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There are two types of tornado chasers: those who do it as part of a career as an atmospheric scientist and those who do it on the side for thrills and a bit of cash. One of these makes quite a bit of money. And the other? Not so much.
Tornado chasers make an average of $92,070 per year or $44.27 per hour for their dangerous, thrilling career.
What Is Tornado Chasing?
Tornado chasers, or storm chasers, do exactly what the name implies – they chase severe storms. The purpose of storm chasing is to gather data in order to better understand severe weather patterns. Storm chasers study weather data to find where a storm is going to occur, then they travel as close to the site as they can. Understanding storms helps better predict the causes of severe weather and its impact on earth.
Who are Atmospheric Scientists?
The majority of storm chasers do it as part of their jobs as meteorologists or other types of atmospheric scientist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for an atmospheric scientist in 2017 was $92,070 per year, or $44.27 per hour.
Most atmospheric scientists work in weather stations, labs or offices for much of the year; storm chasing is done during fieldwork assignments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this occupation is predicted to grow 12 percent between now and 2026, particularly in the private industry. A bachelor's degree is required for most positions in atmospheric science, but if you work in research, you will likely need a Master's degree and/or a Ph.D., as well.
Origins of Storm Chasers
Storm chasing started in the 1950s, with two amateur pioneers: Roger Jensen began photographing the sky from his family's farm in Minnesota, and Dave Headley became fascinated by severe weather and storm chasing after a severe thunderstorm hit his hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1956. Headley founded Storm Track magazine in 1977.
Cell Phones changed the game for storm chasers. Once an occupation or hobby that required intricate knowledge of physics and meteorology to find storms before they hit, now anyone with a cell phone can view radar on their phone and head for the location where a tornado will touch down. It's difficult to find an accurate salary or hourly wage for storm chasers because it's not something that is typically practiced year-round. In the U.S., tornado-chasing season is usually from April to June. Tornado Alley –an area of the Great Plains that includes eastern Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of other nearby states– is the most common region in which to find a storm chaser, given the area's high tornado count.
Storm chasers can make about $500 by selling storm footage to a television station. People pay between $2,200 and $3,500 for professional storm-chasing tours, but that doesn't all go into the pocket of the tour guide due to the associated costs of starting and running a business. Unless you become famous as a storm chaser or study to become an atmospheric scientist, you are unlikely to make a good living by chasing storms.
Heather Skyler is a journalist and novelist who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek, The New York Times and SKY magazine.