ETT2009 / Extreme Tornado Tours 2009
Denise and I were hooked on the Storm Chasers series on the Discovery Channel during the fall of 2008. During those shows, I remarked that storm chasing was one of those "bucket list" items for me — one of those things I'd like to do before I "kick the bucket" (terminology I had taken from commercials for the 2007 movie The Bucket List, I haven't seen the movie so this is not a recommendation).
I did a little online digging into storm chasing tours, including Extreme Tornado Tours, which are affiliated with TornadoVideos.net, one of the storm chasing teams featured on Storm Chasers. However, I wasn't too keen on spending money on a solo vacation. Although Denise was fascinated by the show, she had no desire to intentionally get anywhere near a tornado, and even less desire to spend the hours of riding around that such a tour would involve. So, I thought no more of it.
Then, on December 17, my wife gave me this home-made multi-page card:
The next two pages were the 2009 schedule printed from the Extreme Tornado Tours website.
Because of the cost and the time away from the family, I was still hesitant to actually go through with it. But, Denise seemed to sincerely want me to follow that dream. So, I did a lot more serious digging into the various tour companies, and finally decided to go for it! In late December 2008, I signed up for a 10 day "North Country Magic" tour on 12–21 May 2009 with Extreme Tornado Tours.
Although a big factor in my decision was ETT's affiliation with TornadoVideos.net, the deciding factor was that the base city (where I had to travel to meet up with the tour) was Kansas City, Missouri. The other tours' base cities were farther west, in Oklahoma, Kansas, or Colorado. I could handle the drive to Kansas City, and, more importantly, visit loved ones in Missouri: Aunt Connie in Centralia, and Aunt Bettie in Kansas City (whom I hadn't seen for well over a decade).
Preparing to chase storms
My hope was to take lots of pictures on the tour. Even if we didn't see a tornado, I was looking forward to watching picturesque thunderstorms marching across the plains. So, I bought a spare battery for my camera and a large capacity (8GB) memory card.
I also wanted to be able to measure wind speeds, hopefully within the inflow of a tornado, but at least within any downbursts or gust fronts we might encounter. After some online research of reasonably priced hand-held anemometers, I decided to get the Windtronic 2, assembled in Germany by Kaindl Electronics. This was the only (reasonably priced) hand-held anemometer I found which uses spinning cups rather than a turbine — in order to get an accurate speed measurement, you must point a turbine anemometer in the exact direction of the wind (a difficult thing to do accurately, even if the wind happens to be steadily in one direction); with a spinning cup anemometer it does not matter what direction you point it. Once I received my Windtronic, I held it out the window while driving down the interstate on a calm day to ensure that it was reasonably accurate at higher speeds.
Denise ordered me a nice rain coat from Land's End, since my lightweight jackets are, at best, only water resistant. I made good use of that rain coat on several occasions during the trip (while others just got wet), and it has proven useful even when not storm chasing.
The North Country Magic tours sometimes head into Canada to chase storms, so ETT's website recommended that tour guests have an up-to-date passport to facilitate re-entry into the US. I thought mid-May would probably be a bit too early for tornadoes that far north; but, I wanted to be prepared. So, for the first time in my life, I now have a passport.
ETT also mentioned on their website that, during a chase, there would be little chance to stop for food. There would normally be adequate time for breakfast and lunch, but suppers would usually have to wait until late at night since most severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occur from late afternoon to late evening. So, I stocked up on four boxes of South Beach Living High Protein Cereal Bars, a big 56oz. bag of Dark Chocolate M&M Peanuts, and a supply of sesame sticks.