Inside the Omnimax Theater at the St. Louis Science Center, the sounds of storms and wind blow through the crowd. Tornado Alley, now playing at the Omnimax Theater, follows the actions of VORTEX 2. and storm chaser and film-maker Sean Casey.
VORTEX 2 is an ambitious effort to gather information on the way that tornadoes form so that scientists can extend lead times for the people who live in tornado alley. According to VORTEX 2, current lead times are only 13 minutes and have a 70% false alarm rate.
VORTEX 2 uses Doppler radar to map the storms. According to the National Weather Service, Doppler radar works by sending out radio waves that bounce back to a receiver when they collide with a particle. The team also used “pods,” which measured wind speed and direction. The Doppler radar was attached to special trucks called DOW (Doppler On Wheels). These specially designed trucks were made to withstand gale force winds, torrential rain, and extreme hail. The VORTEX 2 team used Doppler radar to analyze the direction in which winds were moving.
Casey was able to get footage from inside a tornado by making a custom tank called the TIV 2 (Tornado Interception Vehicle). The TIV 2 is a brawn-over-brain design built to withstand extremely strong winds, complete with bulletproof windows, thick steel plating and hydraulic spikes that drive into the ground to anchor the vehicle. During an episode of the TV program Mythbusters the TIV 2 was put behind a Boeing 747 and subjected to high wind speeds. The TIV 2 stayed completely stationary, while the winds sent a normal car flying. Casey began building the TIV 2 September, 2007, and was ready for use before the tornado season of the next year.
Through their efforts Casey and VORTEX 2 captured enough data that it could take over a 100 years to analyze. Hopefully, this data will help scientists better understand tornado genesis, or the formation of tornadoes.
According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, a tornado forms in a supercell, which is a storm that lasts more than one hour, and when there is a strong rotating updraft. The tornado is then fueled by moist warm air at ground level. Tornadoes are also the most violent atmospheric storms. One example of the raw power of a tornado is the tornado that went through Joplin MO earlier this year, which killed 154 people.
If you would like to watch more tornado/storm chasing you can watch the TV series Storm Chasers on the Discovery channel, which stars Sean Casey.
Rachel, an Omnimax Theater employee, said that the movie made it feel like you were really there and that it reinforced what she had already learned about tornadoes. She also said that watching this movie made her want to go storm chasing.
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