Storm Chaser: Tornadoes

Tornado and Lightning
Creative Commons License photo credit: tlindenbaum

Last night, severe storm researcher Tim Samaras gave a thrilling lecture on what it’s like to head towards a tornado – when everyone else is running the other way. He also discussed why he does it – and what can be learned from the data he gathers. He was kind enough to share with us here, as well:

I’m excited to visit the Houston area to talk about something I’m most passionate about: storm chasing! Actually, I’m more than just a storm chaser; I measure these destructive tornadoes by placing special probes in their path. While dangerous to do, the data gathered from my tornado probes is extremely valuable to help us understand how powerful tornadoes really are.

For those who are wondering if real storm chasing and instrument deployments inside tornadoes are similar to the movie Twister, I have disappointing news for you. They are very different. There are no sisters, sidewinders, fingers of God, and above all, no breaks for steak and eggs at aunt Edna’s house. We don’t drive through corn fields, not worrying about where to fold the maps, and most of all, the tornadoes look…well…real.

The probes I deploy in the paths of tornadoes measure the pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction of tornado cores as they pass over the probes. We also have special probes containing video cameras that provide visualization of tornado cores as tornadoes pass overhead. Our research fielding begins on May 1, and runs through the end of July, and we’re teamed up with Iowa State University and the National Geographic Society.

Our field research program is called TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment). You can read more about this groundbreaking program, and follow along with our past and future missions here. I also have a personal website, and it contains information on how to get a copy of some of the most dramatic tornado footage ever captured.

Looking at the local forecast, it looks like we have a chance of some strong thunderstorms right here in the Houston area this afternoon and evening. Certainly quite a treat for us, as we left snow flurries back in Denver yesterday!