Traveling Into The Eye Of A Hurricane

As a television reporter I’ve been dispatched into the middle of blizzards, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes(ironically, so I could tell viewers: “The conditions out here are treacherous, don’t risk harming yourselves by venturing out here.”) When my report was over I would run into the live truck and wonder why I was chose a profession that would require putting myself in harms’ way.

I don’t look back at those experiences with particular fondness, but I rationalize that it was part of my job and I did get paid for it. Which is why I was shocked to learn that there is a new trend in theme vacations where people actually pay others to put them in harms’ way. For most reasonable people, when news reports tell them that a tornado or hurricane is approaching, they run for cover or if there is enough time, they will get out of town. But, there are others that react oppositely—they head directly in the path of the storm. They are part of a growing trend of the population who are signing up for “storm tours,” run by storm chasers like Todd Thorn. His company, “Storm Chasing Adventure Tours” is one of the most popular storm chasing tour companies in the world.

“It’s for the person that has never done it before. To see it one time,” Thorn explained in a recent travel magazine. Thorn has been taking customers (who pay hundreds of dollars) tornado chasing for years. This season, he says he is adding a new vacation package: “Hurricane Adventures.” But, before you get ready to sign up your family for the tour consider these parameters:

* The hurricane has to be a category two or larger.

* Once you sign up you will receive a call from Thorn 48 hours prior to the storm making landfall.

* You and other members of your group will be flown in and together with Thorn you will rent an SUV and scout out a place to ride out the storm (a concrete parking garage or if the hurricane is predicted to be severe Thorn pulls back from the shoreline).

If you decide to sign up for this “adventure” Thorn describes what you should expect: “You’re going to be maybe in a stairway with water dripping all around you, with the winds just howling.” Now, before you visit Thorn’s website and fork over hundreds of dollars to witness life in the eye of a massive storm know this: weather experts say the idea is “just plain stupid.” Meteorologists and professional photographers/storm chasers have weighed in on these “tours” and say they are just too dangerous for the general public. One storm chaser had this to say after hearing that Thorn was having people pay to put themselves in danger, “A hurricane can kill you. The tidal surge can just gobble you up. The winds can bring a tornado. A person can get sick and have no medical help.”

The government also frowns on the tours– saying that groups of storm chasers could get in the way of rescue efforts. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently issued a statement regarding the storm tours saying, “the fact that individuals are heading directly into the paths of hurricanes for entertainment is absurd.” But Thorn says he’s not deterred by the criticism. He maintains that he takes the necessary safety precautions on all of his trips. “We have continuous radar information coming from satellite. Just knowing that, you can determine what type of building that you need to be at to be safe.”

I have had my fill of experiencing Mother Nature’s fury up close and personal, so I will pass on this “tour.” However, if you are willing to take the gamble, please let me know how you fared.

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.

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