Rocket Man is Back

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
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Oct 7, 2008
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I'd be surprised if they got much useful data out of that. You can't make quality thermometers and hygrometers that small. Also, how do you measure the wind? The damn thing is a rocket...self-propelled...aerodynamic...it's not going to measure winds with any semblance of accuracy. About the best thing they could do is make it act like a trajectory tracer after the engine cut-off, but if the thing got to 34,000 feet, then it is not in the tornado for sure.
 
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MClarkson

EF5
Sep 2, 2004
891
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11
Blacksburg, VA
Model rocket telemetry can be pretty precise with modern cheap accelerometers, GPS, barometer, etc. During and just after the burn you would have trouble distinguishing wind from propulsion, but then just assume everything after the first bit is wind. That's a pretty small rocket so if it went up to 34k almost all of that work would have been updraft. Probably broke a few FARs with that stunt though... at least it was a thunderstorm core where no plane should have been.
 

Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
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Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
In point of fact an IC the size of a pencil eraser can make temperature, humidity, and pressure readings accurate within 1% of full range or better, with derived altitudes. Often much better. However, a rocket is not going to properly expose the sensor for that maximum accuracy.

Commercial GPS transceivers can get meter accuracy up to 50 Hz, so it is feasible in theory to get a 'debris' trajectory out of the rocket when he motor shuts off. What that tells you as for useful info? Couldn't say, and the way this particular 'research' team has always operated I am skeptical that instruments are well calibrated and well thought through. Things change though, and they certainly have passion and some potential background to do real work at some point. I'll reserve judgement to see the design summary and result set described in great detail in a peer reviewed white paper.

As for raw wind speed measurements? The only possible direct in-situ measurement method beyond the ~180MPH failure point of the most robust anemometers is using a pitot tube approach (problematic casing design that may not be deployable), or measuring at multiple ports positioned to be in the free stream static pressure (placed where friction effects and pressure coefficients are zero on the aerodynamic body) as with the HITPR probes Samaras deployed. Those probes had plenty of their own problems.

I won't say much, but having offered technical advice to one such project, I asked around, and what do most actual meteorologists/scientists say about getting single point data like the probes, or a rocket trajectory? "So what" seems to be what they say most often. There is a reason that multiple mesonets, airborn platforms, etc. are working in concert on one storm for official and well planned projects like Torus.
 

Jeff Duda

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Oct 7, 2008
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With all of the criticism of Reed's methods, has anyone in the science community actually reached out to his group? It seems that if some were willing to supply collaborative consulting and/or instrumentation to their efforts, that maybe something useful *could* be accomplished.
AFAIK, there was conversation between TWISTEX and Reed (& team) back in the TWISTEX days about collaborating on data, but I recall Reed saying he preferred to go his own way. Not sure if he ever talked to Josh Wurman or other VORTEX2 crew about data sharing, but I recall Wurman not being warm to the idea of letting TWISTEX use VORTEX2/CSWR data (presuming a two-way-street agreement, which was never reached). But given RT has published and presented zero data since his 17 June 2009 intercept of the Aurora tornado (which itself was always questionable due to exposure effects), I remain skeptical that we will ever see anything scientifically meaningful come out of this particular event.
 
Apr 25, 2010
12
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Kansas City, MO
I've played with commercial sensors building homemade radiosondes. The posted board looks similar to most payloads I've designed. Most parts appear to be pretty run of the mill - but put together very nicely. I'm no EE, but I'd love to see a list of what sensors they actually used because at this point I've played with a decent number of them.

For pressure, I'd be decently willing to trust their data. Most barometers I've used are pretty good across a range of temperatures, pressures and can deal with pretty quick changes in pressure. I'm partial to the HP206C sensor, which has performed quite well in my launches and in tests in a vacuum jar. Others are perfectly acceptable too. So that data, at least, is likely usable.

GPS is actually pretty good at position and they have 1Hz updates. I've used the exact sensor they used. It performs quite well in my experience. Getting the data to 3d space is pretty easy and they can do some crude motion analysis based on it. You can wave your hands at the updraft speed and rotation at least. Is it scientific? No, not really, but it definitely is interesting. As is a 3d plot of GPS locations as a KMZ, which I think is the most useful thing they can do. Both are easy and frankly they should have that done by now.

My experience with small temperature sensor is much less encouraging. Most do not perform well on balloon launches, which are less demanding than this application. The LMS6, the NWS radiosonde, has temperature probes that have been calibrated for flight. They launch calibration balloons with 5 different temp sensors that have been painted with known absorptivity values and calibrate against that. In my experience, the kind of temperate sensors this probe seems to use are pretty poor performing, with a substantially warm bias. I had particularly poor experience with the MCP9808 on a launch this year, with it reading ~ 10ºC warm consistently, compared against the NWS sounding at the same time. Bead thermistors are more common in commercial radiosondes than chip based ones. I am very skeptical of any temp data they show.

In general, the thermometers are similar performing to moisture sensors: most are going to be RH and people use the Arden Buck equations to try and derive a dew point. I've launched thin film polymer capacitors as my normal sensor and they're acceptable, but without good temperature measurements anything is going to be kinda useless.

They might be able to show some interesting correlations between pressure and updraft speed, along with the path lofted debris take (though the CC of the debris fallout yesterday does a nice job of that too). Nothing here to justify what he's doing, but that's his choice.

It's far less interesting than the successful launch of the Torus balloon into the updraft a couple days ago...or a lot of the data they're getting.
 

William Spencer

Enthusiast
May 31, 2018
9
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Richmond Virginia
I find it interesting that they chose not to invest more in recovery systems considering the fact that would reveal more in depth data. Although it is likely just time restraints preventing licenses for the appropriate recovery systems, it makes you wonder how much of this really is “for the science” and not publicity. (Feel free to correct me if I am misinterpreting this)
 

Jeff Duda

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Oct 7, 2008
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Looks like the rocket entered the low-level meso and orbited it and/or the mid-level mesocyclone 1.25 times before being ejected from the updraft near storm top where it then was blown downstream by upper-level storm relative winds.

Alright...so what? This isn't really anything except corroboratory of basic supercell kinematics. We know this kind of flow structure from Doppler radar observations and all the instances of people finding debris miles downstream from where a tornado struck.

As @Dave C said, this whole thing would be more useful and interesting if they had launched several rockets in rapid succession/close proximity and seen where each one traveled (i.e., a packet trajectory analysis).
 
Mar 30, 2008
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They've found the rocket and instruments. Should be interesting to see them reconstruct. I will say that I've seen too many research type people here and on social media unwilling to think outside of the current thinking. Maybe we're currently wrong? Maybe this unlocks something we hadn't considered. Maybe it's all gimmick. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but people sure are fast to condemn Reed.
 
Sounds to me like he's kicking the butt of the scientific community. Despite being a critic of his antics, I will give him credit when it's deserved -- especially when he's publishing data. I don't see any discord from any legitimate researcher or organization to debunk the project or the data. It really makes the larger scale projects seem rather silly right now as he totally drains the PR energy from them like a vampire. Maybe some of the funding from those projects should be directed towards him unless other scientists have the ba11s to challenge the data.
 
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rdale

EF5
Mar 1, 2004
6,882
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skywatch.org
Shooting "a" rocket into a tornado is not "draining energy" from real projects like TORUS. Maybe if he proposed an actual science-based project, he could get funds that go to science-based projects?
 
May 22, 2007
132
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6
Mesa Arizona
Last year I attended a seminar here in Phoenix. It was hosted by Reed Timmer. He had several probes on display that he and his team were working on. They were legit.
I agree with Warren, his antics are influencing less skilled chasers to do dangerous stuff, but I must admit, I do enjoy watching some of his stuff. He obviously is putting some of his earnings back into research.
That being said, Warren Faidley had the biggest impact on my early chasing over twenty years ago. I still use terms from his books "Stormchaser" all the time. My favorite is "chasers compression" which is how the distance between two areas seems to get smaller the more times you travel it. I say that each time I drive between Amarillo and Oklahoma City.
 
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Last year I attended a seminar here in Phoenix. It was hosted by Reed Timmer. He had several probes on display that he and his team were working on. They were legit.
I agree with Warren, his antics are influencing less skilled chasers to do dangerous stuff, but I must admit, I do enjoy watching some of his stuff. He obviously is putting some of his earnings back into research.
That being said, Warren Faidley had the biggest impact on my early chasing over twenty years ago. I still use terms from his books "Stormchaser" all the time. My favorite is "chasers compression" which is how the distance between two areas seems to get smaller the more times you travel it. I say that each time I drive between Amarillo and Oklahoma City.
Thanks kindly.
 
As I understand it, the rocket was found at the KCI airport. There was also a lot of other debris that landed there, so much that the airport had to be closed for cleanup. Some of the debris was from the nursery that was hit, 47 miles from the airport. This would suggest, at least, that the rocket travelled in a similar trajectory to a lot of the other tornado debris. I would think that if the trajectory was successfully measured and data on pressure, wind, etc. was also obtained (both big "ifs") this could be of some scientific value. I do hope he shares the data with scientists, including perhaps the TORUS team.
 
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K. Gentry

EF0
Apr 12, 2019
23
16
1
NC
I think there's some promising data he's already posted -- 180mph velocity at about 1.5km; similar to the 170mph EF-4 rating Topeka has given the tornado. That's direct data from within the storm, not a remote radar-scan finding. Now with the probe being retrieved, a map can tell where that reading was. It may prove to be the closest thing we can get to an 'anemometer in a tornado'. With more data (inclusive with other teams), I wonder if a formula as a function of height and measurement could eventually be produced to extrapolate the near-surface rotational velocities (or if it already exists, to sharpen its objectivity/increase the confidence in use), giving a better guide to storm-assessment teams. And rocket-parachute systems are much lighter (and less expensive I bet) than DOWs, needless to say. Probably more dangerous though (proximity to storm).
 

William Spencer

Enthusiast
May 31, 2018
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As skeptical as I am about this, I want to give credit where credit is due. The data actually looks legit and might actually be useful, so credit to Reed and his team for actually doing some science. I still think a lot of this was for publicity, but at least he actually collected some data.
 
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