Tornadoes

Why can't scientists get exact measurements of wind speed inside tornadoes?

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June 08, 2016 9:38AM

They can, but it is very difficult and dangerous. We can relatively easily get measurements from Doppler radar, but that always has a margin of error and it cannot measure wind at ground level.

We can get exact measurements by placing probes inside tornadoes, which is far more difficult. To start, a scientist must get to a spot on a road ahead of the tornado, deploy the probe, and get away before the tornado hits. This is harder than it may sound, especially since the time you have is usually measured in seconds. Even when the probe is deployed in time, tornado paths are hard enough to predict that the tornado often misses the probe. There is also the problem of building a probe that can withstand the winds of a tornado. Several probes over the years have been able to hold up to some rather strong tornadoes, but it is doubtful the equipment could survive the very strongest. One scientist, Tim Samaras, managed to create a probe that might have withstood 250-300 mph winds, but tornadoes that strong are rare and Samaras was killed by a tornado before he could successfully deploy it in a violent tornado.