In the U.S., tornadoes are responsible for 80 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries each year. Although they occur quite frequently, tornadoes are difficult to predict. Why? Tornadoes develop from storms, but only some storms have the potential to become tornadoes. Meteorologists don't know where and when a storm will touch the ground and turn into a tornado. Today, the warning time for a tornado is usually just 13 minutes.
Tim Samaras is a storm chaser. His job is to find tornadoes and follow them. When he gets close to a tornado, he puts a special tool called a turtle probe on the ground. This tool measures things like a twister’s temperature, humidity and wind speed. With this information, Samaras can learn what causes tornadoes to develop. If meteorologists understand this, they can warn people about twisters sooner and save lives.
How does Samaras hunt tornadoes? It’s not easy. First, he has to find one. Tornados are too small to see using weather satellites. So Samaras can’t rely on these tools to find a twister. Instead he waits for tornadoes to develop. Every May and June, Samaras drives about 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) across an area known as Tornado Alley, looking and hoping to spot a twister.
Once Samaras sees a tornado, the chase begins. But a tornado is hard to follow. Some tornadoes change direction several times - for example, moving east and then west and then east again. When Samaras finally gets near a tornado, he puts the turtle probe on the ground. Being this close to a twister is terrifying. Debris is flying in the air. The wind is blowing at high speed. He must get away quickly.
The work is risky, even for a skilled chaser like Samaras. But danger won’t stop his hunt for the perfect storm.
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