Tim Samaras: Reality vs. Reality TV

DSC00762Chances are you don’t know the name Tim Samaras.  But it’s quite possible you’ve seen some of his dramatic work.  Tim is one of the storm chasers followed by the Discovery Channel program “Storm Chasers.”

Samaras operates a research group called TWISTEX. The chase team consists of four vehicles.  Three vehicles are treated like scout vehicles.  Their mission is to intercept a tornadic supercell and surround it, gathering scientific data in hopes of better understanding a severe storm’s structure.

The fourth vehicle is the one Samaras and his chase partner occupy.  It’s the Probe vehicle.  This massive vehicle is designed to get right in the path of a tornado, but still stay a safe distance away.  Before it gets out of the way, Tim and his partner try to drop probes into the path of the tornado.

There are two types of probes Samaras uses, one is loaded with scientific data, the other with cameras designed to get a 360-degree view.  The missions is to collect visual and scientific data from inside the center of the tornado.

Trouble is this is NOT an exact science.  Even when a tornado is a half mile away, you can never determine its exact path.

In 2009, Samaras and his team capture seven tornadoes and deployed their instruments in three events.  No direct hits, but any information close to a tornado is valuable in the study of them.

Beyond his work, Tim’s message to storm chasers is don’t believe everything you see on TV.  Samaras referenced two tornadoes captured a week and hundreds of miles apart.  On the Discovery Channel program they made it look like the same event.

So what about his future?  Chances are you’ll see Samaras and the entire TWISTEX team on the Discovery Channel program, in the future.  And the TWISTEX team continues to add new weapons to its arsenal.

Coming in 2010, Samaras is adding another vehicle that’s mission is to intercept hail cores… yes that’s right, putting a vehicle into hail cores.  Of course this won’t be any ordinary vehicle, but one with special armor and plating in order to provide as much protection as possible.  But as Samaras put it “Don’t expect it to look as good as it does now.”

Samaras also hopes to add probes in the three “scout” vehicles.  In hopes of increasing the chances of scoring a direct hit on a tornado.  All in all an impressive year of storm chasing in 2009 and the team appears poised to do it again in 2010.

After his presentation I asked Tim if he’s ever made it into Iowa.  He told me he’s chased in the Hawkeye state plenty of times, pointing out one particular event in the Storm Lake area.

Of course severe weather season in Iowa is likely a couple weeks away at least, so in the meantime, it’s time to relax in Des Moines and get ready for Day 2 of the Doppler Radar and Severe Storms Conference.

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