BRANSON, Mo. - Weather is often described as a roller coaster ride. For Branson, Mo., it really is a roller coaster that might just be the final piece of the puzzle that helps get tourism back on its feet after a tornado knocked it down last year.
Silver Dollar City unveiled its new Outlaw Run wooden roller coaster in March under perfectly sunny skies. But why is this roller coaster possibly the final piece of the rebuilding puzzle?
Remember last February, 2012, a deadly, damaging tornado touched down on the western edge of this tourist town. The tornado then tore up parts of the famous strip before lifting back into the clouds. It came at the start of the tourist season, right as Spring Break was about to start.
One business, Starvin Marvin's restaurant, was destroyed. Owner Larry Rogers said Branson was devastated. The National Weather Service determined the winds from the tornado topped out at 130 mph. The damage path revealed it stayed on the ground for 22 miles and cut a 400 yard wide path through this Ozarks town.
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The winds cost Rogers $400,000 dollars in damage and lost sales.
This Spring Break, the long time strip staple with its popular buffet is back and better than ever. Rogers added 30 more seats and added parking when the motel next door decided against rebuilding. Good thing because business is up 40 percent when compared to the same time last year.
Back at Silver Dollar City, a new season holds high hopes.
Silver Dollar City's Brad Thomas estimates that 85,000 more people will come to Branson because of Outlaw Run. It’s billed as the second fastest wood roller coaster in the world with the world's steepest drop at 160-feet.
Was it built just to woo people back to Branson after the tornado? No, this coaster was planned before Mother Nature made her unannounced visit last year.
It’s a $10.5 million dollar risk that could reap big rewards.
"We believe by building a coaster like this that we will attract folks from Chicago all the way south to Houston, Texas. People will bring their families to Branson and Silver Dollar City,” said Thomas.
That means more money for the hotels, restaurants theaters and other attractions. In other words, Branson is on an upward climb after a tornado brought, like a roller coaster, an unexpected drop.
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