'Tornado Tours' Big Business in Midwest

COLUMBIA, Mo., Sept. 16 (UPI) — Tornado Alley has become a U.S. vacation destination for world tourists seeking an experience beyond just thrills, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Missouri say most of these travelers aren’t just looking for risk but are seeking a unique and unconventional opportunity to enjoy the power and beauty of nature, a university release said.

Sonja Wilhelm Stanis and Carla Barbieri, associate professors in the School of Natural Resources, surveyed these “tornado tourists” and found the pull of tornadoes on people is worldwide.

“With the help of movies like Twister, storm-chasing has become an international phenomenon,” Barbieri said. “While more than half of the surveyed travelers lived in North America, 11 percent came from Australia and nearly a third traveled from Europe to get a close encounter with a tornado.”

Experienced meteorologists and trained storm chasers serve as guides giving three to 10 tours a season.

Using sophisticated equipment to track severe weather on the road, they shuttle tourists among tornado watch areas in a van.

Typically costing between $3,000 and $5,000, not including food and hotels, the tours last one to two weeks.

Stanis and Barbieri found that most of the amateur storm chasers were happy with their experiences. One-third of the tourists experienced a tornado, while 50 percent spotted funnel clouds and more than 95 percent reported seeing a significant atmospheric event.

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