Looking For A Stormy Vacation

Sunny Weather Makes Some Folks Unhappy

When most people go on vacation, they want rest and good weather. Eileen Logue is not one of those people.

"I prefer holidays where I am moving and seeing things," said Logue, an accountant from England. "I am on the only person going on holiday and praying for bad weather."

She had hoped for very bad weather. So had businessman Richard Morgan, also from England. In the spring of 2000, both spent their vacation chasing tornadoes across the United States.

Harold Dow reports on this very unusual holiday.

Because tornadoes occur almost exclusively in the United States, some tornado chasers are now making money taking other weather fanatics on two-week twister-chasing tours.

"I am fascinated by tornadoes," said Logue, who is paying $2,000 for her vacation. "When I found out they take people with them as tourists, I decided to try it."

The Inside View
Two 48 Hours producers accompanied the storm chasers. Read about their strange experience.

Early summer is peak tornado season. At that time, more than 1,000 tornadoes occur from Oklahoma to Texas, in a region known as Tornado Alley.

In June, Morgan, Logue and four other people, all strangers to each other, went on vacation through Tornado Alley. With the group was Ronnie Messick, a dairy farmer from Virginia. His trip was a surprise gift from his wife, who stayed home.

That trip, which began in Oklahoma City, was organized by Todd Thorn, a tornado expert and guide based in Denver. He loaded everyone into his "Storm Chaser 2000" van, loaded with $10,000 worth of equipment to help him find tornadoes.

His average tour goes between 5,000 and 6,000 miles. The trick is to guess where a tornado will develop and get there in time to watch.

Are these people crazy? Logue said no: "It is just a case of being interested in nature and just being absolutely fascinated by the force of it and just wanting to experience as close as possible."

This road trip began with very bad weather - for storm chasers, anyway: all sun, no clouds. So the group did what most people do when weather turns ugly on vacation; they shopped.

They also slept, ate junk food and did laundry. Messick had never done laundry before, so his wife had made him a "laundry kit," with quarters and detergent.

Thor was an expert multitasker: He did all the driving, while simultaneously talking on the phone and tracking potential tornadoes.

Storm Chasing
Find out more about Todd Thorn and his Storm Chaser trips.

After five days, they covered 1,700 miles and eight states. On the sixth day, they drove for 10 hours, covering another 500 miles. They still hadn't seen a tornado.

Finding a tornado is difficult, Thorn said: "They can predict storms and where low pressures are going to be, but not where thunderstorms are firing up....You have to be in the right place at the wrong time."

By the seventh day, the chasers became restless. "On the last day, if we haven't seen a cloud, I will kill Todd," said Morgan, not entirely joking.

"It feels like day 200 of a 14-day tour," Logue observed.

But within hours, the chasers drove along a desolate road in northeast Montana and headed right for a swirling black cloud known as a super cell.

Logue was amazed by the enormity of the storm. "The noise, the wind; it was bigger than I thought," she said. "The super cell took over the sky as far as you could see."

On the 10th day, the tornado chasers crossed into Nebraska. Luck was with them. It had taken 3,000 miles of driving. But finally, the real chase was on. Logue was the first to spot the tornado. "Oh my God, we got it," screamed Chantel Fitzgeralds, another tour member. "That is so amazing! We got it, finally!"

"There it is!" Logue said, jumping up and down. "I have waited my whole life. I can't believe I actually saw this. There it is! Brilliant!"

In the end, all the chasing proved too much for some of the chasers. Messick missed his family and returned early to his farm.

On the other hand, Morgan had fun. But he admitted that the trip was very grueling. "I would like to take a blowtorch to that van, just dissemble it bit by bit," he said. "I'm sick of that van. If I could physically torture that van, I would. It's horrible. (Thorn) is very good at finding storms, but it's very hard work."

Logue, too, ended up satisfied. "It was worth it," she said. "I saw what I came to see, a tornado."

What happened to Thorn? He is back on the road again this spring in Storm Chaser 2001

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