Cost of chasing per day

Dan Robinson

I've been crunching some numbers and found that chasing in the Plains this year will likely cost me roughly $200 per day. This is based on the few chases I've been on already this year. That's $115 in gas (a little over 2 fillups per day at $45 each), $75 for hotels, $10 for videotapes. A two week trip is going to run $2800. In 2004 I chased for a month and spent that much. That's if gas prices stay the way they are now. If we go over $3.20 or so, my season will consist of only two or three chases.

The Tennessee chase last week cost me almost $400 from start to finish, including gas, hotels and food.

I'm looking at the budget and thinking to myself, as much as I love this, this is getting harder and harder to justify.

Of course I know all of the cost-cutting tricks - you can carpool, find cheap lodging and split hotel rooms, but realistically, most of the time that's hard to do especially if you're coming from the east coast. Hotels are booked a lot of the time and you have to get the higher end rooms. It's hard to sleep in the car most times, impossible if you have passengers - and you can't chase very many days on 1 or 2 hours of sleep.

If this keeps up, I might have to start skipping one or two seasons at a time just to have one good year. Even this year is going to be a stretch.
I'm looking at the budget and thinking to myself, as much as I love this, this is getting harder and harder to justify.[/b]

I feel your pain Dan. I have though the very same thing, particularly after 3 long range chases that didn't produce as expected. I have given serious thought to just cutting down my chases to the local area, since the station finances that. But when the ingredients are coming together for another good chase, it's like being addicted to some drug and it drags you back out again. If the gas goes up over $3, many people I think are going to quit or seriously cut down to local only chases. Honestly, I don't know how these big SUV guys afford the gas. It's bad enough in a minivan.
I really think we're going to see a lot more local event chasers and less long range treks. A 352 mile trip the other day had me at about $40 in my escort. I pretty much keep to a 2 hour range from my place. I may miss out on the big stuff, but there's more chances I can go out every time. The bad thing about this time of year, is that we're getting the first chases of the year out of the way. It may be a setup that we otherwise wouldn't go for later in the season. How many times has your first chase of the season confirmed?
My average this year is around $30/chase, which includes gas, food, and water. I bought a 10-pack of videotapes back in February for about $23, and I'm only halfway through those. I don't even break out my video camera unless I see severe weather; my days of just shooting everything have long since gone. I think that's one area where a lot of people lose money, videotaping constantly. Another way I save money is by driving a small car, which only costs about $25 to fill up from empty (even at $2.50/gallon). I also don't use AC during chases, which (contrary to all those myth-buster type shows) does save fuel. The third thing I do that doesn't take extra money is not eating steak every other night, even on nights when I score. Pizza Hut is about as extravagant as it gets for us, because we're more concerned with the next chase than where we eat. Lastly, and I've argued this with many-a-person before, I rarely stay out in motels. Sure, you save gas having to drive back home, but you spend even more by getting a room...and then you have to drive home anyway. So a $25 fill-up to get me home and halfway back to my target the next day becomes a $40 room, plus another $25 fill-up after THAT chase to get me home. For my situation, it just doesn't make financial sense. That, and I don't always have access to data on the road. Of course, actually living in Tornado Alley helps more than anything. I don't have to burn vacation time or frequent flyer miles to chase...I'm here every day, all year. I say it every year when this topic comes up, but it just blows my mind how much money a lot of people spend on chasing. I've probably spent a little over $200 on my entire season this year so far (seven chases).

To answer Ed's question, once. My first chase in 1999 produced a tornado in Arkansas on January 21.
I'ev been able to chase for just about $100 a day. I see I average around 500 miles a day (when I am able to stay out). Food and hotel come into play as well and its juts over $100.

Marathon chases run closer to $200.
I tend to stay within about 250 miles from home and at 500 miles round trip would cost me about $50 in gas. Then you add in additional oil changes and tire ware among other maintanence issues and that cost is closer to $60. My car is paid for and the engine seems like it has another 100k left in it which is also nice. I now have liability only as the Blue Book is probably less than a grand. This is solid cost saver in the grand scheme of things. I don't have all the chase gadgets which keeps costs down but also leaves me heavily dependent on a good forecast and eyeballs. Since I would rarely need a hotel my costs are much lower than the High Plains Drifters. If I can get a partner than it is only $30/person which is not much more money than taking the wife to a cheesy movie. I usually avoid money wasting propositions like bars and casinos which helps justify the cost when the wife says you just spent $60 and didn't see squat. In a good year there are 8-12 chases in my 250-300 mile radius. At $60/trip that is $480-$960 with no partners. Extras such as snacks and Pilot MyCast would add another $100 or so. I feel for you folks on either coast who don't get the same views on a regular basis that are on the Plains. When I moved to North Dakota to begin the forecast career I was thinking, oh crap, there go my storms. Little did I know this place rocks as terrain is flat and peak tor season here is when the upper flow is slow allowing for easy chasing... but patience is key as the NoDak chasers drool in the spring when all the action is down south. I'm sure it's vise-versa come July.

With fuel being one of the most expensive items during the chase season it may be best to invest in a vehicle that gets solid fuel economy. Something like a Toyota Corolla that gets 40 mpg at highway speeds. You are trading some stability for economy but if gas is that big of a concern than something to consider. If you are currently getting 20 mpg than the Corolla will be the equivalent of paying $1.27/gal. Gradually increasing fuel economy on new vehicles will offset and perhaps reduce the consumer price for fuel even if oil prices continue to rise. I think we are stuck in a rut for a good decade or more but good times are bound to return.

Final note: a good chase target will save you some money by not having to back track, overshoot, or play catch up. If you miss by 100 miles than you are paying an additional $10 or so in gas to get in position. Last year I simply waited for initiation a few times when the expected target was west of me which simply allowed me to play catch.

I also don't use AC during chases, which (contrary to all those myth-buster type shows) does save fuel. [/b]

Yes, this does increase fuel economy but driving with windows down increases drag which reduces your overall savings. This would be especially true at highway speeds. Best to have AC off and windows down in town. Probably a wash either way on the freeway.
I think that as most of us need to earn money to live - we're just going to have to accept the lemons that the gas companies are handing us this year and turn them into lemonade. What does this mean? It means that, if gas keeps on going the way it is and is over $3/gallon by May - most of us just won't be able to chase anywhere near the capacity we used to. I know I can't. It means a load of gentleman's chases and not much more. Maybe we can find some way to be content with this and save having to burn hundreds of gallons of gas to go halfway across the country to bust.

But then - I'm not one who needs to chase to this doesn't really bother me too much.

20 mpg for 20,000 miles @ $1.50/gallon = $1500 in Gas

20 mpg for 20,000 miles @ $3.00/gallon = $3000 in Gas

Most of us won't drive 20,000 miles but even if I did(which I actually will at this rate) I don't think I'm going to chase any less than I did back when gas was $1.50 a gallon. There is a looooong off season to cut costs or make extra money to not worry a whole lot about $1500. I guess if you are already skimming along each year that is a lot of cash to have to make up. At the same time I think if one really wants to they can change a few things to afford it(granted chasing might have to mean more to you than "normal living"). I'll drink water and eat bread all year long if I have to.

Shane, did that mythbusters factor in windows up vs windows down/drag...into that test? I'm honestly interested as I missed it.
I chase pretty cheap. I fill up my gas at most twice, running around 90 dollars for 2 tanks...and if I've got a partner, that gets cut in half. Bringing our own food and drinks saves us A LOT of money, and tolls aren't too expensive.

Chasing for the station provides 36 cents a mile to help fund the gas, and they pay for all tolls, as well as a that is a benefit as well.
As one who does not live in the Plains- I take a 3 week vacation each year to chase- I am not planning to change that because of the higher gas prices. I will probably be less willing to drive a long distance from one day to the next if the situation is marginal. I may not be quite as willing to drive to the really far-flung areas of the Northern Plains- however, last season two of my best days with awesome supercells and a couple of tornadoes were in western SD and eastern MT.

As far as other expenses go- I do have a few stragegically placed good friends who live in the Plains- and I will attempt to stay with them wherever possible.

Matt C
The pain gets worse each year especially as I chase in my own vehicle (rental) instead of a caravan. I fly to the Plains and have to include hotels (even on non chase days), gas, food, rental inc extra damage along with WX Worx fees. I have always hoped to "break even" with video/photo sales but that has not yet happened.

This year, I may blow off those desperate ridge chases driving to peripheral areas of tornado alley for marginal chances "because I am there." I will also leave early or hold off on travel if there is a death ridge.

The sad thing is when chasing alone, my costs are much higher than if I took most of the tours for the same period. I value my independance and will accept those extra costs solo chasing.

I love to chase and will continue as long as possible even if gas goes to $4.00 per gallon.

Bill Hark
I am hearing today on the news that they are expecting gas to continue going up into the vacation season ( :lol: wonder why?) now at $2.62 gallon average nationwide. They think it may reach $3.00 during peak. Demand is still strong apparently.

Apparently what is actually happening is tha gas is traded like futures commodities where prices are based not on current costs but future expectations. Risk and uncertainty in the marketplace has raised price based on demand because of things like Iran, Venezuela, further wars, hurricanes, etc. However even though these things have consistently motivated the market to go up and stay high - none of it has materialized. This means production costs were actually the same and has led to the record profits experienced by the likes of Exxon - what is it 100 Billion last year?

So hype and fear are making us pay more even though it doesn't cost anymore. I have to wonder still though if there isn't some type of orchestrated price fixing or rumor mongering amongst the elites of the world to produce record profits. Wonder if any of the owners of US large media are big stockholders in Exxon. Hahahaha!

That said (above), I think there are real implications. I'm sure I will have to carefully consider any chases I go on (meaning rationing). This will call for money saving efforts and higher quality / more accurate forecasts to insure more bang for the buck. Also with weather system trends being what they are (much further north) there are becoming fewer and fewer 'local' chases for this Central Texas chaser.

PS: My first chase in 2005 & 2003 produced tornadoes.

EDIT: One other note. Those new fangled small vehicles with high mpg are tempting for many of us chasers but for those of us with paid off big SUV's you really have to compare all costs all year long. You have to factor in cost of new monthly payments along with higher fuel costs as well as possible maintenance on older vehicles. I've done the calcs and as long as my Tahoe is running well with low maintenance (and so far it is), then the extra payments of a new vehicle don't justify selling the Tahoe. Of course the longer you go out in time it will eventually make sense. Think about it $18k to $20k for new fuel efficient vehicle would put a lot of expensive gas in the old vehicle. You will have to do your calcs yourself though to see if it justifies.
Our last three chases averaged 1800 miles from leaving to arriving back home.

Figure that up in fuel cost at the going price then of $2.53/gal and average 20mpg.

Yep, almost $230 per trip for ONLY FUEL. It was actually more than that with food and a couple of motels in there, although we did camp out one night and crash in the chase van a couple of nights. Cost per chase was probably closer to $350.
I miss the open plains. But living away from tornado alley has its financial benefits for me, I guess. I take 2-3 weeks vacation, which I would take off anyway, drive to the plains (visiting my relatives in AR along the way), and take three chase partners with me. Bust days for me end up being memorable adventures with some of my closest family. Gas prices may go up, and I may be driving 1500-2000 miles one way, but I split the gas and motel stays 4 ways! And I only run those 500 mile chase days during that 14-21 day period. And I know I would surely make those trips alone much more often if I lived there. Still, if I could only haul in an easy fortune and retire a full-time chaser. Hmmm....If I had only hung onto those old Exxon stocks... :lol: Oh well, an ex-Oklahoman/Arkansan can dream can't he?
The cost model for chasers living in Tornado Alley and those outside may not be as different as we think. I've spent five of my ten chase seasons in North Texas, three in Indiana, and two in Florida. I've driven my own vehicle from the non-Alley locations, flown in and rented, and chased from my Texas residence. To me, it seems like chasing from the Alley should be cheaper since many chases are local and you drive home that night. But the rub is that you're also tempted to chase more "out-of-season" marginal setups than you would from far away. Those add up quickly.

On the other hand, when you come from outside the plains on an extended trip, you tend to chase every setup because that's why you're there. You drive north to the top of the ridge or loiter on the Front Range hoping for upslope relief. And why not? Your other option is a day beside the Motel 6 swimming pool or visiting the world's biggest ball of twine. I would not be surprised if the marginal setups I chased because of proximity while living in Texas and the marginal setups I chased because I was "already out" while living elsewhere were about equal. I don't record all my busts so there's no way to tally.

The best I've seen at minimizing chase costs are Jeff Gammons and his crew when they come from Florida every season. They rent a vehicle at a discount via some affiliation and book it well in advance for the lowest rate. They buy groceries collectively and keep them stocked, eating lots of canned food and drinking water that they refill in motels and rest stops. They find inexpensive hotels or, when staying at chains, present discount coupons (these coupon books are available all over the place). Most importantly, there are four chasers splitting costs. They watch their money and aren’t forced to skip marginal days or call off the day's chase earlier than they'd like. Chasing this way requires discipline (it's very easy to grab a Mountain Dew and a bag of Doritos on your way out of the convenience store bathroom) and attention to detail. I'm not good at it for long. Over a three or four week trip, I'll begin with lofty intentions and fill my cooler with sandwich stuff [*always* better tasting and cheaper than the drive through], but by the end I'm ordering the combo like everybody else.

There's no question that chasing solo is increasingly prohibitive for all but the most financially secure chasers unless they limit their range. It will only grow more so as gas prices keep climbing. Prices are rising and the market is tolerating the increase very well. I just read that Americans will use 1.5% more gas this driving season than last, even with prices approaching $3. That means there is additional room for increase and rest assured the market will take up the slack. Additionally, the full installation of the Chinese economy will create massive additional demand pressure. I would not be surprised if this isn't the season that the long-awaited and much-heralded decline in chaser population becomes noticeable.
Yeah I didn't think about the drag thing, but the point with me is really performance. When you drive a car powered by half a dozen squirrels, any extra drag on the motor (compressor) is just that much more power being robbed from you. I try to be as easy on the engine as possible, because I have to drive this car until it dies. I've never had the luxury of replacing a car for any reason other than a terminal breakdown.

As far as the cost of chasing overall, I don't care. I've spent the first decade of my chase career sacrificing a normal life just be able to do it, so I'm used to that. It actually gets easier with age, because now I no longer care that I can't hang out at bars with friends sipping drinks on patios during long Summer nights, or take a weekend trip to gamble, or attend a sporting event that I actually pay for. That kind of stuff really bothered me when I was younger, in my 20s, but never as much as missing a chase. Now I'm in my 30s and have kinda gotten over the whole "party scene" lifetstyle. There are still things that normal people take for granted that I can't do (if I want to chase), but it's a trade I'm still very willing to make. I've missed out on a ton of life, but none of it hurts as much as the half dozen or so major chase events I've missed out on, the days that still haunt me. I guess it all comes down to priorities and personality. If being able to chase April-June each year meant I had to live in a cardboard box and the only time I got out was to work, I'd be doing it. I just hope it never comes to that. I can't deny the economy (if that's what we're still calling it) has made an impact on my ability to chase, but it will never run me out. Chasing might be dominated by well-off white guys (like golf), but it will never be that demographic's exclusive luxury. There will always be Happy Gilmores in chasing, and I'm one of 'em :lol:
I have lived in Detroit since 1989 (birth) and have had to chase out of this city since... The first couple years of chasing (2002-2004) were relatively local (e.g. all of lower MI, IN and into IL) and by 2005 I was finally able to start chasing the plains. Just about all of my 2005 chases were split 2 (even 3 sometimes) ways so the costs for all of the chasing I did last year was relatively reasonable ($1,500-$2,000 spent) considering I chased for over 6 weeks in 2005. Now, so far in 2006, I have been chasing by myself in my own car -- and recent chasing in the last week of March (and into April) costed me over $300 in total costs (this includes gas only and no motel costs -- owed to staying at Dick M's place for the days I was out) albeit I travelled a few thousand miles during that time period. Food for me isn't very expensive... Considering I eat a lot of fast food in "regular life" anyways, I have no problem with eating $1 hamburgers (e.g. BK and Wendy's) on chase days when I'm hungry. In fact, in the average week of chasing, I probably don't spend much more than $20 on food for myself ($1 cheeseburgers fill me up).

Chasing from Detroit is a pain in the neck -- but the driving isn't as much of a hassle for me -- it's the costs of doing so (I have to drive 800-1200 miles to even reach a plains target) and each trip from DTX to TOP costs me $70-$80 in fuel costs alone (I drive a 2002 V6 Mustang which gets a solid 26mpg on the highways) and takes a solid 12-14hrs (depending on how fast I'm able to go LOL).

I did a solid 15-20,000 miles in 2005... So far in 2006 I have done about 4,000 miles (including chases on 3/12, 3/30, 4/1 and 4/2 and then to/from the plains from MI) and probably by the end of the year -- I will see at least 20,000. Given the costs, I will probably invite others along on chases with me as well some of the times (to help split costs) which will make things cheaper... All in all, I really hope not to spend much more than $2,000 in 2006 on chasing (I don't really expect to spend that much more... Since I will leave for the plains and stay out for a month, and hopefully find someone to live with and pay them a bit of rent, in addition to partnering up with other chasers now and then for chasing). Not sure when my "official" leave date will be -- but probably within the next few weeks (probably the first week of May).
I was looking at the day-to-day things I could do to cut costs to extend my chase trip this year. Really the only thing I can do (since mortgage and car payments are fixed) is to become a Ramen chaser. Even then that's only going to save me about $150 a month in food costs. That's not even one extra chase day per month of eating Ramen noodles and drinking water. No dinners with friends, cookouts, get-togethers or dates. I'm a serious chaser but that's a little much for me to sacrifice.
Our group is frugal, but not to a fault. With 3-5 people, we can generally split up the costs pretty reasonably. Vehicle/gas/lodging costs are split, all personal costs (food, etc.) are just that. Between the three of us that went on the last 10-day trip, we spent probably $600-700 each, all costs considered. Granted, that was when gas was about 80 cents or so cheaper than now, but that would add, what, $300 more to the gas total?

For a one to two week trip, chasing is a pretty darn good value considering how much you could spend on other vacation options.

Since locally, I'm usually in the office during severe weather, I don't get to chase as much as I'd like, so cost isn't a huge issue.
I'm going to Scottsdale, AZ in June to start a job (just before the monsoon, luckily), so this season is probably my last for a while (two years, maybe).

From 2002-2004, I basically chased with someone else or myself when storms were within an hour to our west (my only three tornadoes came on June 12, 2004, after learning from the mistake of bolting east out of Conway Springs two weeks earlier, May 29th, 2004. Both of those events started when I was at wedding receptions for second cousins).

Two of the three chases I went on in 2005 were on events starting to my east, the first times I'd ever chased east of the location I started. One cost $13 and one cost $5-8 and the last one was around $25.

So far, I've chased twice (three times if you count circling Manhattan), and both times the best zone was the KS/MO border. I'm more inclined to chase marginal setups because of my time left in the plains, but I've been having stuff keep me back (like last Thursday and the one prior).

I'm starting to see the frustration some of you go through on busts. I chase blind, though, so I usually wait until or close to initiation before going out. It minimalizes the amount of money I spend.

Both chases have cost me between 25-30 dollars each and still have more room to burn money because I won't chase storms too far away unless it's my last chance (and I'm getting money from being a GTA, which I wasn't last year).
Interesting topic.

One "advantage" to living in the Plains and being limited by work is that my costs are also limited. I've always had a slightly higher chase threshold than some because I get irritated putting out the effort to see something less than I expected to see. It all adds up to 6-12 chases/year since about 2000, which is a substantial reduction from my 15-20 chases a year in the 80s and 90s. As a student at OU, I don't recall missing a chase because of money. There were a few rooms split 4-5 ways, but gas was never a big problem. It didn't hurt that I drove a Civic that got 40 mpg from 1990-2004.

A situation has to look pretty darn good to get me to chase solo. I know some folks insist on having total control of everything - I chase with people I trust, and working at SPC has gotten me used to not getting my way all of the time :p What this all means is that I alternate gas costs with various chase partners, and most of my chases have 2-3 people involved. The family chases are more expensive because they involve paying for meals for 4, I pay all of the gas costs, and we blow even more cash if we stay anywhere overnight. The most expensive family chases add up to maybe $250, while most of my regular chases amount to no more than $70.

In the end, I'm with Shane on this one. A missed tornado day sticks with me much longer than a gas or credit card bill. If I could only figure out how to get around the work-chasing conflict...

Rich T.
I have calculated several times on a tight budget about 60-70 bucks per day. My car get 35-40 miles to the gallon so that helps. Problem for me is I'm far away from any good action, so I have to make a chasecation out of it instead of a day trip. On the other hand I like chasing but I don't know if I could live in the plains where it is so flat, no offense.
I gotta laugh at this topic.

I'snt all this following eqipment needed "the cost of chasing" ?

Cost of Laptop
Costs of Cameras
Costs of antennas
Costs of WX works or Data Card and services
Cost of amps, converters, radios, scanners
Costs of tires, wear/ tear and DEPRECTATION from high miles

......... all the above wears out and breaks down what about that cost?

so when I hear someone say that they only spent $50 on a chase I gotta laugh, sorry....

good thread just a small element of denial from a few here - thats all
A conservative estimate of what I have spent in actual, tangible items and services directly related to storm chasing since 2001 is more than $40,000 (five years of year-round chasing in the eastern US and Plains plus hurricane chases). That includes digital and video cameras, WxWorx, laptops, video software, fuel, hotels, vehicle depreciation, tapes, accessories, and others. I am not a rich guy and I can't believe I've spent that much and have been able to spend that much without going broke.

Like Bill said, vehicle depreciation is huge. A person who regularly chases the Plains is going to have to buy a new car 2 to 4 years more often than one who doesn't.

1993-2000 my yearly chasing expenses totaled about $1000-$1500 per year, but then all I was doing is driving around WV, PA and Ohio shooting lightning on 35mm slides.
Thinking about this really puts things in perspective. I started doing just some rough figuring. All the money I have spend on storm chasing over all the years, I could have bought and paid for a VERY VERY nice house and land...something in the mid 6 figures I am sure.

That's as bad or worse than any drug addition. :blink:

You don't really realize how MUCH it is until you really sit down to figure it out Dan, as you have seen. You think....when did I EVER have that much money, but it's like looking at your year end tax and seeing how much money you made and thinking....where the heck did all that money go anyway!?!

And some people like to bash on those of us who try to make some sort of monetary return on our storm chasing efforts. :rolleyes: