The Science and Safety, of Storm Chasing

The Science and Safety, of Storm Chasing
Illinois Storm Chaser, Skip Talbot

BEATRICE – Veteran Springfield, Illinois scientist and storm chaser Skip Talbot has storm chasing down to a formula.  The four parts are forecast, nowcast, spotting and safety.

Ever since an F-5 tornado destroyed Plainfield, Illinois when Talbot was seven years old, his fascination with severe weather began.

:32                  “in Nebraska”

At the 25th Annual Severe Weather Workshop and Family Safety Day in Wilber, Talbot used this year’s February 28th Washburn, Illinois twister, to explain the science of knowing where to chase.  The EF-3 did significant damage to farmsteads, but missed the center of the community, causing no injuries.

Chasing tornadoes in a safe manner hit home, when storm chasers were killed during the 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma tornado… a massive 2.6-mile-wide wedge.  An interactive web tool is now available that looks at that storm chasing video from any angle, with overlaid Google maps, tornado tracks and radar data.

:26                  “in diameter”

Talbot says he looks at moisture, instability, shear and lift, when deciding where to look for tornadoes.  Key components include dewpoints and mid-level winds.

Urban Tornado Assault Vehicle (Steve Worthington)

In looking where a tornado is likely to form, Talbot watches for a horseshoe shaped feature near a storm’s updraft base.

:18                  “gonna form”

Talbot says once a tornado is spotted, chaser safety becomes critical….making sure you have an escape route away from the tornado, and never crossing through the path of the twister.. either in front or behind it.  He says the inflow jet at the rear of a tornado, can still pack dangerous winds as high as 100 miles-per-hour.

Starcare Five Helicopter, preparing to land at Weather Workshop

Talbot says he never wants to see anyone hurt in a tornado. He and fellow storm chasers have established an organization to help those affected by twisters.  It’s a non-profit called Storm Assist.

:21                  “EF-five tornado”

Talbot has helped in creation of a Tornado Intercept Vehicle IMAX movie and piloted small aircraft for aerial photography of supercell storms.

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