Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Tornado Detector

PostedMarch 13, 2019

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Lede:  This month’s devastating tornado in Alabama was an awful reminder that lives could be saved if only we could get earlier warnings about the path of such twisters.

Randy Atkins: Hours before tornados really start swirling, they can emit infrasound…frequencies below what humans can hear.

Brian Elbing: It’s doing this and currently we aren’t using that information to make predictions.

Randy Atkins: Brian Elbing, an Oklahoma State University engineer, is leading a team that put sensitive infrasound microphones in sealed containers, and attached large loops of common garden hoses on four sides. He says the combo cancels out wind noise while letting in infrasound which….

Brian Elbing: …is specific to the tornado and not the larger storm system.

Randy Atkins: Using just two of the devices, Elbing identified a tornado twelve miles away, 10-minutes before it even formed.

Brian Elbing: We predicted, from the sound, the size of the tornado and the damage path width matched almost spot on.

Randy Atkins: Elbing says, with some more development, this new tool could dramatically improve both tornado warnings and research. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.