A Rare Glimpse into a Storm Chasing Business!13 Feb , 2012 | 0
(Video: 2000 Waterloo tornado intercepted by the Silver Lining Tours team: Credit: Stormchaser.net)
Meet Dr. David Gold. He is the co-owner and operator of one of the top storm chasing companies in the world—Silver LiningTours (SLT). Silver Lining Tours offers full service tour packages for those who are interested in witnessing Mother Nature’s wrath of severe weather including severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Dr. Gold’s business partner and tour operator is Roger Hill. Not only are Dr. Gold and Roger Hill some of the brightest guys around in meteorology, but they have also have an amazing track record of chasing over 300+ tornadoes in only 9 years. Today I’m going to talk to Dr. Gold about storm chasing. Not from a forecasting perspective this time, but what it actually takes to own and operate a storm chasing business.
Note: Roger Hill (left) and Dr. David Gold (right)
Question: How did you two meet and what made you guys decide, “Hey let’s create a storm chasing a business”?
Well I co-founded the business in 1997 with my lifelong friend, Bill Gargan. During the 1999 season I noticed this unknown chaser seemingly come out of the woodwork and have remarkable success. At the time I was looking to move beyond contracting out my seasonal driving/co-guide spots to graduate student buddies of mine. But when I saw Roger’s success, I decided to take a chance. I contacted him out of the blue and after talking, we agreed to work together the following season on a provisional basis. We hit it off and our business relationship and friendship grew to the point where in 2004 I asked him to become partner. We’ve been growing strong ever since!
Question: What are the major steps you need to do to make storm chasing a legitimate and real business?
Like any business you have to tend to the important issues of properly structuring the entity (type of business), registering with the state, setting up financial records/books, starting and maintaining a fleet of vehicles, insuring the business, etc…then you have to make sure you manage your clientele properly and make sure they have a fantastic experience out in the field so that they become repeat business. Loyal clients are the bedrock of a successful business.
Question: What are the biggest challenges of the Storm Chasing business?
The people can be just as unpredictable as the weather! Despite our best efforts to “filter” the clientele, occasionally we get the odd unforeseen medical emergency during the tours and a rapid response is required in order to ensure the safety of the afflicted client, as well as that of the other participants. Once the situation is dealt with, we have to change gears and get back to the business of running the tours. Other challenges include occasional vehicle mishaps; despite our obsession with keeping the tour vans in top shape, you cannot prevent every flat tire, loose wire or blown alternator.
Question: A lot of everyday folks have seen the movie “Twister” and think of storm chasing like it is from the movie. Did the movie do an accurate job of portraying what storm chasing is all about? How does the movie differ from what a typical day at SLT is like?
The movie Twister portrayed the daily life of a storm chaser as one of continuous excitement, with tornadoes occuring with every severe thunderstorm, and that simply is not the case. Tornadoes are a fairly rare occurance, and even under the perfect conditions, sometimes they just do not form. You have days that are frustrating, you have days where storms do not occur due to conditions, and you have days that are absolutely amazing!
Question: What has been the scariest moment for you on any storm chasing tour? Please describe.
I am afraid I would have to go May 22, 2011. We were chasing a storm in southeastern Kansas that tried hard to produce a tornado. Then we crossed in southwest Missouri and approached the city of Joplin. We stopped for gas and a comfort break on the north side of town as our original storm died. While we stopped a second storm rapidly developed and became instantly tornadic. As we saw this occuring we gathered everyone up and blasted through town on Range Line Road, trying to get the interstate and head east ouf of its way. We came within about 45 seconds of encountering the violent large EF5 tornado that caused the incredible death and destruction in the city of Joplin. It was as close as I ever want to come to a situation where you almost didn’t have control of your own fate.
(Photo credit: Silver Lining Tours image of Joplin, MO tornadic supercell)
Question: Storm chasing can obviously be a thrilling experience for many, but it can also be dangerous if proper precautions are not put in place. How does SLT deal with the safety aspect of Storm Chasing?
There are a lot of unsafe ways to chase storms, and usually not too many safe ways to do it. We employ the safe chasing tactics by positioning ourselves out of harms way, and never stopping to witness a tornado without having an escape route. We have such experienced leaders and guides that we can almost always keep away from the life threatening dangers of a storm and yet provide our guests with the experience of a lifetime!
Question: Your storm chase tour packages can cost upwards of $2000 per person for 7 days. From “an average Joe” standpoint, that’s quite expensive. Yet most of your tours are generally sold out well in advance of their starting time. Please explain.
We feel our success rate, our safety record, the knowledge and experience of our guides and leaders, and the way we conduct our tours provide an amazing experience that keep our guests coming back year after year. We not only give our guests an incredible vacation, but we also teach them about the severe weather environment so they leave with a much greater understanding of how severe weather works. And I think the guests really appreciate that. It is something that many other tour operators simply do not do.
Question: Can storm chasing be a viable business? Enough to earn a decent income, raise a family, buy a house, etc? What does it take to be successful?
It can provide a decent income, enough to generally live on. The key to success is providing a quality product that nobody quite does the way you do. I feel we cater to our guests more than anyone else does.
Question: You guys have been in business since 1997. So obviously it’s been quite a long time for a storm chasing company. When you look back, is there anything you’d want to do differently?
I really don’t know of anything we’d do differently. The business has grown and we have been able to maintain our tours to the same status for years now. Maybe a bit more advertising and marketing to keep it moving forward.
Question: What advice would you have for a student or young professional who loves storm chasing and wants to make a real business out of it?
Honestly my advice would be to not try to make a business out of storm chasing. There is a very small market in tours, video work, photography, etc, and it is about saturated.
Thank you David for this wonderful and honest perspective into the business of storm chasing! I hope that gives a lot of you some juicy insights and a rare glimpse into storm chasing as a business.
We all know that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow….so how about surprising your sweetie with a storm chasing tour/vacation from Silver Lining Tours! Okay maybe that’s a tad biased to you…but hey it would make for a thrilling vacation
Or if you’ve always wanted to just go on a storm chasing tour on your own…here’s your chance. The SLT tours are selling out fast…you can see what’s available, here. If you’re interested in signing up for the tour, you can email Dr. Gold or Roger Hill at email@example.com. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to use the comment box below!