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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tornado Sensors Should Be Installed in Buildings (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | The Holy Grail of tornado chasers is to have sensors that measure the inside of a tornado. The best way to do this, so far, has been to have mobile teams dispatched during tornado season on the Great Plains to get near enough to thunderstorms. The teams deploy sensors and then move away quickly in hopes of determining what goes on inside a tornado.

Although footage from inside a tornado is rare, National Geographic attempted to do such a thing in 2005. Because tornadoes can veer radically from place to place and don't last long, getting sensors in place is difficult and can be hit-or-miss.

Perhaps scientists are going about tornado chasing the wrong way. When humans get lost in the wilderness or become stranded in a car in a snowstorm, the first rule is to stay put and let searchers come to you. Tornado chasing should be the same way.

Installing sensors in major buildings in cities and towns across tornado alley may be a more feasible solution. As technology becomes smaller and more affordable, weather sensors should be deployed in buildings every five to 10 blocks in cities across tornado alley. Having sensors in every building would be too expensive.

Since scientists have no way of predicting when and where tornadoes strike, they can narrow down buildings that are spaced far enough apart as potential targets for sensors. Consider a line of towns and cities from Dallas, Texas, to Bismarck, N.D. as a phalanx of areas that can have sensors installed.

It's almost as if a line of troops would be deployed on the battlefield, only this time the enemy is supposed to come towards them. Installing and upgrading sensors would take massive amounts of money. Much like the SETI project that aims radio telescopes at faraway places, this tornado sensing project may not come to fruition for decades. However, it would at least increase our chances of getting an inside look at one of nature's most incredible storms.

Sensor platforms would have to be battery operated so they wouldn't lose power as the tornado approaches. Barometric readings, GPS sensors and other instruments would need to be packed into the sensor suite.

It would be a huge undertaking, but it is possible. Not every building needs to have sensors installed, just enough to make it more likely that tornado will make a direct hit on the sensors. Given enough time and tumultuous weather, it's not a matter of if the stationary sensors will detect a tornado but when.

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