How Storm Chasers Work
These swirling storms might also include lightning; damaging, straight-line winds and heavy rain and hail. They damage homes and entire towns. And, of course, there are the stories of humans and animals being hurled through the air, people being crushed under the weight of tornado debris or impaled and killed by objects flung through the air with incredible force.
Why, do you ask, would someone risk their lives to get up close and personal with a killer storm? Is it adrenaline? Is it sheer curiosity? Is it the sheer fact that, despite decades of research, we still don't understand tornadoes and long to know more? Is it a little of all three?
Believe it or not, storm chasing isn't nonstop action and danger. It's actually a very methodical practice that requires lots of time spent studying weather data, driving, waiting and more driving. Storm chasers can spend 12 hours or more driving around and still not see a tornado of any kind. Byron Turk, TIV navigator for the Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers series, describes the process like this:
"We find the storm hopefully before it gets dark, and hopefully it produces a tornado, and hopefully there are roads to it," Turk says. "Lots of decisions need to be made on how the supercell is doing, whether another one is more worthwhile, more data comes in and it's just a constant process of making the right decision over and over again. Hopefully."
Who were the first storm chasers?
One afternoon in December 1874, Scottish naturalist John Muir climbed a 100-foot-tall Douglas spruce during a fierce wind storm characteristic of the Sierra region of California to feel for himself what the tops of the trees experience. Muir clung to the top of the spruce for hours, riding the storm out. He later wrote, "never before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion".
How Totable Tornado Observatories Works
In 1979, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers Dr. Alan Bedard and Carl Ramzy constructed the TOtable Tornado Observatory (named TOTO after Dorothy's dog in "The Wizard of Oz"). Two years later, it would be the first man-made weather-sensing apparatus deliberately placed in the path of an oncoming tornado.
How the Tornado Intercept Vehicle Works
Step 1. Take three months and seven days a week stripping down a Ford F450 pickup truck to just its engine-and-chassis skivvies.
Step 2: Create a steel suite of armor that included 1/4" steel plate floors, a skeleton of 1/4" steel tubing and I-beams and 1/8" steel plates welded to the skeleton of this vehicular beast.
Step 3: Mack it out with protected tire flaps, steel-plated doors, Lexan resin windows and an IMAX camera bolted onto a military turret.
Voila: You've got yourself one crazy Tornado Intercept Vehicle.