Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Twister Deluxe

Twister is a catastrophe film produced in 1996, directed by Jan de Bont starring Helen Hunt as Dr. Jo Harding and Bill Paxton as Jo’s ex-husband. Both are storm chasers mostly focused on tornadoes. As one day Bill returns to Jo in order for her to sign the divorce papers he gets mixed up with the team of “storm chasers” for they want to try ‘Dorthy’ a machine the team had build after Bill’s design. Bill had actually stopped to be a storm chaser; he instead got a job as a weather reporter and wanted to marry his fiancée Dr. Melissa Reeves (played by Jami Gertz). But when Bill finds out that the well-funded and smirking rival to the team called Dr. Jonas Miller has built a almost similar device like his ‘Dorthy’ Bill flips out and decides to help the team get ‘Dorthy’ into a tornando so the censors inside her can pick up information from within the funnel of the tornado before Jonas does. Though the movie is a griping and well done hollywood movie due to its action and to some true facts, I, as a meteorologist must clear up some factors:

If one is trapped inside a F5 tornado it is very unlikely that you will not be killed. Inside the funnel parts of houses can be whirling around, objects as big as automobiles can be thrown 100 meters in each direction and sharp steel objects are shooting around. Not to be hit by them is what I must call sscientifically incorrect. One thing the movie displays well is the unpredictability of the tornadoes. Of course Jo and Bill are trying with their invention to make tornadoe warnings more advanced so the view of how helpless people still were/are against tornadoes is not over-shown. The scene which shows this very nicely is when Jo and the team rescue Jo’s grandmother out of her wrecked house and she says, “The warning only gave us three seconds.” One may find this an emotional sight but one as a professor sees the very truth which, once uttered, these words illustrate.

A detail that I find must be mentioned is that even though all the tornadoes were shown as big black ugly movements of air, there are tornadoes who turn out red or white depending on what they have picked up. Different soils can turn the tornado different colours. A key point which was unresponisble not to put into the movie is that the dimension of a torando does not show the intesity of it. A big tornado could only cause a few chimneys to rip off while a small tornado can be ever so violent like an F5. Thus tornadoes are no measured by their size but by the damage they have caused. After a cyclone has passed the National Weather Service office send professionals to survey the area. A few factors the experts look at are:
- How walls and floor are attached to the foundation

- If there is mortar in between blocks of cinder

- If there are still reinfrocing rods sticking inside walls of concrete or conder blocks

- How the roof is attached to walls and rafters

Like I describe in my book, The Alley of Knowledge:Twister Deluxe tornadoes form from thick cumulonimbus clouds and are mostly found in spring and early summer. A perfect scenario for a tornado to form is when the ground is dryand a warm, humid air mass (maritime tropical) meets a cold, dry air mass (continental polar) forcing the warm air upwards forming a cold front. The warm air flows into the cumulonimbus clouds causing pressure where it then begins to rotate within the cloud. Soon after a funnel reaches down from the sky. Climate regions were tornadoes occur are areas such as humid subtropical, humid continental, and sometimes semiarid. Tornado Alley in the United States is a very likely place for tornadoes to from including the five states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. With the cold front, clouds form which can most likely cause up to 10 or more tornadoes. The scale which used to be utilized to measure the force of a tornado was called the Fujita scale (F-Scale) . Nowadays we used the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF). The force of a twister is found by calculating mostly the damage they have done as one can see on the chart which was helpfully provided by my partner Professor Alfred Morgenstern Morschbach. The Fujita scale was invented by Dr. Fujita (Mr.Tornado) and his colleague Allen Pearson. Looking at the chart there are specific compensations which mark each tornado. Since we are already on this topic let me mention that if you follow this scale there is no such thing as an F6 tornado.
- This chart was provided by Professor Alfred Morgenstern Morschbach.

What is perfect in Twister and makes me support this movie is that Bill’s ‘Dorthy’ is based on an experiment done by NOAA (National Severe Storm Lab ) with a mechanism called ‘TOTO’ (TOtable Tornado Observatory). In the movie, Dorothy collects data by releasing sensors into the funnel of a tornado but in real life this is close to impossible, were both Don Burgess a retired National Severe Storms Lab meteorologist and I agree on. While TOTO did have a few sensors they could only measure temperature, wind speed, pressure, dew point, and other atmospheric qualities but unlike ‘Dorthy’ it does not have thousands of high technical amazing sensors. One thing that is very common about the two instruments was that both were bulky, heavy and not easy to manoeuvre. One of the main problems was getting tornadoes to actually go right over TOTO which is the same thing with ‘Dorthy’ in the fil. Another similarity that the devices have is that both were named after one of the main characters in the Wizard of Oz. Though TOTO was not a great success it leads to its follower VORTEX 1(Turtles).

One may not notice that the movie is giving you hints of were you can find safety but in parts of the movie many times families run for the basement of a well built building or a storm shelter. Tying yourself to a pipe which goes very far down is not an idea I find should be tried or practice for most likely the strings will break or you will be hit by objects being released by the tornado. Seeking something lo-lying and well built is more the way to go.

All in all Twister is a very good movie. Scientific facts here and there are a litle bit shaky but the idea was caught just right and the struggle of these people trying to understand a tornando is something any meteorologist or storm chaser can relate to. What annoys me a little is that the sound of the tornado was produced by recording a camel's moan and slowing it down which saddens me that people do not then really know the actual sound of a tornado but that can not be helped. Cows flying within the twister is something that could happen though I do not think it would still be alive so this part of the movie is heavily over done. But there was once a tornado who picked up 3 horses up at a farm and 12 miles away set them down unharmed. There are miracles even with tornadoes, though many siecentists argue this.

Professor Dr. Sarah Barbara Schönborn Pross is a highly known meteorologist with a master degree at the University of Heidelberg. She has written many sicentfic books including the famous book The Alley of Knowledge:Twister Deluxe, The Unpredictable Funnels, and Rolling Dice with F5.