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Tornado Probe (TP-01)

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Figure 1. Tornado Probe (TP-01) Schematics.

In 2023 a prototype ‘probe’ was developed and built to sustain tornadic winds. The probe is mounted with a weather station to measure wind speeds, wind direction, pressure, temperature and humidity (RH) with a 360-degree array of 4k high-resolution action cameras attempting to capture data inside supercells. The tornado probe or “TP-01”, will be deployed to attempt to measure the first pressure drop inside a Canadian tornado, inspired by the work of Samaras et al. (2004) in the United States. However, previous work was taken measurements directly at ground level, while TP-01 will measure the atmospheric variables at a one-metre height AGL. To do so, TP-01 will have 9” spikes going into the ground for anchoring. The calculated estimated wind speed failure of TP-01 is 238km/h (EF2 tornado). TP-01 will also be equipped with four (4) high-resolution 4k waterproof action cameras, which will provide a 360-degree view inside the tornado. The prototype is designed to be transported into a small pickup truck (Figure 2) by via a custom-built transportation / deployment device mounted in the truck bed. Since the prototype is 6ft tall, it needed to be engineered in a way that the instrument is foldable (to adhere to transportation safety laws), while maintaining the integrity of the instrument and with the ability to deploy it quickly in-the-field (deployment time is ~45s with two people). The flexible legs and spike system is designed for the user to simply apply minimal force by stepping on each leg to penetrate the ground and the spike system applies outward force on the ground, locking it in place. This design allows the prototype to be in the form of a tower and equipment to be mounted in a camera tripod fashion, to give a one-metre-high view of the desired project outcome. Therefore, unlike previous camera array systems, which only provided ground level recordings, TP-01 can be deployed in any terrain and at any location, and be free of obstructions such as crops, tall grass, fences, cars, debris, flash floods, etc, meanwhile having a design that minimizes wind load failures. The prototype is versatile, easily deployable and can hold a multitude of different scientific instruments at various heights.

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Figure 2. Tornado Probe (TP-01) transportation system.

Project Goals

Primary Goals
Secondary Goals
Tertiary Goals
  • efficiently construct and deploy a probe in-the-field in 2023

  • record a direct “hit” by a Canadian supercell

  • record a direct "hit" by a Canadian tornado

  • collect meteorological data from instruments on probe(s)

  • be the first researchers to get a tornado “hit” on an instrument probe in Canadian

  • be the first Canadian researcher to measure a significant pressure drop inside a tornado

Project Documentation

We understand that TP-01 and/or project outcomes such as the collected field data may have interest to the scientific community. Therefore, in an effort to encourage and promote scientific advancements, we are proud to provide all our project documentation and data in an open-source format. The data is made available in the folders below. As is standard, please credit the principal investigator and inventor of this project in your research 'Francis Lavigne-Thériault' and use images that contain the NZP Chasers™ logo. Interested in collaborating or have any questions? Please email nzpchasers@hotmail.com.

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Project Background and Inspiration

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Picture of Francis Lavigne-Theriault in Niagara Falls, ON.

Francis Lavigne-Theriault (Principal Investigator) brings his 10yrs of field experience pursuing and intercepting severe convective storms across North America to new heights. This project was greatly inspired by the legendary work of Tim Samaras, Carl Young and Paul Samaras, which tragically lost their lives during the El Reno, OK, USA EF3 tornado (the widest tornado ever recorded). Tim and his team were regarded as pioneers in the field of atmospheric sciences by bringing ingenious engineering and technological instruments into the field to obtain meteorological measurements inside tornadic storms. In 2003, Tim and his team were the first researchers to successfully deploy instruments inside a significant tornado and recorded the lowest pressure drop inside a tornado (still to this day). His famous "Turtle Probes" inspired me to keep advancing the science of field measurements of tornadic supercells. In-situ measurements of tornadic storms has never been attempted in Canada. Therefore, while many assumptions are made about tornadic supercells in Canada, no researcher has ever recorded scientific data inside a Canadian tornado. This project is attempting to bridge this gap in the literature, by attempting to record environmental variables such as wind speeds and direction, barometric pressures, temperatures and dew points directly before, inside and directly after a tornado at a 1.5m height above ground, giving us a 360-degree unobstructed view of the internal dynamics of the tornado, all in 4k resolution.

Throughout my years of storm chasing, I've always planned on continuing Tim's work in some way. However, I knew I needed to acquire the field experience and research knowledge to not only attempt this work safely, but in a meaningful way. During my work as the field coordinator for the Northern Hail Project in 2022, I successfully designed and deployed hailpad probes ahead of severe convective storms across Alberta. In summer of 2023, I successfully deployed one of those probes inside a tornado-warned storm also in Alberta. By doing so, I became one of a handful to successfully deploy and record severe hail (55mm) using a mobile instrument (probe) in Canada. To my knowledge, I am the first researcher in Canadian history to successfully deploy scientific instruments inside tornadic storms. However, these were not primary objectives of the projects I was working for.

Therefore, in fall & winter of 2022-2023, and after 10yrs of field experience, over 50 tornadoes and over 350,000km logged chasing storms under my belt, I began drafting plans for the design of a mobile probe that would sustain EF2+ tornadic winds, meanwhile recording meteorological variables and 4k high-resolution video. In spring/summer 2023, the probe was built, tested and brought to Alberta. Since I had other priorities and obligations throughout the summer (MESc research), the probe was only tested on a few occasions during my time off, but managed to get hit by a tornado-warned supercell in the foothills of Alberta. Figure 1 shows the instrument, which had four (4) action cams and an AccuRite 5-in-1 weather station. For Y1, the goal was simply to test the prototype, not to collect meaningful data.

In fall of 2023, Francis received funding for TP-01 via the Thompson Innovation Fund at the University of Western Ontario to further develop and build the prototype. New additions to the probe will include a Davis Vantage Vue weather station and data logger (instead of the AccuRite station) and four (4) GoPro high-resolution action cameras (instead of cheap Apexcam's). These upgrades will allow TP-01 to collect meaningful and scientifically accurate data moving forward.

Acknowledgments

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