Tornado Alley: New Vacation Hot Spot

Vacation is a chance to get away from work, school and the rest of life's daily stresses. Recently though, more and more people have chosen to use that R&R time to put themselves in the path of one of nature's deadliest and most awesome spectacles.

These adventure seekers are choosing to chase tornadoes as they tear their way through the Midwest.

The number of people registering to get a closer look at tornadoes is growing, a new study finds.

These "tornado tourists," as study authors Sonja Wilhelm Stanis and Carla Barbieri of the University of Missouri, call them aren't just looking for risk; rather, they are seeking a unique and unconventional opportunity to enjoy nature's power and beauty.

"Although tornado tourism is a small niche market, the market continues to grow with help from television shows and movies," Stanis said. "Storm-chasing tours continue to develop as a part of the Midwest's tourism scene, with tours filling up as much as a year in advance."

Meteorologists and trained storm chasers serve as tour guides, using sophisticated equipment to track the severe weather on the road. Tourists pile into vans and spend one or two weeks traversing Tornado Alley, paying somewhere between $3,000 to $5,000 with the hopes of seeing a tornado.

Demographics research conducted by the team found that the average tornado tourist is "primarily middle-aged, single, highly educated and wealthy," Babieri said. Most came from North America, but Europeans and Australians also traveled for a tornado-chasing adventure.

The study 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 .

"With the help of movies like 'Twister,' storm-chasing has become an international phenomenon," Barbieri said.

The researchers presented their findings at the 2010 Northeaster Recreation Research Symposium in New York this April.

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