross my mind. I just thought about chasing  when I had the time and money to buy gas. Maybe going out of state once or twice a year, it was a hobby that didn't make money, it took it. 

But I went from chasing a couple of weeks in May to now chasing a few months every year. I am doing more chasing than I ever thought I would, doing tornado research, and and even making money while doing it. But hard core chasing entails traveling tens of thousands of miles each year to get the best storms, with many weeks off in a row, and lots of money just to cover your costs. Making money doing it is very hard.

I am now doing serious tornado research in the hope of helping develop tornado warning systems for people and also working on tornado education and safety. But my research isn't making money, it costs money.  Some researchers are making a full time living from storm/tornado study, but again, they work all year long on the research, and only part time actually chasing. That means most of their year is spent at desks, in front of computers and not chasing tornadoes. So again, picture the reality here, they are sitting at a desk and computer working hard on their research. Not chasing storms and tornadoes all year long. These researchers are highly educated professionals, so if research is your thing, plan on many years in a university getting your needed degrees. Also, you had better be good at complex math since advanced meteorology requires it.

With as far as I have come, I still don't consider myself a full time tornado/storm chaser, but just a part time chaser because I am only out chasing a few months each year. I hear of people who claim to be full time year around chasers, but I would ask them a few questions. Do you make all your money just chasing storms and no other income at all except what you make at tornado chasing?  As far as I know, and I talk to many chasers from around the world, no one is making their entire living just chasing storms. No one.  Surprised? 

Storm chasing and chasing tornadoes is a business like any other. What do you have to sell, what product do you offer?  Many tornado chasers are videographers, and great at it. Warren Faidely was one of the first to make good  money at filming storms and tornadoes, and is still one of the best in the world with a camera. Does he just chase storms? No, he is a photographer and videographer and makes money chasing because he knows how to use a camera better than most everyone else out there.  He is really a photographer/videographer, and a fantastic one.  So there are photographers and videographers who are making money, but you need very good video or photos to compete.

It comes down to the fact that you need to be able to market and sell something. If you aren't great at photography and videography, you aren't a professional researcher, than you need something else to sell. You could do chase tours. There are many chase tours with some tours like Silver Lining Tours with Roger Hill who are really tour guides for a living, with Roger maybe being the best in the world currently. No, he does not make a living just chasing, he sells tours and is also highly talented at photography and video, and sells those for money too. Some of his video is so good I have cried watching it, really.  Again, you need to have something to sell and market besides just sitting in a car and chasing down storms and tornadoes. You could be filming the best tornado in history, but if you don't know how to use a video camera no one will buy your video.  You may love chasing storms, but to run a chasing tour you had better be great at finding most every tornado, be a fun person to be around, and know how to keep people entertained, or you will have many unhappy travelers along with you demanding their money back.  Some smaller, less known tours out there are finding running a tour is very risky, expensive and difficult, with their riders asking for all their money back because they didn't see one tornado. I personally am not interested in making a living being a tour guide, even when it means chasing tornadoes and storms.

So, can someone make a living at chasing tornadoes and storms? Only if they have something that can be sold or is of value to someone else. The trick is finding the someone else who will buy what you have to offer and what you have needs to be exceptional.  Then, how much money a year do you need to call it a living? $20,000.00 per year? But is that all profit or is that gross income before expenses?  Would $30,000.00 dollars gross income leave you enough to live off of? Do the math and you will see how hard it is to make a full time living from tornado/storm chasing. Chasing costs are very expensive, especially with gas over $2.00 per gallon traveling 400 or more miles everyday, motel cost and meals out. Profit is almost as elusive as the tornadoes we seek, it takes hard work to make it.

Being a part time chaser is still great and maybe is the best route for you to work towards.  Part time chasers who make up pretty much the vast majority of chasers find that a second or third income is what makes it all work. Maybe you will find you have so much to offer you can gross $70,000.00 per year or more, but still the bottom line is, will you be able to live off of what is left after all expenses are paid. However you add it up, you still have to pay for food, shelter, medical, and all the other bills all year long. Of course vehicle costs is always very high with wear and tear, repairs, tires, windshield replacement, oil changes, you get my point. Then there are equipment costs, repairs, and replacements.

Don't get discouraged if other chasers make you feel like they are making great money and living well off of chasing and you aren't, because chances are, they aren't doing that great. Instead you should feel like one of us if you are out there in search of seeing a tornado, while still having to hold down some kind of secondary income. I believe making a very good living as a tornado/storm chaser and making all your income from only chasing, and doing it year in and year out is still just a dream for almost everyone chasing. Short of winning the lottery, retiring and having a nice pension to live off of, living at home with your parents, inheriting a million dollars, or striking it rich by luck, plan on working besides chasing and you will be in touch with the real world. 

That's how it is:  Tornado Tim  home of Tornado Tim