Chasing the Eye of the Storm with Technology

Jul 02, 2012 by

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Storm-Chaser-Vehicle

There’s something about a strong wind that can be kind of intriguing, and tornados add to the visual mystique. Movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Twister” played on our obsession with the natural disaster, and more recently, television shows like the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” have given us an inside look at how professionals track and document a storm.

When storm chasers see tornados tearing across states like Kansas and Oklahoma, they provide crucial information to emergency workers, law enforcement and the National Weather Service. To get the job done, storm chasers need rugged vehicles that are equipped to handle the worst conditions Mother Nature can throw at them.

For most of us, natural disasters usually mean it’s time to batten down the hatches, but storm chasers take measures to the extreme, ensuring that their vehicles are equipped to keep them as safe as possible in the eye of the storm.

Weather Warriors

Many professional storm chasing vehicles are based on trucks or SUVs, and the amount of safety and tech that goes into designing a purpose-built storm chaser is not for the faint of heart. Examples seen on the Discovery Channel, such as the Dominator 2 and TIV2 (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) include heavy modifications that rival that of armored cars. High winds can cause powerful, dangerous debris to fly through the air. As a safety measure, both the Dominator 2 and TIV2 feature a bulletproof body shell and windows that feature thick polycarbonate (Lexan) and plated glass.

Both vehicles are also equipped with different systems to help combat heavy winds, which could send them flying through the air. The Dominator 2 has a hydraulic suspension system and spikes which will lower and anchor it to the ground. TIV2’s high ground clearance, however, means that it can’t mimic the Dominator 2’s low-rider moves. Instead, it features a sliding armored-panel system that lowers to the ground, which keeps wind from getting underneath. Although both vehicles are equipped to take on natural disasters, the Dominator 2 started as a GMC Yukon, while TIV2 was built onto a Dodge 3500 truck.

Along with a healthy dollop of armor, most storm chasing vehicles are equipped with advanced gear that helps meteorologists and professional chasers track and document storms. Vehicles often feature a rooftop bubble or turret, which allows storm chasers to shoot video, and many also carry a removable probe that can be left in a tornado’s path. These probes can be packed with a camera and other weather instruments, which will collect data about the storm.

Advanced storm chasing vehicles also include a radar system, which is usually mounted to the rear roof of the vehicle. These systems are similar to the Doppler radar systems that your meteorologist uses on the local news. On storm chasing vehicles, radar is crucial to getting immediate, on-the-spot weather information. Other add-ons like an instrument mast that can measure wind speed, temperature and humidity, are also common on storm chasing vehicles.

For most of us, natural disasters usually mean it’s time to batten down the hatches, but storm chasers take measures to the extreme, ensuring that their vehicles are equipped to keep them as safe as possible in the eye of the storm.

Sources:
The Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304331204577352180788089746.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
http://blogs.wsj.com/drivers-seat/2010/10/13/storm-chasers-star-reed-timmer-on-building-a-custom-tornado-car/
The Discovery Channel
http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/storm-chasers/vehicles/vehicles.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oINf7LCgfK4&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vie-qc7KKeA&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7amebbviPs&feature=relmfu
How Stuff Works
http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/storms/storm-chaser2.htm
About.com
http://www.stormchase.us/Articles/WhatsTheIdeal.html
 Photo courtesy boxofficeboredome.com

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Melissa

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