A programme summary of Horizon: The hunt for the supertwister. to get the most up to date information available, so he found an internet connection on route. OkCupid is the only dating app that knows you're more substance than just a selfie—and it's free! Download it today to make meaningful connections with real . Hunt for the Supertwister Poster Jane Lynch takes us through her career, including her newest voice-over role in Ralph Breaks the Internet Release Date.
BBC - Science & Nature - Horizon
Just a few minutes later, the storm tore the side off the GM plant and leveled the union hall. Many fear that scenes like this are a sign of things to come, that we haven't seen the worst that tornadoes can do. I think we have reached a critical point here, where we are now expanding our cities bigger and bigger, so the targets for tornado hits are getting bigger and bigger. And the fear that I have is that now Let's just picture this.
Let's say it's two o'clock in the afternoon, large tornado comes into a city, moving toward a school that has children in it. What's going to happen when that warning goes out? There's going to be hundreds of parents trying to rush to that school to get those kids out.
And it will take the school out. It will take the parents out. And mark my words, it will happen. Tornadoes are freak events of nature. They can't be stopped, but if we want to survive them, we've got to predict when and where they'll occur.
But tornadoes continue to defy forecasters. Other violent storms, like hurricanes, are huge—covering thousands of square miles—and show up on radar and satellites long before they strike. Tornadoes are another story. Compared to hurricanes, they're tiny. And they form quickly. But killer tornadoes don't just appear out of nowhere.
Every spring, warm, moist air surges up from the Gulf of Mexico, pushing into cool, dry air from the north. The warmer air fuels thunderstorms that rise into the upper atmosphere, sometimes growing into immense rotating giants known as supercells. A swirling column of air develops inside the storm, narrowing and reaching down toward the ground, becoming a tornado. Over a thousand tornadoes touch down in the United States each year. In some, a narrow funnel cloud waves and bends like an elephant trunk, while others grow wide, enveloped by rain and clouds.
Most tornadoes are weak and disappear within minutes. A quarter of all tornadoes have the potential to cause significant damage. A rare few unleash the enormous energy stored in the atmosphere, generating ground-level winds above miles per hour, and traveling dozens of miles.
He's going to drive into it if he's not careful. Rated F4 and F5 on a five-point scale, these are the deadliest of storms, the supertwisters. They do happen, and they happen nearly every year.
And of course, if an F5 comes down your street, if you're not in a safe room or a basement or a cellar, you're probably going to be history. But unfortunately, even these scientists can't predict exactly where and when a tornado, or even a thunderstorm, will strike. We don't have a very good picture of the potential of thunderstorm activity and exactly where it might be able to develop. We all wish that we could pinpoint the exact location where severe weather will strike and tell people what time it's going to strike, but the science hasn't reached that point yet.
The storm center monitors the atmosphere across the entire continent and then uses computer programs to try to predict where the most dangerous storms will develop. If general conditions look strong for tornadoes, the storm center issues a tornado watch, often covering tens of thousands of square miles. Only after radar suggests a tornado is forming does an official tornado warning go out. When we issue the warning, the warning is supposed to mean that that tornado has been detected, it is there.
We want to be able to take it to that next step where we can say, "We've got this really bad storm. Conditions where that storm is headed are ripe for a tornado to develop. Official tornado warnings often come too late, on average, only 12 minutes before a twister strikes. And frequently, they're false alarms. One man believes we can do better. My dream is to be able to detect tornadoes down at very fine scales, to anticipate tornadoes a half an hour before they occur. We're talking about a storm forming to produce a tornado over a county or a city.
It's a whole different ballgame. Kelvin Droegemeier is a meteorologist who wants to overhaul our current system of detecting tornadoes. We need to see closer down to the ground. That's where the weather really happens. I mean the storms up in the atmosphere, they're the ones that eventually cause the weather, but the stuff that's actually affecting society happens down near the ground, where we don't really observe things very well.
Today's system relies in part on a network of Doppler radar. Doppler can sense the movement of air and moisture in remarkable detail. Used as long-range radar, Doppler dishes are spaced miles apart or more. Gazing out over the horizon, they can't see what's happening close to the ground, where tornadoes form.
There's a limit to tornado prediction, and I believe we have reached that limit right now. With all the available information that we have, radars are only put at certain locations. Radars that we have can scan out miles, but at miles they're only scanning the top part of the storm, and so they're not seeing down low.
Kelvin Droegemeier dreams of a world filled with Doppler dishes hung on cell phone towers and all kinds of buildings, just 20 miles apart.
This Doppler-rich world could paint a much more detailed picture of the weather, maybe even catch tornadoes in the act of forming. We want to put a few of these radars out there to make sure that if a tornado is beginning to form, we know absolutely, for certain, that it's going to happen, and we can tell you that 30 minutes ahead of time—whether it's a weak tornado, a strong tornado; whether it's in December or March or May. Kelvin is now wiring central Oklahoma with an experimental network of small radars, confident that his plan will someday revolutionize the forecasting of tornadoes, including supertwisters.
But others aren't so sure. You might be able to predict that a storm may or may not form, you may predict that some storms may be more likely to produce strong tornadoes than others, but we may never be able to predict that a given storm in a given location will go on to produce a tornado. Howie Bluestein's skepticism comes from over 25 years chasing down storms in the twister-prone region of the central plains, known as Tornado Alley. When he started out, Howie's operation was certainly low-tech.
There were no laptop computers, no global positioning system Small seepings building up under the anvil. I'm a little bit worried about something happening right back just south of Norman.
Over time, the storm chaser's arsenal has expanded. Howie was the first to put a radar dish on the back of a truck and capture crucial data of tornadoes in action. But even with today's tools, storm chasers like Howie consider themselves lucky if they intercept one or two good tornadoes each year, because the thunderstorms that spawn them are extremely complex creatures.
Whether a thunderstorm forms in one county or the next county could depend upon differences in wind that you can barely detect with instruments, or changes in temperature and humidity that are barely detectable. And Howie knows just how far we are from understanding the true nature of tornadoes. We still haven't solved the problem yet.
We still haven't figured out exactly why tornadoes form. For all their long years of study, storm chasers are forced to admit that the exact chain of events that turns a thunderstorm into a tornado is still a mystery. We know that supercell thunderstorms make tornadoes, but we also know that most of them don't.
Josh Wurman is one of Howie's colleagues and a fellow storm chaser. Only about 20 percent or 25 percent of supercell thunderstorms produce tornadoes. And only perhaps one percent to five percent of those produce what we call significant tornadoes, the large ones, the long-track, the ones that do 90 percent or 95 percent of the damage and fatalities.
Stop here, near the hill, and start scanning.
I feel like we're in a twister movie. Josh has witnessed some of the most powerful supertwisters of recent years, including the May 3,storm that hit Moore, Oklahoma, where he recorded the fastest winds ever measured: When the massive supertwister first set down, it was in a field about 40 miles from Moore.
TV forecaster Gary England had a full hour to warn his audience. Do not try to ride this storm out in your home, unless you are trapped. Get in the center part of your house, a closet or bathroom. Cover it with pillows and blankets. Lots of pillows, lots of blankets, get in the bathtub, put the kids in the bathtub, get in on top of the kids. From Channel 9's command center, Gary and his viewers could see exactly what was coming.
Right now it may turn a little bit north of Norman. If it maintains itself, you folks in North May 3 rdthere was continuous coverage. They had helicopters up in the air filming the tornado, so people could watch the TV, see exactly where the tornado was. They had radar, with fantastic capability, showing the path that this thing was going to take. So people knew what was coming. We've got it falling on the ground right now, right hand side, tornado on the ground right there.
The green cloud, the green cloud, there it is. After May 3, we had nearly 70 tornadoes in our viewing area, here in Oklahoma, and you know a lot of people killed, what, 8, structures destroyed? People pay attention now.
The May 3 rd supertwister was the most powerful on record. And yet, after it finally fizzled out What's that right in front of us? Josh Wurman and his team discovered yet another supertwister roaring over open country. During the May 3 rd outbreak there were at least 50 other tornadoes. One of those was over four times as large as the one that went through the metropolitan area of Oklahoma City. Had that tornado gone through Oklahoma City, it would have caused a damage swath four times as wide, probably a mile wide or more, destroying many times more structures than were actually destroyed.
The May 3 rd'99 event is a major, major event to the people in Oklahoma and especially the people in Oklahoma City. But how many people outside that area realized what happened there? Realized the carnage that took place? It's not just powerful winds that make supertwisters so deadly. Once they form, they often keep on churning, staying on the ground an hour or more. These so-called long-track supertwisters aren't confined to Tornado Alley.
Inone paid a sudden and unwelcome visit to a small town on the east coast. It's coming this way, guys. I remember seeing this huge funnel cloud, and it was holding things in the air that were just whirling so fast.
And as they came to the top, you could recognize things like a tree, a couch, a desk. You're expected, asked to take cover immediately.
And we're looking at each other, thinking, "Is that a tornado? It was a supertwister, sweeping straight through the center of La Plata, Maryland. Then I remember this tangled mass of metal was coming right at me, I mean directly at my car.
And briefly I thought, well, I'll probably get decapitated. And my car lifted two feet up in the air and actually moved under the CVS sign. Still I say it sounded like a jet turbine engine; I can't even duplicate the sound. And the house started rumbling, shaking. The giant vortex sped through town. This tornado was moving at close to 60 miles an hour. That's a mile a minute. From here over to the buildings that are standing there, the tornado was probably through here in 15 seconds or less.
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One minute everything is there, and then, 15 seconds or less, everything is destroyed. You go from almost no wind up to mile an hour wind and back down. As the tornado was ripping through downtown La Plata, just outside of town, Susan Erikson and her husband Erik were visiting the construction site of their new dream house. They had no idea a tornado was coming. The only thing we had heard on the news that day was thunderstorms. And we had thought, "No big deal. I remember silence at that time, no birds, no anything.
I just heard silence. And we were getting ready to leave, and then everything went blank. Susan came to in a pile of rubble, hearing the groans of her husband Erik.
Both my arms were broken, they weren't functioning correctly. So what I did was try to maneuver my legs, so that I could stand up and drag my arms up with me. I remember walking out of the house. Luckily, some neighbors found Susan before she passed out again. The next thing she knew, she was in the hospital. It was between the two surgeries, before I went in for my orthopedic surgery on my arms, that they told me he had died.
And they said he was in a morgue in Baltimore. Erik Erikson was one of five people killed by the supertwister that hit La Plata.
Far from Tornado Alley, the monster storm carved a path of destruction 62 miles long, narrowly averting an unthinkable disaster. If you were to have taken the La Plata, Maryland tornado and just moved it north about 30 or 40 miles, you would have gone from beltway to beltway, right across the Potomac and through the Nation's Capital. Rare as they are, supertwisters can strike anywhere, anytime. But no one knows why.
In fact, scientists are stumped about what causes any tornado, large or small. Unless they can solve the puzzle and figure out how a supercell thunderstorm creates a tornado, then predicting supertwisters will be impossible. But how do you decipher the inner workings of a tornado? Meteorology, in contrast to chemistry or biology, is not a good laboratory science. We can't produce an accurate representation, a controlled representation of a thunderstorm, and change the variables one by one to make tornadoes.
No one can create a real tornado, either on the plains or in a lab. But there is one place where scientists can play puppeteer with the weather: The closest approximations we have are computer simulations. And we try to build a digital, computational model of the tornado and see if we can change variables and have storms that produce tornadoes and ones that don't. One of the leaders in tornado computer modeling is Lou Wicker. It doesn't have good rotation.
We're not going to deploy. A little farther, team, a little farther. Peak the hill, peak the hill. Back then, researchers thought the best way to learn about a tornado was to leave special sensors in its path. That was the idea behind Toto, a weather station the size of an oil drum. Lou took charge of getting Toto as close as possible to a tornado without wiping out the research team.
In the '70s and the early '80s, we were just trying to understand what made storms work, sort of visually. Now we're moving into an area where we're trying to understand the dynamics of storms. Inside storms, dynamics means how the individual blobs of air are all interacting with each other to produce the flow that becomes either the strong winds, or even the tornado, or even the things that produce hail. Based on years of weather research, Lou produces an amazingly detailed computer simulation, designed with scientists at the University of Illinois.
It reveals a familiar pattern: The clouds begin to spin and roil high in the sky. They descend closer to the ground, still swirling rapidly. Suddenly, the rotation narrows and intensifies, and touches down to earth. The question on everyone's mind is, "What triggers that final step? What makes the tornado form? Somehow, supercell thunderstorms are able to bring intense rotation and intensify that rotation near the surface. And we don't understand that process very well.
We know that before a tornado forms, there are areas of rotation in the thunderstorm.
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What we don't understand is how that rotation is brought down to the ground and intensified in a very short period of time in order to make a tornado. In the search for a trigger, one of the primary suspects has been a burst of air descending from the storm, called a downdraft. The idea is that the downdraft wraps around the storm, tightening and intensifying the rotation.
We think the downdraft is really important for producing the tornado, because it would help sort of squeeze the air from near the ground up into the updraft.
The air wraps around and sort of In the minutes before a twister forms, storm chasers often see a downdraft blasting a hole in the clouds toward the rear of the storm. Well, it's a very impressive storm. So far there's no tornado, but the structure looks quite good. We're seeing a very strong R.
On the radar, it's still looking pretty good. But just as often, a tornado fails to materialize. There must be more to the story. It's very likely that in order to solve the tornado problem, we're going to need a lot more data than we have right now, because a lot of things are going on at small scales that we don't actually sample.
Hunt for the Supertwister
And so until we have that, it will remain a research problem. And so, every spring, storm chasers like Howie Bluestein hit the roads of Tornado Alley, all on the hunt for the tornado trigger.
What we want to do is capture the formation of tornadoes in many, many storms. We want to see precisely how the wind field is changing. We want to see what's happening to the temperature field and the humidity field for a lot of storms. Mobile Doppler radar is the key to mapping the swirling wind patterns that spawn tornadoes. Today's storm chasing teams often include at least two Doppler trucks so they can record the storm from multiple perspectives.
Twenty five years ago we went out by ourselves. Now when we go out, there's an armada of cars out there. There are a number of different mobile Doppler radars. And of course, the more vehicles you have out there, the more vehicles that need gas, the more people that have to run to the bathroom at bad times, and so on.
All the high-tech sensors and computers they haul around allow Josh and Howie to monitor tornadoes in fantastic detail. The only problem is this equipment doesn't like to travel. Radars, at some fundamental level, aren't really designed to be put on trucks and bounced around in severe storms.
So we have a lot of problems with the complicated electronics, where things just shake and break apart. And we have shorts and things like that happening all the time.
We've broken our windshields now for the last two days. Our last one only lasted seven hours. When you're storm chasing, you have to be prepared for anything, whether it's treacherous road conditions, dust storms, or hail the size of baseballs. That is a horse in front of us. Oh, look at that. Hey, hey, hey, hey, you guys running the truck The messy and unpredictable reality of storm chasing shifts into high gear on May 15, Josh and Howie lead separate teams on the hunt for tornadoes.
May 15 th was incredibly complicated. We, and everyone else in the world, recognized that over the Texas panhandle the conditions were ripe for tornadic storms. The conditions looked very, very good. May 3rd, you know we had nearly seventy tornadoes in our viewing area here in Oklahoma. And you know a lot of people killed, what eight thousand structures destroyed, people pay attention now. Out on the road Josh Wurman got close enough to measure the wind speed.
It was an astonishing three hundred and one miles per hour. It made the Oklahoma Supertwister the most powerful ever recorded. A three hundred mile an hour wind is not three times as strong as a hundred miles an hour. It is nine times as strong. They can cause such complete destruction, and then it's apparently almost instantaneous, one moment you're out there on an afternoon, and twenty minutes later your house can be gone.
A wind travelling at three hundred miles per hour would be capable of flattening practically anything in its path. This power makes the Supertwister especially dangerous. The only way to guarantee survival is not to be there when they strike, just a few minutes extra warning time could mean the difference between reaching safety or death.
And finding those few extra minutes could be all the more vital because there's something making the situation even more critical. Cities in Tornado Alley are becoming bigger targets. I think we have reached a critical point here, where as we are now expanding our cities bigger and bigger, so the targets for tornado hits are bigger and bigger.
And the fear that I have is that now that the city is going to continue to get bigger, the houses still stay the same in terms of construction, now we're going to start having an upswing in the number of fatalities. So let's just picture this, let's say it's two in the afternoon, largest tornado comes in to a city. Moving towards a school that has five hundred children in it.
What's going to happen when that warning goes out? There's going to be hundreds of parents trying to rush to that school to get those kids out. And it will take the school out, it will take the parents out. And mark my words it will happen. It's fears like this that put huge pressure on scientists to come up with a solution, an effective way of predicting Supertwisters.
If an answer could be found then hundreds of lives would be saved. All Supertwisters are produced by thunderstorms. But so far it has proved impossible to predict which storms will go critical and which ones won't. There are several limitations to our knowledge at this point. And the reason for that is that while we have made some progress in understanding physical processes on the scale of thunderstorms, we don't understand nearly enough from a scientific perspective.
We all wish that we could pin point the exact location where severe weather will strike, and tell people what time it's going to strike. But the science hasn't reached that point yet. The storm centre monitors the atmosphere across the whole of North America, and then uses computer programs to try to predict where the most dangerous storms will develop.
And if the general conditions look strong for tornadoes, the storm centre will issue a so-called tornado watch. But a tornado watch can cover tens of thousands of square miles, areas so wide that these warnings are often viewed as meaningless. Only after radar sees a tornado is actually forming, does a precise tornado warning go out.
This is a major tornado, wind speed we don't know. But by then it can often be too late. When we issue the warning, the warning is supposed to mean that that tornado has been detected, it is there. We want to be able to take it to that next step where we can say we've got this really bad storm, conditions are right for a tornado to develop. Where we're at right now, when you've detected it it's occurring.
The sad fact is that official tornado warnings often come too late. On average only twelve minutes before a Supertwister strikes. Not enough time to evacuate a school or hospital. Finding out what turns a thunderstorm in to a Supertwister had become a vital scientific challenge. This has become the mission for a very select band of scientists, known as the storm chasers. Howie Bluestein has been chasing tornadoes for over twenty-five years in the twister prone reason of America's central plains, known as Tornado Alley.
When he started out Howie's operation was certainly lo-tech. There were no laptop computers, no global positioning system, nor mobile phones. But over time the storm chasers' arsenal has expanded. Twenty-five years ago we went out by ourselves. Now when we go out there is an armada of cars out there. There are a number of different mobile Doppler radars. And of course the more vehicles you have out there the more vehicles that need gas, and more people that have to run to the bathroom at bad times.
Today the storm chasers main weapon is a Doppler radar dish mounted on the back of a truck. Doppler radar uses sound waves to sense the movement of air and moisture in remarkable detail, even picking up patterns of dust clouds and insects. This equipment is the most accurate way of mapping the complex swirling wind patterns that make up a tornado. Today storm chasing teams often include at least two of these Doppler trucks so they can record the storm from different angles.
Howie was the first to put a Doppler radar dish on the back of a truck, and catch data off tornadoes in action. The storm chasers hope that all this data collecting equipment will one day help crack the problem of predicting Supertwisters. What we want to do is capture the formation of tornadoes in many, many storms.
We want to see precisely how the wind field is changing, we want to see what's happening to the temperature field and the humidity field for a lot of storms. A big problem is this equipment doesn't like to travel, and when you're storm chasing you have to be prepared for anything.
There's a horse in front of us. Oh look at that. They face treacherous road conditions, dust storms, and hail the size of golf balls. Radars at some kind of level aren't really designed to be put on trucks and bounced around in severe storms, and so we have a lot of problems with the complicated electronics, where things just shake and break apart, and we have shorts, things like that happening all the time.
Not much I can do about that. So we've broken our windshields now for the last two days, our last one only lasted seven hours, that's very frustrating. The simple fact is that tornadoes are so unpredictable tracking them is still hit or miss. Storm chasers like Howie Bluestein consider themselves lucky if they intercept one or two good tornadoes each year. With such a haphazard way of collecting information it has always seemed likely that the Supertwister will hang on to its secrets.
Those few vital extra minutes of warning time would remain elusive and lives would continue to be lost. But one man thought he might have a solution.
Kelvin Droegemeier's aim was to use a new computer model to provide early warnings, not of Supertwisters themselves, but of the conditions that spawn them. My dream is to be able to detect tornadoes down at very fine scales, to anticipate tornadoes, a half an hour before they occur.
We're talking about a storm forming to produce a tornado over a country or a city, it's a whole different ball game. Droegemeier's starting point was the knowledge that Supertwisters are all formed under the bellies of thunderstorms, in particular a hugely violent type known as a super cell. A super cell is a vast rotating column of air. These huge bodies can be twenty miles across and sixty thousand feet high.
More than double the height of Mount Everest. Every Spring, warm moist air surges up from the Gulf of Mexico, pushing in to cool dry air from the north.
Strong winds coming in from different directions at different speeds causes the air to start rotating. And as the energy becomes more intense, a super cell is born. But only in some of these super cells will an angry tail emerge to reach down and touch the ground. The main problem is understanding this final step, what is the precise mechanism by which a super cell gives birth to a Supertwister?
Somehow super cell, thunderstorms, are able to bring intense rotation and intensify that rotation near the surface. And we don't understand that process very well. We know that before a tornado forms there are areas or rotation in the thunderstorm. What we don't understand is how that rotation is brought down to the ground and intensify in a very short period of time in order to make a tornado.
In the search for a trigger one of the prime suspects has been a burst of air descending from the storm called a downdraft. A blast of air that descends and picks up speed as it falls towards the ground. We think the downdraft is really important for producing the tornado because it helps sort of squeeze the air from near the ground up in to the updraft.
The downdraft kind of comes around and squeezes the air in the front and the back together, it kind of squirts the air up off the ground. In the minutes before a twister forms, storm chasers have often seen a downdraft blasting a hole in the clouds, toward the rear of the storm. That's a very impressive storm, but the structure looks quite good, we're seeing a very strong RFD coming down.
But at this part there's still no tornado. But just as often, even when a super cell forms a tornado fails to materialise. For all their long years of study, storm chasers are forced to admit that they still haven't worked out the exact chain of events that turns a thunderstorm in to a tornado. We know that super cell thunderstorms make tornadoes, but we also know that most of them don't.
Only about twenty, or twenty five percent of super cell thunderstorms produce tornadoes. And only perhaps one to five percent of those produce what we call significant tornadoes, the large ones, the ones that do ninety, ninety-five percent of the damage and fatalities. I feel like we're in a Twister movie.
The problem lies in the complex interactions that make the weather. Weather systems are some of the most intricate patterns known to science. Whether a thunderstorm forms in, in one county or the next county, could depend upon differences in the wind that you can barely detect with instruments.
Or changes in temperature or humidity that are barely detectable. And Howie knows just how far we are from understanding the true nature of tornadoes. We still haven't solved the problem yet, we still haven't figured out exactly why tornadoes form. And this is why Kelvin Droegemeier's approach offers a potential way forwards. His idea is not reliant on knowing the precise details of why a tornado forms, he believes that the answer lies in finding a way of more accurately predicting thunderstorms.
His aim is to create a revolution in forecasting, Droegemeier has spent fifteen years building a powerful computer program that will breakdown the behaviour of the weather.
I think that the advances in science and technology are taking us in a natural direction toward a new mode of doing forecasting. Because right now the models don't predict thunderstorms at all, they predict general areas of precipitation, but they can't predict say an individual thunderstorm firing out in north western Oklahoma, the kind that, that we see sweep across the plains every year. In his system Droegemeier planned to use a mass of Doppler information, but in a completely new way.
Previously meteorologists have used Doppler images to track storms after they form. But Droegemeier was hoping to use this data to help predict thunderstorms hours before they appeared. He has developed a powerful computer model that combined this Doppler information with temperature and humidity data from satellites and weather stations, which he hoped would accurately predict thunderstorms for the first time.
Last year in the middle of the new tornado season he was given the perfect opportunity to test it out. On the morning of May 8th the weather began to turn.
By mid afternoon the National Storm Prediction Centre had blanketed large portions of the southern plains with tornado watches covering tens of thousands of square miles.
So Droegemeier set his computer model to work. He predicted a severe storm in a particular location in Kansas. And five hours later tornadoes were born.
Droegemeier's computer model had predicted a thunderstorm in that very place. Very excited that part of the model did really well, up in south eastern Kansas, it gave a signature of very strong storms in south east Kansas, many hours before the storms actually occurred.
Yet on the same day, part of the model did not perform so well. In the next state another Supertwister had formed and struck the town of Maura, Oklahoma.
This time the tornado made a beeline for Mama Lu's Diner. Oh we were sitting out here having dinner and my daughter called and said that a tornado was coming our way. The manager told us we either had to leave or stay. Things happened so fast and people moved so fast, and the man in the wheelchair, we couldn't get this door shut. When the tree came through the hallway we just fell kind of backward.
When we walked out the walls were gone, everything was gone, the ceiling was in. There were people laying everywhere, on the highway and in the ditches. But we were all alive, it was amazing, amazing.
Just a few minutes later the storm tore the side off the local General Motors plant, and levelled the Union Hall. It was a massive event.
But for the hour that the tornado struck, just after five pm, Droegemeier's model had got it completely wrong. It had predicted clear skies over the region. Central Oklahoma though where we had a very isolated event that we to this day don't know what triggered that thunderstorm, the model didn't do well at all.
Given these difficulties, some worried that Droegemeier's approach will ever be useful in predicting tornadoes. You might be able to predict that a storm may or may not form, you may predict that some storms may be more likely to produce strong tornadoes than others. But we may never be able to predict that any given storm, any given location, will go on to produce a tornado. Droegemeier though is not put off. He believes it's all about collecting more Doppler information. So he's building an experimental network of small dishes, twenty miles apart on mobile phone towers and buildings across Tornado Alley.
We want to put a few of these radars out there, to make sure that if a tornado was beginning to form, we know absolutely for certain that it's going to happen. And we can tell you that thirty minutes ahead of time whether it's a weak tornado, a strong tornado, whether it's in December or, or March, or May.
Droegemeier's technique could one day lead to great success. In the meantime, others may have made a significant breakthrough. Another Spring, another chance for the storm chasers to collect more vital data.
May 15th,was perfect weather for tornadoes. Storm chaser Josh Wurman and Howie Bluestein led separate teams. What they discover could one day prove vital, but their experience has also showed just how unpredictable tracking tornadoes could be. May 15th was incredibly complicated. We, and everyone else in the world recognised that over the Texas Panhandle the conditions were ripe for tornadic storms, the conditions looked very, very good. For a storm chaser very, very good conditions meant that wind from different directions was mixing to create an environment ripe for super cells.
A zone of low pressure drew warm moist air from the south in to the northern part of Texas, known as the Panhandle. Just above it, a current of air called the jet stream was blowing even faster. The two air currents, crossing at different speeds and altitudes, caused the air near the ground to begin to spin. If there was a thunderstorm in the area it would take on the spin, and perhaps go on to spawn a tornado.
As the chase started the team leaders had to chose which part of the Texas Panhandle looked most promising. A lot rode on the decision. Well we have a lot of anxiety because it's a very high stakes game, it's very expensive and time consuming to go out after these storms and they're fairly rare.
So we really need to make these calls efficiently if we're going to capture these rare events. And we only have a few chances every year to do that. Josh decided to head to the northern part of the Panhandle towards Dalhart, Texas. But Howie was unsure which route to take. To help him make up his mind he decided to get the most up to date information available, so he found an internet connection on route.