Silver Lining Tours vans rolled in Kansas

Aug 27, 2009
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I found this thread when it was only 4-5 comments long and haven't been back since only to see how it exploded into a 9 page thread. Wow.

For those who don't know me I run a website comparing storm chasing tours (stormchasingusa.com) and I think it is safe to say that there is no one in the world who have chased with more tour companies than I (8 as of today, including SLT). I have been active in the storm chasing tour industry through my website and I am in constant contact with nearly all tour companies throughout the year as well as read the reviews tour guests post on my website after the tours. I also tend to talk a whole lot with other tour guests while chasing. So, in conclusion, I believe I have a very good view of how the tour industry works from a tour guest perspective. I am also affiliated with a few companies so I guess I could be biased in my opinion, but I will try to stay as objective as possible. I chased with SLT last year on the very same tour that got hit this year and I really like Roger and Caryn. The 30 minutes or so after I read about the accident until I knew they were OK were not very pleasant.

There are a few points and clarifications I would like to make:

- All storm chasing tour companies say they have safety as their number one priority but this is obviously a grey area as of the whole discussion on how close is really safe. I often ask how close they get to the tornadoes but often get the response that it depends on the situation, and of course it does. I would say all tour companies I have chased with have more or less the same style of chasing in terms of safety vs aggressiveness. In the end some would typically stay 1/4 mile further away than the other but it is difficult to say as I would have to have been in the almost exact same situation with every tour company to determine that.

- I have been in incidents or situations where we took risks with nearly every single tour company I have been with. I have been 10 seconds away from getting hit by a (very weak) tornado that changed path, I have been chasing in the rain with no visibility only to find out there was a tornado in the storm close to us that we did not see, I have been close to a rotating wall cloud on foot (although with a safety plan), I have been underneath the base of an elephant trunk tornado at night that we were clueless about until we were under it (it was touching down further away, in the dark), I have been in RFD in the dark/rain with radar couplets all over and no good road options, I have been (somewhat) close to flip the van after the driver dodged a deer driving very fast towards a tornado warned storm, and I have been chasing in vans where seat belts were not enforced (putting all others at harm, especially considering what happened to SLT) to name examples from each tour company I have been with without naming anyone. Out of ignorance and adrenaline I have, in fact, enjoyed every single event to be honest (at least afterwards) - with the exception of the driving/car related events.

My point is, ALL tour companies take risks or put their tour guests at risk in one way or another. You cannot, as a storm chaser or a tour guide have 100% control of the situation all the time and you never have 100% of the information. You can only rely on probabilities and in most of these cases (at least weather related) there was some sort of risk assessment where the tour guide would have to determine the amount of risk taken but sometimes the tour guide just lost focus, although only for a short period of time. You cannot run a tour with a nullified risk (10 mile away from storms) unless it is a storm structure photography tour where you constantly stay away from the bases - but then you still have the lightning risk.

- Yes, the vast majority of tour guests DO want to get up and close to tornadoes and into hail and most tour guests have NO idea of the risks they are taking but rely completely on the tour guide to know that, of course. I have definitely been a part of the tour crowd wanting to get closer to the action, especially after several down days - something I am not too proud of today. I have also talked to tour guests who was not at all happy about ending up in one of the situations mentioned above but they are generally few and never ever the young tour guests.

For example, the event Blake Knapp mentioned experiencing as a tour guest with ETT, I asked him how the sentiment was in the van after they got into that tornado and it was, as you may expect, ecstatic. The tour guests want to come home with great stories and great photos and every single one expect to survive. Then again, how could they not? They see videos on social media almost every day of close encounters and even chasers being inside tornadoes who return to tell their (amazing) story. These kind of spectacular videos is what draws many tour guests into storm chasing as they are the ones who go most viral.

- Some tour companies (mainly the larger ones, including SLT) have a very thorough safety introduction on the arrival day. Some do it more ad hoc or not at all. This is merely about how the tour guests should act around severe weather (such as the importance of getting back to the van when they are called back). This has, however, nothing to do with how the tour company in fact chase, other than perhaps clarifying how they chase.

I haven't obviously been in the same kind of situations with every tour company so I don't know how every single tour company would act in any given situation. Then again, some (larger) tour companies hire different tour guides who may have different chase styles as well.

- The larger the tour company is, the higher the risk you are exposed to for two reasons. For companies like SLT, ETT, TT etc , you run 2-3 vans on almost every tour throughout April to July which means you expose yourself to a greater risk (just by a matter of numbers) of actually getting impacted by an event. Also, in my opinion it gets riskier driving several vans as you have to wait for one another and one slow tour guest could slow the entire caravan down. I do not think this was the case during the discussed event but I am just saying that there is a small inherent risk in that compared to the more flexible small SUV tour companies.

- Roger does run a "Close encounter" tour where the aim is to get as close as safely possible. It is a one van tour where they take risks higher than the other tours (the one impacted was not the Close Encounter tour though). My impression from chasing with him is that he knows VERY well what he is doing and he also knows how and when to be more aggressive (as in the mentioned tour ) and when to stay further away to cater for higher safety and also the concerns of the ones who do not want to be THAT up and close. Still, as we have just seen, every tour has a certain risk because you could end up in a bad spot if you just lose focus or are unaware of quick situation changes at some point - and, as mentioned, I would say all tour companies I have been chasing with are guilty of that. It is just human nature. And again, I have no clue to whether this was what happened with SLT, I am just saying that no tour company is perfect. No tour guide will only sit and govern the radar, the surroundings etc for safety reasons but rather spend quite some time on filming/shooting the tornado.

- One last thing that is mostly related to running tours that I hope this event will highlight is the general car safety rules. Every tour company allow tour guests to have lots of loose, hard items (such as cameras, laptops) in the van - which of course is very difficult to regulate. No tour company (as far as I remember) have a safety net guarding the luggage in the back to not fly onto the tour guests in case of a car crash (or tornado impact). Far too many drivers spend a whole lot of time looking at radar and their cell phone while driving (although this is getting much better). The tour companies that drive vans typically do not have neck rests which could be very unsafe in terms of whiplash in a crash or event. Some tour companies do not enforce the use of seat belts.

I obviously have no clue about HOW the SLT tour guests were injured when the vans flipped but I would not be surprised that many of the minor injuries were caused by cameras, laptops etc flying around in the van. If someone was not wearing his/her seat belt he/she could have hurt himself, and others!, a whole lot as well.

Events like the one with SLT will happen again because of the nature of storm chasing and the human nature as well but it is generally a matter of making choices that will reduce the risk of it happening and the impacts of it when it happens.

Despite the incidents I have been a part of I would still go back and chase (and recommend) with every single active tour company I have chased with as I have not seen anything that would deter me from chasing with them in terms of very unsafe practices, this includes SLT as well. I do however try to enforce them to improve their service, both in terms of safety issues like the ones explained as well as the general storm chasing experience.

I do not think this event will affect the storm chasing tour industry much at all but I hope it brings more attention to tour companies having the right insurance. I really hope Roger and Caryn all the best and that they recover from this.
 
Feb 19, 2007
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It is sad to realize that the only real way that the safety of Storm Chasing Tour companies will be addressed is through a multi death incident. A mass casualty incident is not enough to get everyone saying that this is NOT acceptable.

In recent years, those labeled as "the safest chasers" have died due to direct hits (Tim, Carl, and Paul) or resulted in the rolling of two tour vans (with 12 injuries). With this "apathy", my prediction is that a tour company incident will happen again (in the very near future) and it will result in a large number of deaths.

I have lost a great amount of respect for those saying this was ok for whatever reason.
 
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Jun 19, 2005
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It is sad to realize that the only real way that the safety of Storm Chasing Tour companies will be addressed is through a multi death incident. A mass casualty incident is not enough to get everyone saying that this is NOT acceptable.

In recent years, those labeled as "the safest chasers" have died due to direct hits (Tim, Carl, and Paul) or resulted in the rolling of two tour vans (with 12 injuries). With this "apathy", my prediction is that a tour company incident will happen again (in the very near future) and it will result in a large number of deaths.

I have lost a great amount of respect for those saying this was ok for whatever reason.
This is exactly what I was told by a FMCSA regulator...

Don't know why the discussion has been as drawn out as it is. Actually think Roger would come down to this level and grace us with his commentary? Remember when Sean Casey did a drive by post when he crossed on the double yellow on camera, I would not expect even that level of interaction anymore.
 
Jan 31, 2017
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Joplin, MO & Iowa City, IA
Actually think Roger would come down to this level and grace us with his commentary?
I am as certain as I can be about anything that a lawyer has told Roger to say nothing more publicly. He had a FB post June 3 saying, "This will be the last we post about last weeks incident." The post said, "We believed we were in a safe location, as we had been MANY MANY times before, as we drove back south and away from the parent meso. With that being said, **we have now implemented** the “7to10 HP” rule when around these HP beasts. Meaning, we get no closer then 7-10 miles when around an HP cell. Our decided positioning **from now on** will be positioned far enough away to view structure only." (I added asterisks for emphasis).

A lawyer for the plaintiffs will respond, "You changed your policy *after* the accident. Can you see why it looks like you now feel your previous policy was wrong?"

Does anyone else view it this way? Something here I'm misinterpreting?
 
Jul 5, 2009
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I am as certain as I can be about anything that a lawyer has told Roger to say nothing more publicly. He had a FB post June 3 saying, "This will be the last we post about last weeks incident." The post said, "We believed we were in a safe location, as we had been MANY MANY times before, as we drove back south and away from the parent meso. With that being said, **we have now implemented** the “7to10 HP” rule when around these HP beasts. Meaning, we get no closer then 7-10 miles when around an HP cell. Our decided positioning **from now on** will be positioned far enough away to view structure only." (I added asterisks for emphasis).

A lawyer for the plaintiffs will respond, "You changed your policy *after* the accident. Can you see why it looks like you now feel your previous policy was wrong?"

Does anyone else view it this way? Something here I'm misinterpreting?
I agree Steve. Whether a lawyer told him, or just out of common sense, nothing good can come out of public comment when there is actual or potential litigation. Even in cases where you are not at fault, you can’t risk anything being misinterpreted, taken out of context, or twisted by the other side, such as you suggested in your post.

This is exactly what I was told by a FMCSA regulator...

Don't know why the discussion has been as drawn out as it is. Actually think Roger would come down to this level and grace us with his commentary? Remember when Sean Casey did a drive by post when he crossed on the double yellow on camera, I would not expect even that level of interaction anymore.
Roger (and many other veteran chasers) never grace ST with their presence, but for the reason Steve notes I wouldn’t expect Roger to start now. He has already posted public comments, so in some ways it’s not unreasonable to think he should also post here, but I can certainly understand why he wouldn’t want to, and he probably shouldn’t, especially in a forum like this that is a conversation and not just a one-way “announcement.”
 
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Steve Miller

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Jun 14, 2004
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What really amazes me is that no one on the tour has spoken out yet. I did receive a call from one of the Hollywood TV tabloid companies seeking information, but I refused as I know the same information everyone else does and it would not be fair for Roger to speculate.
Imagine they have sought legal if they took issue with being rolled and injured. From there they’ve been told to hush if they want to have a case. Imagine we will now enter a period of absolute silence until the first suit is filed - if there is one.
 
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Jun 19, 2005
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Imagine they have sought legal if they took issue with being rolled and injured. From there they’ve been told to hush if they want to have a case. Imagine we will now enter a period of absolute silence until the first suit is filed - if there is one.
On the flip side (haha), no one has posted something to the effect of, 'check out how extreme my chase was when we flipped the van!'
 
May 1, 2004
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I'm looking for anyone who would like to contribute shots of the May 28, 2019 Overbrook/Lone Star, KS EF2, Lawrence EF4, and parent supercell for an educational safety video. I wasn’t going to, and was really hoping not to, but now think it’s necessary. Please email or PM me and I’ll follow up with you. It may be a few days before I actually get to it, but I’d like to start gathering some preliminary info. Thanks to all who have already offered to contribute shots.
 
Jul 5, 2009
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Absolutely not. He made a pot shot on Facebook apparently asking "Is that place still around?"

I’m glad you shared that. I always felt there was some level of arrogance there and looking down on us commoners on ST. I never wanted to actually say that but this seems to confirm it. OT I know but it just irks me to no end that all these veteran chasers only use FB. I think FB sucks for this stuff as it’s not codified in any way. I get it, there may be some desire to use FB for your own site, and it’s more accessible to the public. But at least contribute here also, instead of somehow implying ST members are all second-class citizens and you don’t want to cross to the other side of the tracks.
 
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