The Best States to Visit for Storm Chasing

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Storm chasing, the pursuit of active thunderstorms across the Great Plains in order to observe them, take measurements, and capture photos/videos, has become an increasingly popular hobby and tourism activity in recent years. For those looking to take part in storm chasing, there are a few key states that offer prime storm chasing conditions. When deciding where to go storm chasing, some of the main factors to consider are the frequency of severe storms, open landscapes that provide visibility, and proximity of large highways to intercept storms. Based on these criteria, the top states to visit for storm chasing are Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The best states to visit for storm chasing

Oklahoma – The Storm Chasing Capital

Oklahoma is considered the storm chasing capital of the world. This state has the highest frequency of supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes in the United States, earning nicknames like “Tornado Alley” and “Hail Alley.” Several factors make Oklahoma one of the best states to visit for storm chasing: flat, open terrain allows chasers to spot storm formations and track their movement across rural landscapes. Additionally, the proximity of Interstates 35 and 40 means storm chasers can easily travel to intercept supercells.

The most active month for severe weather in Oklahoma is May, right in the heart of the spring storm season. An average of 56 tornadoes touch down in Oklahoma in May alone, more than any other state. Notable locations and cities used as storm chasing bases in Oklahoma include Norman, Oklahoma City, Lawton, and Woodward. Norman, in particular, is a popular place for storm chasers to stay as it is home to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Overall, Oklahoma sees the highest concentration and widest variety of severe storms annually, from isolated supercell thunderstorms to expansive outbreaks. This makes it easily the top state for states to visit for storm chasing excitement.

Kansas – Tornado Alley Heartland

Kansas is another Tornado Alley state right in the heart of the Great Plains storm region. While Oklahoma sees more tornadoes annually, some of the largest and most powerful tornadoes on record have impacted Kansas. These high-intensity storms form over the flat terrain of central and eastern Kansas, especially in late spring.

Like its neighbor Oklahoma, Kansas has a suitable landscape for storm spotting and chasing, with sparsely populated rural areas and a network of county roads and highways. Key roads like I-70 and I-35 frequently put storm chasers directly in the path of fast-approaching supercells. The most active storm chasing bases in Kansas are Dodge City, Garden City, Wichita, Topeka, and Chanute.

Kansas is also where many pioneer storm chasers and meteorologists documented some key early tornado discoveries in Storm Chasing’s formative years in the 1960s and 70s. This historic connection contributes to why storm chasing enthusiasts are still drawn to experience Kansas storms firsthand today.

Texas – Vast Skies Meet Volatile Weather

Everything is bigger in Texas, including some of the most powerful and visually stunning supercell thunderstorms on the continent. North Texas in particular sees frequent tornado and severe weather activity, especially in early spring and summer. Texas tornadoes form under huge open skies that showcase swirling storms and mammoth wall clouds from miles away for storm chasers.

Like Kansas and Oklahoma, Texas has an optimal mix of flat lands, rural farming areas, highways, and urban centers to intercept severe storms. Key storm chasing outposts in North Texas include Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, Abilene, and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Southeast Texas also periodically sees landfalling hurricanes and tropical storms for those storm chasers who enjoy more volatile weather types.

Texas skylines filled with spectacular supercell formations, intense lightning, huge hail, and potentially dozens of annual tornadoes make it easily one of the essential states to visit for storm chasing targets. Just be prepared for extreme weather whiplash in Texas as well, with summer heatwaves giving way to bouts of damaging hail and tornado activity.

Nebraska – Great Plains Supercells

Nebraska sits in Tornado Alley and sees frequent supercell thunderstorms each spring. While the annual tornado count is less than Oklahoma or Kansas, Nebraska tornadoes can be just as destructive. Such as the twin EF4 tornadoes that devasted Hallam, Nebraska in 2004. The wide-open spaces of central and eastern Nebraska allows storm chasers to capture magnificent supercell photos under breathtaking skies.

Highways like Interstate 80 are a great starting point to then navigate rural backroads to follow storms rolling over the Nebraska prairie. Great facilities off I-80 like North Platte and Grand Island often serve as storm chasing lodging bases to then venture out to chase regional severe weather. Both cities are centrally located to shoot east or west and encounter storms building around different boundaries and front lines.

While the sheer tornado tallies are highest further south, Nebraska still sees 10-20 tornadoes develop per year. However, Nebraska supercell storms stir up some of the most pristine structure and fluid motion visible on the Great Plains, making for fantastic scenes for photography and video.

South Dakota – Hail Capital of the United States

While South Dakota typically sees less tornado activity than states further south, it experiences more severe hail and dangerous lightning events. In fact, areas like Sioux Falls average 4-5 destructive hailstorms per year, earning South Dakota the designation as the Hail Capital of the United States. Hail stones exceeding baseball size and wind gusts over 80 mph are commonplace with summertime supercell thunderstorms across South Dakota.

Storm chasers visiting South Dakota can set up in plains cities like Rapid City, Pierre, Huron, and Brookings in order to have visibility of incoming severe storms. Warm season storms track eastward across the state, frequently forming along clashing warm and cold front boundaries to spur rotation. The eastern half of South Dakota is flatter while colorful badlands topography exists in the western part of the state. This varied terrain adds diversity for storm photography depending on vantage point.

While South Dakota may have slightly lower tornado frequency annually versus states like Oklahoma and Kansas, its central position in Hail Alley and prevalence of summer supercells still makes it a worthy destination for storm chasers to witness nature’s raw fury firsthand. Just make sure your vehicle has good hail damage coverage insurance before traversing the Mount Rushmore State in search of epic storms.

Get Out and See the Magnificent Storms!

Storm chasing continues growing rapidly in popularity as an extreme weather hobby and tourism activity. For those aiming to get an up close view of magnificent supercells and potentially tornadoes, the central United States Great Plains is essentially storm chasing heaven each spring. Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, and South Dakota form the core region with optimal visibility, highways, and storm frequency. So road trip across these areas in late spring to better your chances of eyewitness Mother Nature’s spectacular fury! Just make sure to follow safe chasing guidelines so that you can continue enjoying states to visit for storm chasing seasons to come. Stay tuned to area forecasts daily and don’t take unnecessary risks, but otherwise enjoy storm chasing adventures across Tornado Alley!