AccuWeather Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer and his team first to successfully launch a data-streaming sensor into tornado
By Adriana Navarro, AccuWeather staff writer
June 03, 2019, 1:57:20 PM EDT
"Hey Mark, we got it in! I think we got it in!" AccuWeather Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer shouted above the roaring of the wind, the yellow rocket swallowed by the wedge tornado that loomed hundreds of feet away from the team.
On May 28, 2019, a rain-wrapped EF4 tornado tracked south of Lawrence, Kansas. The group of storm chasers, acting as an independent team, recognized their chance. They were in the right position– to the north of the massive tornado looming over them and about a hundred yards away, according to Timmer.
They began adjusting the launching equipment atop the SRV Dominator 3, the vehicle Timmer uses for storm chasing. After the press of a button followed by a spark and a hiss, the rocket was off.
With the help of an independent team comprised of Mark Simpson, Curtis Brooks, Sean Schofer, Aaron Jayjack and himself, Timmer sent the rocket and the sensor attached to record data inside a tornado. Pressure distribution data, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed– everything that went on inside a tornado, they were after it all.
"It's never been done before. It was kind of depicted by Twister back in the day, but technology has never really been there to stream live data back to the ground from inside a tornado until now," Timmer said.
Hurricane hunters fly into dangerous hurricanes – all in the name of science
Identifying nature’s dangerous whirlwinds: A guide to 5 types of tornadoes
The difference between tornado watches and warnings
Survival guide: Recognize which clouds mean danger
The goal of sending the sensor into the tornado was to collect data that hasn't been accessible before. Usually, instruments in the path of the tornado to collect data are often destroyed. Timmer himself has poured 10 years of money and effort into this project.
"Everything's gone into it," Timmer said. "So much work and effort, and so many failures over the years. I think I pretty much put my whole entire bank account into it, and it was just so much work to get it in there. I knew the data would just be incredible, so I think all of that combining in just one watch is a little too much to handle."
But with the break through of getting sensors inside a tornado, Timmer believes our understanding of the power of tornadoes will be quantified.
"Right now we lack so many data points, especially near the ground, inside tornadoes and even inside tornadoes measured overall with direct instrumentation and hardware. I think this will open the door," Timmer said.
The tiny rocket, dubbed 'Dorothy' much like the device in the movie Twister, was designed to pierce through the sheet of sinking air that usually encapsulates tornadoes when they form through the process of occlusion. Brooks was the mastermind behind the craft while Simpson, who goes by @ChasinSpin on Twitter, designed the sensors that would power this project.
The team decided to name the sensor that would ride into the tornado with Dorothy "Bill Paxton," in the honor of one of the lead actors from Twister.
Originally, there was the idea that they wouldn't have to recover the probe that would carry a sensor. Instead, they would be able to live stream the data to the ground receiver.
However, there was a bump in their plans when the live streaming data was only received at once per second (a hertz), while the probe in the tornado recorded ten observations per second (10 hertz).
Dorothy and Bill soared into the tornado, and after reaching about 1,200 feet, the parachute deployed. The updraft carried the probe up to 5,000 feet, then 10,000 feet, eventually reaching up to 34,000 feet in elevation before the team lost signal with it after about eight to nine minutes of recording data.
One thing was clear to the team: the bulk of the data had been recorded in the probe, which had just been carried off by a tornado with the second-highest rating in the Enhanced Fujita scale.
And so the search began. Timmer posted on social media, and the quest was picked up by news networks and followers alike spreading the word.
By what Timmer described as a miracle, Matthew DuBois and Jerry Belk found the yellow probe at the side of the road and reached out to him.
BREAKING NEWS!!! I just got off the phone with Matthew DuBois, Jerry Belk who found the ROCKET sensor with parachute just short of KC Airport! This is huge. Due to this miracle we will now have 10 Hz data for the entire flight inside EF4 tornado and 3D animation of its flight! pic.twitter.com/Nhga3ZVHSX— Reed Timmer (@ReedTimmerAccu) May 30, 2019
This wasn't the first time social media had come through for the group.
"It is because of my Facebook supporters we made it happen," Timmer said, who used crowd source funding for this project.
After receiving funding from his supporters, the technology powered by Simpson, a team to drive with him to face the storms and 10 years of hard work, Timmer had finally done it. He doesn't plan on stopping either. According to Timmer, the next step is sending more probes into tornadoes to get a "more detailed picture of the complex dynamics" of tornadoes.
"What makes me happy is launching rockets inside a tornado, so it was the best investment of my life," Timmer said.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 11:02:43 AM EDT
A second round of out-of-control wildfires has forced around 8,000 people to be evacuated from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 10:55:12 AM EDT
While there are some areas being watched, explosive tropical development over the Atlantic basin seems unlikely this week.
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 8:41:47 AM EDT
If a new tropical depression or storm forms, impacts could range "anywhere from Taiwan to eastern China to southern Japan" later this week.
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 7:21:08 AM EDT
A new storm system will renew the risk for violent storms in the northern Plains and Midwest early this week.
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 10:07:21 AM EDT
Authorities confirmed that seven children and two adults were injured after lightning struck down a tree at the Dolphin Swim Club in Feasterville, Pennsylvania
Weather News - August 19, 2019, 11:12:11 AM EDT
The stormy pattern will continue across much of the Northeast into Wednesday, bringing high humidity and thunderstorms to much of the region.