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Some seek vacation of tornado thrills

COLUMBIA, Mo., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Instead of finding a beach or a mountain cabin for vacation, some people are traveling Tornado Alley to experience a tornado, U.S. researchers say.

Sonja Wilhelm Stanis and Carla Barbieri, associate professors at the University of Missouri, find most of these "tornado tourists" aren't just looking for risk; they are seeking a unique and unconventional opportunity to enjoy nature's power and beauty.

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

These one-week and two-week tornado vacation costs some $3,000 to $5,000 -- not including food and hotels -- and involve driving in tornado watch areas in a van with experienced meteorologists and trained storm chasers who use sophisticated equipment to track severe weather.

The study finds one-third of the tourists experienced a tornado, 50 percent spotted funnel clouds and more than 95 percent reported seeing a significant atmospheric event. Most say they liked the experienced so much they say they would recommend the vacation to friends.

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"Tornado tourists were found to be primarily middle-aged, single, highly educated and wealthy," Babieri says.

The researchers presented the findings at the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium in Bolton Landing, N.Y.

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