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Whoosh you were here

Storm-chasing midwest vacation tours

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So you too want to hunt tornadoes? Hoping Twister‘s gale force will blow you their way, a handful of storm chasers are ready with guided tours. But ”you’d better be a weather nut or you’re going to be bored out of your mind,” warns veteran guide Marty Feely, who has run Whirlwind Tours of Norman, Okla., for four years. Twister ”is the Indiana Jones treatment of storm chasing.”

”In Twister they saw six tornadoes in one day and had a nice leisurely lunch,” notes Christi Endebrock, a substitute teacher from Effingham, Ill., who’s twice taken Feely’s tour and viewed the tornado featured on Twister‘s poster through binoculars on May 28, 1994. ”We’re usually stopping in convenience stores, grabbing junk food and slamming it down.”

Offered from May through mid-June, most tours last two weeks — to increase the probability of seeing a tornado — and cost up to $2,000 (airfare and food not included). Feely, 42, a former bus driver whose Plymouth Voyager is equipped with a satellite dish for access to The Weather Channel, says there’s about a 50-50 chance of catching some action. And, yes, there’s a waiver to sign. Hazards include lightning and hail, but the biggest danger, according to Gary England, chief meteorologist for Oklahoma City’s KWTV, comes from humans. ”People drive and say, ‘Ooooh, look at that.’ Next thing you know, you’re in a wheat field.”

When there’s no weather to hunt, most guides teach forecasting basics and offer general sight-seeing; this year Feely stopped in Wakita, Okla., where Twister was filmed. But when the chase is on, be ready. ”We recommend you don’t drink too much,” says Charles Edwards, who operates Cloud 9 Tours, also out of Norman. ”We may not have time to take too many pit stops.”