***Please note that since this is a live show, the exact words spoken will NOT be the same as in this preview script. Different guests will likely appear at different times and in different places than indicated here. However the narration and interview segments will remain the same, and this should provide assistance to you in structuring "anticipatory set" for your classes.***
LIVE FROM THE STORM (a P2K project)
program 2 "Research to the Rescue"
airs live from NSSL/SPC, Norman, OK (!!!CENTRAL TIME ZONE!!!)
Tuesday April 11, 2000 at 13:00:00-13:59:29 Eastern
REVISED OUTLINE/CONTINUITY SCRIPT AS OF
4/10/00 WITH SYNC COMMENTS TRANSCRIBED
CAM 1 = SPC CAMERA WITH OPERATOR
CAM 2 = PERMANENTLY IN CONFERENCE ROOM
CAM 3 = MOVES BETWEEN CONF AND EXT (BRIAN)
CAM 4 = UNMANNED CAMERA ON NSSL ROOF LOOKING OUT OVER BALLOON LAUNCH AREA
TEASE / LIVE EXT AND TAPE (02:00) [02:19]
EXT: APRIL TO CAMERA
have a mobile mesonet car out beside the camera???
WELCOME TO "LIVE FROM THE STORM", PROGRAM 2 WERE HERE IN NORMAN, OKLAHOMA, HOME TO SEVERAL NOAA RESEARCH FACILITIES DEDICATED TO UNDERSTANDING WEATHER PARTICULARLY SEVERE WEATHER.
JEFF KIMPEL IS DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SEVERE STORMS LAB JEFF, WHAT DO YOU YOU SEE IN THE SKY TODAY???
INTERACT WITH JEFF KIMPEL
looking at the sky
what do you predict for the next hour???
APRIL throws to DAN
THANKS, JEFF I UNDERSTAND YOURE GOING TO BE SHOWING US A "TWISTER IN A BOTTLE" AND A WHOLE LOT MORE LATER TODAY SO WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT
BUT IN THOSE BUILDINGS OVER THERE THERES THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICES STORM PREDICTION CENTER WHICH IS ABOUT AS CLOSE TO "STORM CENTRAL" AS YOU CAN GET ANYWHERE IN AMERICA DAN McCARTHY, USING ALL THE SATELLITES AND RESOURCES YOUVE GOT AVAILABLE IN THERE, WHAT WEATHER DO YOU SEE AROUND THE NATION???
SPC: DAN TO CAMERA
Here at the SPC we have the best view of all the nations weather and well be giving you live updates right through the program, as well as showing you how forecasts are made
CONF: APRIL VOKIDS AND EXPERTS WAVE
WITH US HERE ARE STUDENTS FROM LONGFELLOW MIDDLE SCHOOL, AND SOME WEATHER EXPERTS READY TO ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL QUESTIONS WELL BE INSIDE WITH THEM LATER
BUT WE ALSO WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT LATER IN THE PROGRAM, IF ALL GOES WELL, YOULL BE SEEING A LARGE/10 FOOT (CHECK) BALLOON USED FOR RESEARCH LAUNCHED LIVE AND ON CAMERA
OVER STILL FRAMES
WE LAST SAW LIGHTNING EXPERT DAVE RUST IN PROGRAM 1, OUT IN SALT LAKE STUDYING WINTER STORMS NOW DAVES GETTING HIS TEAM OF BALLOON LAUNCHERS READY TO SHOW YOU WHATS INVOLVED IN LAUNCHING A SIMILAR BALLOON HERE, LIVE AND ON CAMERA
DAVE, HOW LONG BEFORE YOULL BE READY???
APRIL THROWS TO TAPE TEASER/or just reads to camera:
SO THATS WHATLL BE HAPPENING HERE LIVE, BUT WEVE ALSO GOT TAPE REPORTS SHOWING SOME AMAZING SCENES OF THE TORNADOES THAT HIT JUST UP THE ROAD FROM HERE MAY 3, 1999
AND A "BEHIND THE SCENES" LOOK AT HOW WEATHER FORECASTS GET FROM SPACE TO YOU
AND A PREVIEW OF HOW FORECASTS ON A LAPTOP COULD BE USED TO FIGHT FIRES AND FLOODS
APRIL ON CAMERA:
(taps the mobile mesonet car/balloon launch van)
AND ONE OF OUR PARTICIPATING NASA SCIENTISTS WILL TELL US WHY HURRICANES ARE IN SOME WAYS JUST LIKE THE ENGINE OF A CAR OR TRUCK!
WELL BE BACK, "LIVE FROM THE STORM PREDICTION CENTER" IN JUST A MINUTE
APRIL THROWS TO TITLES and moves to CONF for sequence 5
BRIAN-CAM 3 TO CONF
"PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE" AND "MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY" PRESENT...
"LIVE FROM THE STORM", AN INTERACTIVE LEARNING ADVENTURE LINKING STUDENTS WITH THE SCIENTISTS WHO ARE HELPING US UNDERSTAND WEATHER AND CLIMATE BETTER THAN EVER BEFORE...
AND NOW, PROGRAM TWO "RESEARCH TO THE RESCUE"...
CAM 1 IN SPC: RIGHT OUT OF TITLES DIRECT TO DAN IN SPC WHO DESCRIBES TODAYS WEATHER AND THE OUTLOOK
DAN welcome and what were seeing what will change in less than one hour
HI APRIL 11 DATE OF A MAJOR OUTBREAK OF TORNADOES WHAT CAN WE SEE HERE DESCRIBES THE MONITORS AND WHAT THEY REVEAL
ZOOMS TO KEY WEATHER LOCATIONS ACROSS THE NATION
WELL BE BACK SEVERAL TIMES IN THE NEXT HOUR TO SHOW YOU WHATS CHANGING AND TO SHOW YOU MORE ABOUT HOW THE "STORM PREDICTION CENTER" WORKS. IF YOUVE A QUESTION FOR ME ABOUT FORECASTING OR THE SPC APRIL WILL TELL YOU HOW TO REACH ME VIA E-MAIL!
OVER TO YOU, APRIL!
CAM 2 AND CAM 3 BOTH IN CONF
APRIL IN CONF throws to JEFF
THANKS, DAN. WELL, JEFF, WERE NOW INSIDE THE SEVERE STORMS LABSEE THE LOGO ON MY CAP???AND YOU CAN SEE SOME PRETTY AMAZING POSTERS ON THE WALL. JEFF, THIS IS YOUR LAB WHAT GOES ON HERE???
APRIL V.O. and we see kids and experiments: intro the Q&A panel
THANKS, JEFF WELL YOU CAN ASK JEFF AND SOME OF HIS COLLEAGUES QUESTIONS DURING THE PROGRAM AND AFTERWARDS. THATS THEM, WAITING AT THEIR COMPUTERS
THERES HAROLD BROOKS, AN EXPERT ON TORNADOES AND KEEPING SAFE
DAPHNE ZARAS, WHOS PART OF A TORNADO STUDY CALLED VORTEX, AND ALSO RUNS THE NSSL WEB SITE
PAUL MARKOWSKI, ANOTHER EXPERT ON TWISTERS
DENNIS McCARTHY WHOS METEOROLOGIST IN CHARGE OF THE LOCAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECAST OFFICE
DON BURGESS WHO TRAINS THE FOLKS WHO USE DOPPLER RADAR TO HELP PREDICT STORMS AND
DEIRDRE JONES, CHIEF ENGINEER FOR THE NEW RADAR SYSTEMS
APRIL BROKERS DEIRDRE answers e-mail question
DEIRDRE, HERES A QUESTION FOR YOU THATS ALREADY COME IN
APRIL VO TAPE OF WEBS SITE P2K link graphic
How to send e-mail
You can find out more about how Deirdre ended up working here in Norman, and more about many of our experts by checking out the LIVE FROM THE STORM WEB SITE
HERE ARE THE LONGFELLOW MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS AND THEIR TEACHER, JANIS SLATER, WITH US. THEYRE GOING TO PASS ON YOUR QUESTIONS TO THE RESEARCHERS, AND ALSO SHOW YOU SOME OF THE ACTIVITIES FROM THE "LIVE FROM THE STORM" TEACHERS GUIDE HI, KIDS
APRIL begins to throw to MAY 3RD
WEVE MENTIONED TORNADOES SEVERAL TIMES AND THATS NO ACCIDENT. OKLAHOMA HAS MORE TORNADOES PER SQUARE MILE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE NATION OK, TEXAS DOES HAVE MORE TWISTERS, BUT THATS BECAUSE ITS SUCH A LARGE STATE WERE BULLSEYE IN THE MIDDLE OF TORNADO ALLEY.
underpass still frame
NOW SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE SEEN A VIDEO THAT SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO TAKE SHELTER DURING A TORNADO. AS HAROLD WILL EXPLAIN, THATS ABSOLUTELY WRONG
APRIL ad lib:
HAROLDARE TWISTERS ONLY FOUND IN TORNADO ALLEY, AND ONLY IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER???
No, every state in the nation and all around the world! And they can occur at any time of year
THANKS, HAROLD. NOW THIS VIDEO IS PRETTY DRAMATIC, BUT WE THINK YOULL SEE THAT STUDENTS HERE IN OKLAHOMA LEARNED THEIR SAFETY LESSONS WELL AND YOU CAN TOO!
CAM 3 MOVES BACK TO EXT, BUT APRIL STAYS
THE MAY 3 1999 OKC TORNADOES
MAY 3RD 1999 WAS EXCEPTIONAL. THAT DAY SAW 68 TORNADOES, FOUR OF THEM BRINGING THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE WINDS ON EARTH
Footage courtesy News9/KWTV/OKC
IN OKLAHOMA AND KANSAS NEARLY 50 PEOPLE DIED AND MORE THAN 10,000 HOMES WERE DESTROYED OR DAMAGED.
BUT WITHOUT TIMELY WARNINGS FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AND LOCAL MEDIA, THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN FAR WORSE.
AND MAY 3RD PROVIDED SOME DRAMATIC AND LASTING LESSONS ABOUT HOW TO STAY SAFE WHEN FACED BY THE VERY WORST THAT NATURE CAN DELIVER.
IN THE LATE AFTERNOON A SERIES OF TORNADOES BEGAN TO FORM SOUTH WEST OF OKLAHOMA CITY
NEWS9 AND OTHER TV AND RADIO STATIONS WENT LIVE WITH COVERAGE OF THE EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE AND VIOLENT STORMS.
Chief Meteorologist, News9/KWTV, OKC
GARY ENGLAND speaks as part of news coverage
Now you people in these counties have time to move to safety. Do it now
VIEWERS COULD SEE THE MULTIPLE FUNNEL CLOUDS FORMING BEFORE THEIR EYES.
ONE PARTICULARLY HUGE TORNADO KEPT CHURNING DESTRUCTIVELY ACROSS THE COUNTRYSIDE FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR, STAYING ON THE GROUND FOR 38 MILES.
THIS TWISTER THREW HEAVY DEBRIS AS MUCH AS A MILE BEYOND THE FUNNEL, MAKING EVEN SEASONED SPOTTERS BACK OFF.
AND KEPT ON TRAVELING CLOSER AND CLOSER AND CLOSER TO DENSELY POPULATED AREAS.
IN THE EARLY EVENING, THE STORM SWEPT THROUGH THE COMMUNITY OF MOORE
Research Meteorologist, NSSL/NOAA
Were in the middle of the F4-F5 damage path. This is actually a church, and you can still see if you look down on the ground, you can still see where tile thats left on the floor of the church, but the building is essentially gone. This whole neighborhood was in the middle of the most violent path of the tornado, probably half a mile to a mile wide at this point. While most of the houses have been rebuilt, or are starting to be rebuilt, we can still see trees that have been stripped, and they have very little vegetation growing on them down to basically the biggest branches, everything else was basically removed by the tornadoes.
FACED WITH SUCH DESTRUCTIVE POWER, ITS LITERALLY A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH TO TAKE THE RIGHT PRECAUTIONS AND GET TO SAFETY, IN YOUR HOME OR IN SPECIAL COMMUNITY SHELTERS, IN A TIMELY MANNER.
AND ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT NOAA NOW ADVISES IS THAT BEING OUT ON THE HIGHWAY AND TAKING "SHELTER" UNDER OVERPASSES IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, AND CAN BE DEADLY.
HAROLD BROOKS (driving S. on I-35)
Right now we are a little less than a mile north of where the tornado crossed I-35 and if you were driving south that night as a lot of people were, and it was pretty dark and it was raining hard, right about here you can no longer see the highway well at all. And people would come up over the hill during the tornado, and the traffic was backed up all the way to this location about a _ of a mile long. There were a number of accidents for people that just didnt see that there were cars parked on the highway and they were driving at 65-70 mph and they just drove into the backs of cars. This is the overpass where the woman was killed.
HAROLD BROOKS on the south embankment of the overpass
We can see here how dirt was thrown under the overpass, up against the pillars of the overpass, places where mud and dirt arent normally found. It was thrown there by winds of 250 mph that threw the dirt and pieces of debris, and essentially scoured all the grass from off of the ground. People driving here may have thought that this was a safe place to be.
HAROLD BROOKS up under the overpass
But when they got up under here, one of the things they found was that there actually werent very many places to hide. The first couple of people could get all the way under this ledge, in fact you can barely make out the mud stain from where someone was a person was here and then heavier mud here, where no one was able to get to. And the first couple of people that were here were reasonably safe. Everybody else who had to stay down here on the ramp part were caught with the debris flying through here at perhaps 250-300 mph, small pieces of wood, pieced of shingle, pieces of nails, all kinds of pretty nasty things were flying through this area. And people who were hit by it received very serious injuries. So this turned out to in fact be probably the worst place they could have been during a tornado.
HAROLD clambers down the north embankment
The one fatality that occurred underneath this overpass was a woman who started out up here and was one of the last people to arrive, and she was up here underneath the sloping part of the overpass. As the wind came throw she was blown out all the way over here down into this area. There is still lots of debris around it.
HAROLD under the overpass
I just cannot imagine what it would have been like to be down here with all that stuff flying through here, that any one of those pieces could hit you or kill you instantly. It is beyond my ability to comprehend what it was like to be here, and I would never want to be in a place like this when it happens.
HAROLD on the south embankment
If we look at the numbers of people that were in overpasses and got killed, and we looked at the number of people that were killed at home, it was probably 10-20 times more dangerous to be under the overpasses then to stay home.
AS MAY 4TH DAWNED, COMMUNITIES RALLIED ROUND AND BEGAN TO REBUILD.
SINCE THE TORNADOES HAD STRUCK LATE IN THE DAY, THE SCHOOLS WHICH WERE DESTROYED OR DAMAGED WERE EMPTY.
NOAAS HAROLD BROOKS THINKS HE SEES EVIDENCE THAT SAFETY LESSONS HAD BEEN WELL TAUGHT, AND THAT STUDENTS HAD BEEN LISTENING
HAROLD BROOKS outside Kelly Elem.
This is Kelly Elementary school which was completely destroyed in the May 3, 1999 tornado. This is now the school being rebuilt. Part of the rebuilding process is that theyre including shelters in it. So that while that event didnt occur during school hours, if a May 3 kind of tornado could happen during school hours, the students would be adequately protected. One of the things that happened here was that students learned about tornado safety. They learned to get as low as they can, to get as many walls as you can between you and the tornado, and they took that information home and they taught there parents what to do.
Students like you can play a role in saving your life, and your families lives. And in the Moore tornado, there were no children between the ages of 4-24 that were killed. So that students saved their own lives, and they saved their families lives by learning what to do at school.
APRIL BROKERS HAROLD on tornadoes
OK, STUDENT 1, I THINK WEVE GOTTEN SOME TORNADO QUESTIONS THAT WOULD BE RIGHT FOR HAROLD??
APRIL BROKERS DENNIS on tornado forecasts
DENNIS McARTHY, WEVE GOT AN E-MAIL QUESTION FOR YOU TOO, BUT FIRST I HAVE ONE OF MY OWN YOU WERE ON DUTY LAST MAY 3 WHAT WAS IT LIKE???
DENNIS answers April
OK, STUDENT 2, WHO ASKED WHAT FOR DENNIS
DAPHNE, THOSE WERE SOME AMAZING SCENES OF MAY 3 YOU WERE OUT STUDYING THOSE TORNADOES WHAT DID YOU SEE?
APRIL brokers JEFF K interaction with "Twister in a Bottle" with students: uses Guide as a prop.
THANKS, DAPHNE. SHELL BE SHOWING US THE INSTRUMENTS THE RESEARCHERS USE TO STUDY TORNADOES LATER IN THE PROGRAM BUT FIRST WEVE GOT THE DIRECTOR OF THE SEVERE STORMS LAB. DOWN THERE PLAYING WITH WATER JEFF, WHATRE YOU UP TO?
describes twister in a bottle
If relevant, April asks one or two of the students what they saw and Jeff describes whats the same, or different about water and air in motion
APRIL VOICE OVER CONTINUING BALLOON PREPS AT EXT. (CAM 3)
THANKS, JEFF NOW LETS SEE WHATS GOING ON OUT THERE AT OUR BALLOON LAUNCH SITE
NATURAL SOUND OR DAVE RUST UPDATE
APRIL throws to "ANATOMY " tape playback
THANKS, DAVE. NOW DAVES BALLOONS ARE PART OF SPECIAL RESEARCH PROJECTS, BUT AS YOULL SEE, BALLOONS ALSO PLAY A ROLE IN HOW THE DAILY FORECASTS ARE PUT TOGETHER
EVER WONDER WHERE THE FORECASTS YOU SEE ON TV COME FROM?
LETS GO BEHIND THE SCENES TO MEET THE FAR-FLUNG NETWORK OF SATELLITES, BALLOONS, RADARS, GROUND INSTRUMENTSAND MOST IMPORTANTLY THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO PUT THEM ALL TO WORK FOR YOU
Warning Coordination Meteorologist, SPC/NOAA
The technology involved to do our severe weather forecast is quite extensive. The satellites are located 22,000 miles up into space, and one is located just off the east coast above the equator and also another one just off the west coast. And they continually take pictures every minute if we need to on the average of every 15 minutes. Continually take pictures of clouds over the U.S. and over the northern hemisphere.
PATRICE KUCERA USED TO BE A FORECASTER, AND NOW DEVELOPS VISUALIZATION TOOLS TO HELP TODAYS FORECASTERS
What were looking at is like a thermal picture of the atmosphere above us. The purples and reds are showing the cold temperatures, and those are usually a signature of clouds. And then the warmer colors, the grays and the whites are showing warmer areas. This image is important to indicate where clouds are, where storms are. Its a nice tool for use to look at the weather to see where the weather actually is.
The satellite data is beamed down to Wallops Island, which is located right off the mid-Atlantic coast right off Virginia. That data combined with data that we observe every hour constantly at the surface and those from weather balloons are then processed into the big super computer thats located at Suitland, Maryland.
WORKING WITH THE SATELLITES ARE RADARS, AND BALLOONS AND SURFACE INSTRUMENTS.
LETS EXPLORE EACH IN TURN.
THERE ARE AUTOMATED WEATHER STATIONS ALL ACROSS THE UNITED STATES, REPORTING TEMPERATURE, HUMIDITY, WIND SPEED AND DIRECTION EVERY HOUR.
THEN THERE ARE 132 DOPPLER RADARS SITUATED ALL ACROSS THE NATION, ON THE LOOKOUT FOR PRECIPITATION AND SEVERE STORMS.
ALONG WITH THE HIGH-TECH RADARS, TWICE A DAY BALLOONS ARE LAUNCHED ACROSS AMERICA AND SIMULTANEOUSLY AROUND THE WORLD
Hydrometeorological Technician, NWS Forecast Office, Norman
Once all the data is gathered, it is sent into the national center, its put into the computers, the new model runs are generated. The forecasters get the data, and what that does is it gives them a range of what the weather may do, based on the data from all the radar songs. The forecaster then uses his experience and intuition to decide where in that range, the weather will occur.
HERE IN NORMAN AND AT EVERY NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE AROUND THE NATION ALL THIS DATA IS SERVED UP ON SPECIAL DISPLAYS THAT INTEGRATE ALL THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF DATA ON ONE SCREEN.
TODAYS DATA IS THE STARTING POINT FOR SETS OF COMPUTER MODELS THAT PROJECT WHAT THE WEATHER WILL BE DAYS INTO THE FUTURE
Numerical models are very complex tools, that we are able to use to predict the weather. The more complex the math is, the more detailed we can become in our forecasts. What were looking at back here behind me, is the answer to mathematical equations of the current state of the atmosphere, then projected through time.
SO THATS HOW THE FORECAST MAKES ITS WAY ALL THE WAY FROM SPACE TO YOUR NEWSPAPERS AND TV SCREENS.
APRIL brokers forecasting question to DAN in SPCCAM 1
DANTHOSE ARE THE REGULAR FORECASTS BUT TELL US HOW THE "STORM PREDICTION CENTER" HELPS US ALL PREPARE FOR SEVERE WEATHER
STUDENT #2, DO WE HAVE A QUESTION FOR DAN???
STUDENT #1: HOW ABOUT A QUESTION FOR DENNIS McCARTHY???
APRIL BROKERS FORECASTING QUESTION TO DENNIS in CONF (CAM 2)
APRIL THROWS TO TAPE
THANKS TO BOTH McCARTHYS, DAN AND DENNIS! NOW LETS LOOK AT HOW PAUL MARKOWSKI AND DAPHNE ZARAS STUDY TORNADOES AND THEN WELL HAVE SOME MORE QUESTIONS FOR THEM
DURING TAPE, APRIL MOVES TO EXT
TORNADOES HAVE ALWAYS ROAMED THE GREAT PLAINS, BUT UNTIL 1948 THEY WERE REGARDED AS COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLEACTS OF GOD.
FORECASTS NEVER MENTIONED THEM, FOR FEAR OF CREATING PANIC.
THEN, AFTER A TORNADO HIT TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, JUST 10 MILES FROM NORMAN, 2 AIR FORCE OFFICERS CORRELATED WEATHER CONDITIONS WITH TORNADO FORMATION, AND FELT CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO PREDICT ANOTHER TWISTER WOULD HIT. THEY PROVED RIGHT, AND TORNADO FORECASTING WAS BORN.
WE STILL DONT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS ABOUT WHY SOME SUPERCELL THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCE TORNADOES AND OTHERS DONT, BUT THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF TWISTERS BEGAN IN THE MID-90S. , IT WAS CALLED "VORTEX"AND ITS RESULTS ARE STILL BEING ANALYZED AND REPORTED.
P.I. "VORTEX" Project, NSSL/NOAA
Id say the primary scientific objective of our experiment is to try to understand what causes tornadoes to form below super cell storms.
GETTING BELOW THE STORMS MEANS HITTING THE ROAD, FORECASTING IN THE EARLY MORNING WHERE MIGHT FORM LATER THAT DAY
OU School of Meteorology & NSSL/NOAA
The difference between a day when nothing happens and a day when all heck breaks lose is really maybe just 1 or 2 degrees Celsius at some level of 5,000 feet above the ground. On days when we chase storms, its not unusual to go from completely blue sky to intense thunderstorms within 30 minutes, and then perhaps to a tornado in another 30 minutes. So in a total of 60 minutes its possible to go from a blue sky to a devastating tornado on the ground.
DAPHNE ZARAS gives a tour of some of the instruments on the mobile mesonet cars:
What we have here is the instrument rack that goes on top of what we call our mobile-mesonet, a fleet of cars that each have all these instruments on it. Thats why we call it mobile, because of the cars. And mesonet because its a network of surface weather stations, thats what all these instruments would comprise.
Here on the front we have a pressure sensor, notice that its metal now and not plastic. We used to have plastic but we found that plastic would sometimes break when we had large hail around a tornado. Up above is the anemometer and this is used to measure the wind direction as well as the wind speed by how fast this is spinning.
We can get the wind direction and the wind speed even while the car is moving by using these two instruments back here: one is a GPS sensor, thats for the Global Positioning Satellite, and we also use a "flux gate compass" to tell how the car is pointing when its sitting still or moving very slowly. By that we can subtract out the motion of the car from the wind speed and direction and that way we know what the data is like, as if we had a stationary surface weather station.
EACH RESEARCH SEASON, THE RESEARCHERS PUT TENS OF THOUSANDS OF MILES ON THEIR ODOMETERS, CHASING STORMS ACROSS MANY STATES
PAUL MARKOWSKI driving
You may chase an average of four days a week. And on average maybe 500-800 miles a day, and if you do the math, you can quickly rack up 20,000 miles in a spring. Those 20,000 miles, and if you see maybe 5 tornadoes in a season, thats probably maybe a better than average year. Just a fraction of a percent of a time are you really involved with the excitement that is seeing a tornado and collecting the data around a tornado. Most of the time its boring and just long hours in the car, and long hours in heavy rain some times.
Being close to a tornado, its almost surreal. You look up at the base of a storm, and there is just an intense wild rapid rotation, and its just something for the eye to behold and its something that cameras and still photography just cant possibly do adequate justice to.
I still remember my first tornado. It was a really photogenic elephant-trunk-like tornado. I think we got back from that chase at like 4 in the morning, and I didnt get much sleep because we went out the next day and, yeah, it was a long day but it was a whole lot of fun for me, anyway.
VORTEX researchers caught in sudden windburst
Okay, hold on wait a second, slow down. Got one RFDd big time. Watch out for spin-ups. Alright, face the wind Face the wind! Face the wind! Back it up. Alright there ya go.
Each tornado is different, and we very carefully judge how close we can go for each tornado. Tornadoes are fairly steady in how they move. So if youve got a good idea of how it is moving, youve got a good idea about how close you can get. Now we also have a navigator in the car and were looking at road options all the time. So when were watching the tornado, and were slowly, carefully approaching it, were constantly making sure we can backup and get away if the tornado changes direction.
Scenes of the May 3 1999 tornadoes from VORTEX 99 tape
FOR THE VORTEX RESEARCHERS, AS FOR ALL THE INHABITANTS OF THE OKLAHOMA CITY REGION, MAY 3 1999 WAS A PERSONAL AS WELL AS PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE.
And while we were looking at that tornado off to our left, the storm was starting to produce another tornado. So then we finished data collection on this tornado to our left, and we go try to catch up to the storm, but its hard. We run into damage that has blocked the road. That doesnt always happen on a storm chase. The next storm to the west is already tornadic, and we can already see that from a long ways away. So now were starting to think that this is a little different then normal. We dont normally see this kind of so many tornadoes on these storms. And it didnt take too long after that, we were listening to the radios in the cars, to realize that these tornadoes didnt stop, they kept going, and they went right through into Oklahoma City. So now were thinking it went through Moore, Duane lives in Moore and somebody else lives in Moore, you know And we started worrying about our friends and family.
Literally, subdivisions, a 5-10 minute drive from home are leveled. And, actually, a lot of people I know were directly affected. I think that adds a new perspective to what I do. It doesnt really instill fear in me, but I think the least I can do is to try to use my math and science and physics talents to try and learn something about tornadoes so that maybe if there is something good that can come out of a terrible outbreak like May 3, maybe its that someday in the not too distant future, we can actually learn why some of these storms can rotate for hours and hours and not produce tornadoes and while others, like on May 3, produce one tornado after another in succession and theyre all very large and very intense.