Tornado chasers hurtle into the eye of ferocious storms, armed with the confidence that their WorkStars® will keep them safe.
It's a sweltering late-spring afternoon and you can feel the electricity in the air across the wide-open fields of the Great Plains. Ominous gray storm clouds clutter the sky as a caravan of 11 trucks careen northwest along U.S. Route 275 in eastern Nebraska-right through the heart of Tornado Alley.
In the lead is DOW 7, one of three futuristic "Doppler on Wheels" mobile radar vehicles racing into the belly of the fast-gathering thunderstorms. With their hulking antenna dishes and communications masts that project 56 feet into the sky, the Intenational trucks hunt for twisters.
Tracking a Monster
This storm season has been painfully quiet for these weather-obsessed road warriors who have racked up thousands of miles crisscrossing the highways of America.
Bursts of lightning spur the team to scramble into action. Suddenly the voice of Joshua Wurman, president of the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR), crackles over the radio: "We have a wall cloud!" he barks, referring to the billowy monsters gathering above. "DOW 7 is pulling over for a scan."
At this point, the radio chatter intensifies between Wurman and his fellow atmospheric scientists. "Do you see that cloud lowering? Is it rotating?" asks Paul Robinson, CSWR's research meteorologist, trailing behind in DOW 6. Herb Stein, the group's top driver, jerks DOW 7 to an abrupt halt along the dusty shoulder of the road and flips the switches for the truck's four hydraulic load-levelers. Four legs sprout from its sides, one by one, making the truck look like a Transformer. Within seconds they lift the chassis a foot off the ground. The eight-foot-wide radar dish turns and spins like a carnival ride.
The crew concentrates on the color-coded images of radio waves from deep inside the storm that are displayed
on the DOW's screens. Wurman hops off the side of the truck, does a quick scan of the skyline and adjusts his glasses. "Right now, we're in wait-and-see mode," he says, like a Captain Ahab who's well acquainted with the habits of his intended prey.
The clouds loom darker and more menacing, while the wind kicks up dirt like a high-powered tractor. Onlookers point excitedly toward what appears to be a fast- forming funnel structure. But it soon becomes obvious that there's no wind rotation within the puffy mass.
Better Luck next time
After about 20 minutes, Wurman decides that there will be no tornado today. The group is disappointed. But after weeks of relentlessly pursuing their quest, there's a sense of excitement in the now significantly cooler air. The storm chasers actually had something to chase-which is what they're hardwired to do.