Tornadoes have the power to rip through entire communities with an amazing vengeance, and meteorologist and storm chaser Reed Timmer has willingly wound up in the middle of one of the most dangerous elements of severe weather.
In a sheet metal covered SUV with special shatter-resistant windows, Reed and his team of Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers found themselves intercepting a massive tornado in mid-June 2009, west of Aurora, Neb.
"The air is remarkably smooth inside," said Timmer. "My ears popped from the low pressure."
The air flowing into the circulation of a tornado is "smooth" convectively, meaning the air is stable, and on the path deemed by the circulatory flow of the storm.
While watching a tornado, the air within the storm appears to be much more turbulent than it actually is.
A special roof anemometer recorded wind speeds of 138.8 mph within this tornado, and the driver's side window was blown out.
Timmer suffered from minor abrasions to the face after the glass from the blasted window shattered over him.
"Our armored vehicle got hit with some debris, wind blasting, that was wild," said Timmer. "Sounded like a really loud waterfall, a jet engine--really, really loud."
And he's not out to get himself killed.
"If we better understand tornadoes, we can better increase tornado warning lead times, which can help save lives," Timmer said.
Timmer is an expert storm chaser who has intercepted more than 250 tornadoes in his young 30-year life.
He became interested in severe weather after he got the idea to use the family video camera to record giant hail in his yard.
"I've been obsessed with tornadoes since I was five years old," said Timmer.
While Timmer is a professional, storm chasing is becoming a popular pastime of many amateur severe weather fans.
"In the more populated areas, people are more likely to stick around to see the storm, rather than evacuating," Timmer said.
Storm chasing should be left to professional meteorologists who understand the movements of these erratic storms.
The dangers of chasing are not limited to becoming stuck in the actual tornado itself, but also lightning strikes and hydroplaning while driving in stormy conditions.
"We're lucky there haven't been more injuries to chasers," said Timmer. "The trend is for more people to get out there on the road, increasing the chance of more injuries in the future."
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