"Rocket Into Tornado" Research Published

This story is about a scientist doing an amazing things -- while others scoffed. 

As the above clip from Twister shows, it has been a goal of meteorologists for decades to get a probe(s) into a tornado to measure its winds, pressure, and other data in hopes they can be used to create better computer models that will allow better forecasts. 


The problem has always been that when a tornado gets to weather instruments, it destroys them. The National Severe Storms Laboratory developed TOTO (TOtable Tornado Observatory; meteorologists love acronyms, no matter how inane). It was towed into the tornado's path and would take measurements near the ground -- if only the tornado would move over it. This was the inspiration for "Dorothy" in the movie Twister.

If I recall correctly, they got it into a tornado's path a single time....... with predictable results

In 2019, Dr. Reed Timmer, best known for his television show Storm Chasers -- amazingly -- launched a small, instrumented rocket of his own design into a violent tornado. 

Using what weather scientists have learned the last couple of decades, he positioned himself in exactly the correct spot ahead of the storm, launched, and the rocket made a lap in the tornado before being carried up through the thunderstorm's updraft, taking measurements the entire time. 

The EF-4 intensity Lawrence-Linwood Tornado was a difficult storm to chase. 
The tornado was fast-moving and wrapped in rain as shown in the photograph (it outran us) taken from behind at about the time Reed was launching his rocket. 

Here is the rocket being launched as the tornado approached. It goes without saying, never do this or anything like it!

While the rocket sent back a partial data set while in the tornado, the high resolution data required recovering the rocket. They got lucky and found it.

As these were unconventional measurements in an extremely hostile environment from an instrument pack on a fast-moving vehicle, it took years to get the data in shape to be published in the peer-reviewed literature. But, he did it. 

The entire article is here

This illustration from the article shows the rocket's path as if looking down from space. 

Dr. Ted Fujita was the most distinguished meteorologist of the 20th Century because he studied important topics, at times developed his own techniques to do the research and quickly published the results so that they could be used in the real world. His downburst work directly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives and billion dollars of airplanes. Ted's small group at the University of Chicago was highly entrepreneurial and accomplished a great deal.

Reed got his Ph.D, designed the rocket and instrumentation, and published the results. Since the original rocket, he has refined the instrumentation to get better data in the future. I have to admit being concerned about trying to launch these right in the face of tornadoes: it is highly dangerous and, it is going to be tough to find the tornado's narrow inflow region of the storm to help carry the rocket into the right area of the storm. 

Still, I have tremendous respect for Reed and his entrepreneurial approach to meteorological research and look forward to the result from future projects. 

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