Tornadoes are one of the biggest mysteries in weather, but a group of storm chasers hope to change that.
Skywarn 6 Certified Broadcast Chief Meteorologist Ken Johnson is always tracking severe storms that threaten Texoma, and Ken had the opportunity to talk to a group of storm chasers that have built cars that actually drive into tornadoes.
Storm chaser Reed Timmer built two storm chase vehicles that withstand the powerful winds of a tornado. The vehicles allow his team to get inside natures most powerful storms gathering brand new information that could one day help save your life.
Reed Timmer drove his armored storm chase vehicle inside a tornado for the first time ever on June 23rd, 2008 in Minnesota, but not without some scary moments.
Timmer says the windows came crashing in as one of the tornado hit. He admits he was a little worried for a few seconds.
The vehicle known as The Dominator 1 is actually a Chevy Tahoe. Timmer added The Dominator 2 in 201, which is made out of a GMC Yukon. Both have been converted into heavily armored tanks keeping them safe from the outside winds.
Reed says they shaved off the back and mounted sheet metal, 16 gauge steel, and they're sprayed with Linex coating to give us extra protection from debris. They also have Flexand windows to also help protect them from debris.
Timmer has been chasing storms every year since he was 15. Back then, he was just in a regular car. Over the years, his fascination and desire to know more about what goes on in these storms gave him the idea for The Dominators.
He says, "we wanted to find a way to combine our passion with a way to get closer to tornadoes to better understand them and to record data that other people can't safely get."
The storm chase vehicles are equipped with radar that measures vertical wind speeds and parachutes that are shot out and carried up into the tornado.
The parachutes measure things like temperatures, winds, and barometric pressure.
Timmer says, "the goal is to get a 3d x-ray of what's actually going on inside the tornado to better understand the complexities especially those occurring right near the ground."
They are still in the early stages of collecting data, but so far it's been a success.
One of the most interesting measurements they've gotten so far is 170mph wind in a storms updraft.
The updraft is an area of fast rising air in a storm. 170mph winds in an updraft can easily lift a home off its foundation. But the data collected could change that.
Timmer says, "you'll have structural engineers that will take that data and build better structures."
It will also give us meteorologist more information to make better forecast and hopefully give you more warning.
Getting inside a tornado even with one of these heavily armored vehicles is extremely dangerous and life threatening.
"As it's approaching your almost mesmerized by it's organization and scientific beauty and you don't think this is something that can kill you," Timmer says. "But when that first wind gust hits the vehicle it feels like a solid object. Then you realize the power even the weaker tornadoes have."
Some tornadoes are just too dangerous.
An EF 5 is the strongest tornado and can pack winds more than 200mph.
Timmer's storm chase team have to stay away.
"The strongest tornado I've ever seen was on April 27th near Philadelphia Mississippi. It dug a trench 2 feet deep into the ground. The vehicles just aren't built to withstand that type of wind."