Ever since I finished college and had the time and money, I’ve wanted to build some sort of something that will measure pressure, photograph and video extremely close to a tornado. Since I’m clearly never going to get around to it, I figured I’d write about it here and see if anyone is motivated by the prospects.
There have been some really good ideas and execution thus far. Ground probes, for example, carefully placed in the path of a tornado, have returned some of the most compelling video and data anyone has seen. The same can be said for the people who have sacrificed vehicles to make them withstand a small tornado.
I’m perplexed though by some of the other ideas that have been rather high-profile and quite expensive. Examples are RC airplanes and helicopters. I sit and scratch my head when I see someone with a ridiculous amount of intelligence take the time and spend the money to build something without ever taking into account the conditions in which the craft will be flown.
My build idea has always been to simply inflate a balloon and release it into the inflow with a payload attached. While steering and the speed at which the payload flies are strictly up to Mother Nature, the resulting extreme video and photos possible with this approach would be ridiculous; well, until the balloon is shredded by debris…
Equipment is much smaller now; lighter, more manageable. A payload with quite a bit of photographic, data collecting and communications capability, can be lifted by a small balloon. In fact, a 2lb payload can be lifted by a balloon the size of one you would see at a car dealership. These require only a medium-sized hydrogen or helium tank to be carried on-board in order to inflate on the fly.
A minimal rate of lift is easily calculated and methods exist regarding stabilization of the payload for quality imaging while in the air. Also, two-way satellite communication is now reasonable in cost and easiest for location of the unit after it falls.
So, next time you think you want to fly a helicopter, shoot a model rocket, or throw a baseball into a tornado, just go online, search “edge of space project”, buy yourself some electronics and get to work.
(note: NSSL releases balloons that have a radiosonde payload into storms. In fact several were sent up during the April 15, 2013 event in North Texas)