Tornado-chasing becomes vacation choice, researchers find

September 16, 2010

Instead of heading to the coast for vacation, people are traveling to Tornado Alley. The number of people registering to get a closer look at tornadoes is growing as vacationers trade in their beach towels for a ride with storm chasers. Labeled "Tornado Tourists" by a University of Missouri research team, these travelers are searching for an experience beyond just thrills.

Sonja Wilhelm Stanis and Carla Barbieri, associate professors in the School of Natural Resources Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, found that most of these travelers aren't just looking for risk; rather, they are seeking a unique and unconventional opportunity to enjoy nature's power and beauty.

"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."

Handling three to 10 tours per season, experienced meteorologists and trained storm chasers are serving as tour guides using sophisticated equipment to track the on the road. Typically costing between $3,000 and $5,000, not including food and hotels, the tours last one to two weeks as tour guides drive among tornado watch areas in a van.

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. Most respondents were so satisfied, they said they would take another tour and recommended tornado chasing to their friends.

"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."

The research team presented the first demographic and socio-psychographic profile of the tornado tourists to a national academic audience at the 2010 Northeaster Recreation Research Symposium in New York. These tornado tourists were introduced into the broader research category called "risk recreation and tourism" that includes activities such as skydiving and white-water rafting.

"Tornado tourists were found to be primarily middle-aged, single, highly educated and wealthy," Babieri said. "With this information, storm-chasing tour guides will be better able to cater to their market."

Explore further: Study: New radar system cut tornado deaths

Related Stories

Study: New radar system cut tornado deaths

June 29, 2005

A study finds that the number of tornado casualties in the United States has fallen by half since a network of Doppler weather radar was installed 10 years ago.

Gravity Waves Make Tornados

March 19, 2008

Did you know that there's a new breakfast food that helps meteorologists predict severe storms? Down South they call it "GrITs."

A new twist on tornado study

May 12, 2009

Funny thing about tornadoes. When they ought to drop out of the sky, they usually don't. Despite all the radar looking for them, no one quite knows when or where they'll appear.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.