Pics from INSIDE A Twister & Speculation of Appearance

I've read comments that described the inside of a twister as a whirling tunnel with lightning constantly discharging inside the funnel. What's the closest anyone has come to getting a picture from this vantage point?

And a wild question: would it be possible, assuming you have the right kind of equipment that is portable-to "scan" a tornado and do a 3D representation that could examine the twister from different vantage points, including a view into the funnel?

If we're not there yet technologically, how far are we from that point? And yes, I'm taking into consideration the near-impossibility of being at the right place and time to catch these beasts.
 
I'm going to keep hoping Tim Samaras can get a dead-center hit sometime. He's been pretty close before, but I don't think he's gotten a dead-center hit yet. Maybe the VORTEX II plans of the 'numerous turtles lined up'will catch such a thing.
 
Maybe this is the place to address something I've wondered about. I think most folks here are familiar with Kansas farmer Will Keller's historical account of looking up inside a funnel cloud as it passed overhead. It's a fascinating story, particularly in its description of suction vortices at a time when such things were unheard of. But Keller's description of a circular hole around 100 feet in diameter, extending upward for half a mile...well, has anyone ever witnessed an actual opening at the bottom of a funnel cloud, or anything that even hinted at an opening? Remember, this thing was just that: a funnel cloud passing directly overhead without making ground contact (though it had clearly made such contact earlier, and did again shortly after).
 
There is good reason to think that in a strong tornado the view would be rather dull from the ground - as studies have generally found a small updraft near the surface at the core of large tornadoes, which in the low prssure environment of the tornado would feature a fog-like cloud. This makes sense if you think about the fact that the vertical winds are driven by the vertical perturbation pressure gradient - and the lowest perturbation pressure should be at the height where the strongest winds are in the tornado - and that isn't likely to be at the surface, though probably not too far above it (how high is pretty speculative and could vary wildly). Above this perturbation pressure minimum - there indeed would be a downward directed perturbation pressure gradient that would support sinking air - and could be enough so that subsidence warming could lead to cloud evaporation and 'visibility' within a portion of the tornado circulation aloft - if only you could get there. Or, maybe not. As for the lightning - odds are against it as the microphysics within the storm updraft, in which the tornado is embedded, is unfavorable for charge production. You might, however, see power flashes from destruction of electrical systems offering some illumination.

Glen
 
There has been one instance, that I can vouch for, of lightning associated with tornadoes though. The April 3, 1974 F-4 tornado which tracked across eastern Taylor County, KY, and passed within 3 miles from where I now live, had lightning within the funnel itself. The electrical activity within the funnel as the tornado passed over Green River Lake was visible from the eastern side of Campbellsville at a distance of a couple of miles. Residents of Acton also reported lightning within the funnel as the tornado passed just to the east. This tornado tracked over rural farmland for the most part, and "destruction of electrical systems" as the cause of the lightning is not a valid explanation. There is also a picture of glowing tornadoes near Toledo from the April 11, 1965 outbreak.
As for the lightning - odds are against it as the microphysics within the storm updraft, in which the tornado is embedded, is unfavorable for charge production. You might, however, see power flashes from destruction of electrical systems offering some illumination.
 
I'm a little skeptical of accounts of lightning discharges IN tornadoes, though I haven't read any either. We've all seen tnos of eletrical activity NEAR tornadoes (the 6-12-04 Mulvane supercell had tons of CG activity immediately under the meso, for example), but I've yet to see any lightning actually in the condensation area of a tornado. I've only seen about 40 tornadoes, so that doesn't say much relative to the 1000+ per year for the past many decades that have occured, however.
 
There are several accounts of electrical phenomena within the actual tornado in Grazulis's "Big Green Book". Ball lightning is a mysterious phenomenon also..... but of course I've never seen it and there is no explanation for it, so it can't possibly exist. :p
 
I should imagine that the "inside" of a substantial tornado would, indeed, be fairly dull. Besides the logistics of trying to put a camera in the direct path of one for a direct hit - you will *never* get a clean shot. The camera's view - no matter what it's encased in - will be obscured long before the arrival of the condensation funnel over the equipment by sandblasting, flying gravel and tiny debris, dust and shredded grass - all in astronomical proportions. So - indeed - the inside of a tornado will likely remain a mystery for a lot longer. The only way to get a "clean" look would be to transect the funnel above ground somewhere where it is relatively free of debris - rather than at ground level where it is full of such particles.

The swirl (AwKA the Tin Man) which belonged to National Geographic collected some zany shots of Manchester as it was a roping-out drillpress. Howeer - the only images it captured came from the time before the tornado hit it. After that - it was turned into a huge "camera shaker".

Tim Samaras is probably our best bet to get shots of any consequence from inside a tornado - but like I said it's probably be fairly boring as long as it was done from ground level. Lots of sandblasting and dirt.

I wonder sometimes where the notion of tornado funnels being lit on the inside by lightning comes from - apart from sketchy eyewitness accounts from the 1800s or whenever. If this were the case one would think that night tornadoes would be highly desireable on the list of "catches" for a chaser - as they would then resemble something like that product Tim Marshall's always trying to sell at conferences. :lol: Sorry - but I seriously doubt whether this occurrs. Why would it?

There is, however, an interesting lightning phenomena being noticed by more and more now - and it is something that Gene and I noticed a few years back too. Frequently, from tornadic or tornadoing supercells, a type of lightning occurs directly near and around the mesocyclone which appears smooth and unbranched. It is a kind of smooth-channelled lightning that is rarely seen elsewhere in the storm or on other, non-tornadic storms. See this picture from my May 12th 2004 account - an image of the nighttime Harper Co. tornado near Anthony, KS:

May12th0427.jpg


It's always interesting to speculate as to what may cause this type of extremely powerful, smooth-channelled, unbranched lightning bolt that sets off cannonball thunder. I have only ever seen it while watching tornadoes at the same time. And the frequency with which I do see it around tornadoes is very high.

KR
 
Some French scientist put one of the "Probes" in the path of the 5-12-05 South Plains TX tornado, and got some amazingly close shots of the tornado, about 40 feet away. Debris even hits the probe, and you can see the wind directions change a lot. I can't remember the site of this French person, does anyone know what I'm talking about?
 
Originally posted by Andrew Khan
Some French scientist put one of the \"Probes\" in the path of the 5-12-05 South Plains TX tornado, and got some amazingly close shots of the tornado, about 40 feet away. Debris even hits the probe, and you can see the wind directions change a lot. I can't remember the site of this French person, does anyone know what I'm talking about?

Actually, it was a crew of japanese people who dropped off the probe -- while on tour with Silver Lining. I remember seeing them all in Childress that night (when most called off the chase by nightfall).

--> http://www.stormchase.net/south_plains.htm
 
Glen Romine:
There is good reason to think that in a strong tornado the view would be rather dull from the ground - as studies have generally found a small updraft near the surface at the core of large tornadoes, which in the low pressure environment of the tornado would feature a fog-like cloud.

Karen Rhoden:
I should imagine that the \"inside\" of a substantial tornado would, indeed, be fairly dull.

Karen Rhoden:
Tim Samaras is probably our best bet to get shots of any consequence from inside a tornado - but like I said it's probably be fairly boring as long as it was done from ground level. Lots of sandblasting and dirt.

What about all the DOW and UMass radar data that shows an eye with no reflectivity in it? Dust, dirt, and sand would show up in their images. Right?

The "fog-like cloud" does not occur in all tornadoes near the surface. I have observed tornadoes the are semi-translucent and appear to be hollow all the way to the surface. This has been documented by other chasers as well. Tim Samaras has a photo of this effect on the Attica tornado of May 29, 2004.

I think that Tim Samaras, Shawn Casey, or Steve Green will eventually be in the right place, on the right tornado, at the right time. What will they see? Blue sky at the top of a long tube illuminated by lightning. NO! They might just capture the first ever image of the eye wall of a tornado. That would be interesting.

I was once very skeptical of the putting cameras in tornadoes. That all changed when I saw Tim Samaras' probe video form June 11th, 2004 near Storm Lake, Iowa. In my opinion, it's the most amazing tornado video ever shot.

Scott Currens
 
Originally posted by Scott Currens
They might just capture the first ever image of the eye wall of a tornado. That would be interesting.

I was once very skeptical of the putting cameras in tornadoes. That all changed when I saw Tim Samaras' probe video form June 11th, 2004 near Storm Lake, Iowa. In my opinion, it's the most amazing tornado video ever shot.

Tim's Storm Lake video was very close to this as it was - - - really gave you the feeling of being there, inside the tornado. And I agree - it's the most impressive thing we've seen so far. The only thing we're really waiting for is that straight-up shot as the tornado passes directly overhead, and my guess is the same - we will be seeing that before long as well. The probes are already outfitted for this ... it's just a matter of nailing the head-on strike. I also feel like it is highly doubtful to see a 'light at the end of the tunnel' effect ...

It would also be pretty interesting to get a glimpse inside a solid multi-vortex where you could see the primary eyewall, and the satellite vortices as well from the inside. There will always be something more for the probers among us to go after -

Jim Leonard's June 9th video is also pretty interesting for being practically inside the circulation. For myself, seeing it firsthand from the outside is just fine, thank you.
 
Actually, some lo-res video is up and running at the NatGeo site from June 11th here:

http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/050...ure6/index.html

Click on the links at upper left.

The probe was within the edge of the condensation cloud.

We deployed my other pressure probes, about 25 and 40 feet to the south of the video probe, and measured a 35 and 25 millibar drop respectivly.

BTW...I now have two of these probes for photogrammetry purposes for 3D measurements.

Other ideas are in the works, too.

I will have all of this video *uncut* on my "Driven by Passion" DVD hopefully by Christmas time.

Tim
 
Originally posted by Scott Currens

What about all the DOW and UMass radar data that shows an eye with no reflectivity in it? Dust, dirt, and sand would show up in their images. Right?

The \"fog-like cloud\" does not occur in all tornadoes near the surface. I have observed tornadoes the are semi-translucent and appear to be hollow all the way to the surface. This has been documented by other chasers as well. Tim Samaras has a photo of this effect on the Attica tornado of May 29, 2004.

First - I don't entirely agree with Karen that there is a lot of debris floating around in the inside of a tornado - as the strong rotation effectively centrifuges the debris out of the center of the tornado vortex, leading to the 'eye' of low reflectivity in the center. That said - the radar measurements you are reffering to are NOT at the ground - where the camera looking up into the vortex presumably is. See the Bluestein paper on the Happy Texas tornado observations - this has some intersting features regarding the central 'eye' behavior over time. Second - the visible portion of the tornado, in the absence of debris - is cloudwater - which condenses as the reduction in air pressure within the tornado vortex leads to rapid expansion of the air sufficient to exceed the saturation vapor pressure. For a tornado to be effectively hollow - it would either have to have a ring of lower pressure with higher presure in the center (and that doesn't appear to be true), or different source regions for air in the center of the tornado than around it (or in other words, sinking air down the middle of the tornado vortex). Certainly the pressures at the center of the tornado vortex are not likely uniform with height, and surely change over the life of a tornado, and also the relative humidity of the air at each level is quite variable (though generally increasing with height), and these can all aid in some rather unique tornado appearances. All that said - at ground level I don't think you can avoid having substantial cloud formation with a tornado of any respectable intensity - except maybe with an extremely dry case where the condenstation funnel does not reach the ground. I've seen closeup tornado video, and some personal experience, where even blades of grass are serving as nucleation points for air entering the tornado at the ground (where the wake behind an obstruction is causing local pressure deficits - sometimes you see similar looking features on plane wings). Since probes like the ones Tim Samaras is using sit very close to ground - I'm not even convinced the debris will have settled out enough close to the tornado center to allow visibility in the absence of condensation. Closest I think you can get is a multiple vortex pinwheel - I'm reminded of some great video from one of the Tornado Video Classics, where in essence you are at the center of the tornado cyclone - but not a whole lot is happening except in a few small suction vortices. Then - the view up is probably pretty intense - but I doubt you'll see blue sky. Regardless - count me in on the wanting to see the first video shot from inside a tornado.

Glen
 
Originally posted by Glen Romine
For a tornado to be effectively hollow - it would either have to have a ring of lower pressure with higher presure in the center (and that doesn't appear to be true), or different source regions for air in the center of the tornado than around it (or in other words, sinking air down the middle of the tornado vortex).
Glen

What about the downdraft (theorized, yet I'm not sure if observed) that occurs in the center of the tornado, which is turns can lead to vortex breakdown? I suppose if this is the case for a particular tornado, there may be a glimmer of hope of getting a 'clear' view of the 'inside' of a tornado. Aside from this, I agree that, at ground level, the chances of seeing much is pretty much nil. I guess there's a chance of getting "inside" one of the double-sheath-type tornadoes... I remember a couple from the past few years, where there appeared to be two 'layers' of condensation tubes... EDIT: Something like the DeSmet tornado from 6-24-03 --> http://www.chaseday.com/PHOTOSHP/2003seaso...Dtornado-81.jpg (Gene Moore's pic).

Now, an upward pointed camera on an antenna tower (aka - "towercam")-- that's a different story. Of course, you'd have to have a mobile tower, since the chances of any particular antenna tower in tornado alley being hit dead-on by a tornado is likewise pretty miniscule.
 
Originally posted by Karen Rhoden
It's always interesting to speculate as to what may cause this type of extremely powerful, smooth-channelled, unbranched lightning bolt that sets off cannonball thunder. I have only ever seen it while watching tornadoes at the same time. And the frequency with which I do see it around tornadoes is very high.

We had an interesting discussion about this on the lightning listserver. Dr. Richard Orville (a well-known lightning researcher and author) explained that the stepped leaders of positive CGs usually do not branch, while negative CGs exhibit branching.
 
One of the interesting things about that video to me is how 'dead still' those cameras remain as the tornado is roaring over the top of the probe. Somehow even when my video is tripoded in calm winds it ends up shaky. I think I would like to get one of Tim's probes for the roof of my chase vehicle ...
 
I freeze-framed bits of this clip and is that a combine wheel I see flying through the air???!!! It looks exactly like a John Deere combine front wheel thingy.
 
Originally posted by Karen Rhoden
It is a kind of smooth-channelled lightning that is rarely seen elsewhere in the storm or on other, non-tornadic storms.

Interesting, but I'd have to disagree as I have about 40 pictures of similar strikes from this past year around NE KS that are like what you describe. None of these approximately 10 storms had any tornadic resemblence. Just an observation.

Lightning like that does seem boring in comparison to a multi-channeled bolt though doesn't it?

Tim (the other, other Tim)
 
Originally posted by Tim Stoecklein+--><div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(Tim Stoecklein)</div>
<!--QuoteBegin-Karen Rhoden
It is a kind of smooth-channelled lightning that is rarely seen elsewhere in the storm or on other, non-tornadic storms.

Interesting, but I'd have to disagree as I have about 40 pictures of similar strikes from this past year around NE KS that are like what you describe. None of these approximately 10 storms had any tornadic resemblence. Just an observation.

Lightning like that does seem boring in comparison to a multi-channeled bolt though doesn't it?

Tim (the other, other Tim)[/b]

LOL - au contraire! Well......each to his own I guess, but I find that crazy smooth-channelled lightning quite spectacular!!! It's so strange and different.......I love seeing it every time. It just seems to powerful and primeval. I can't quite remember whether it is beaded or not but I don't think it is.......

Interesting that you've seen it associated with non-tornadic storms in general. I never have.

KR
 
Originally posted by Karen Rhoden
It just seems to powerful and primeval. I can't quite remember whether it is beaded or not but I don't think it is.......

Interesting that you've seen it associated with non-tornadic storms in general. I never have.


We observed lightning such as you described on the evening of June 4th in the supercell that tracked from St. Joseph, Missouri to Jamesport. I have seen this before (Falls City, Neb supercell in 2002 comes to mind as well), but never to the extent we witnessed that evening. Your description is right on the money ... this was incredibly powerful and primeval (great word) ... this lightning was focused all around the mesocylone on a storm that was mature and became tornadic. The electrical system on my car was subsequently damaged after this chase, and has never been the same since, so we think that our vehicle picked up some electricity somewhere along the way. This lightning was like something out of a movie, and I regret not taking the time to get better video of it now. I won't get into another discussion of the relationships between tornadic storms and lightning (goodness knows we've had plenty), but this lightning was indeed different from the typical branched strokes encountered in other regions of a storm. There was plenty of electrical activity in the anvil and downdraft regions as well, but nothing like what we saw around the meso.
 
Interesting that you've seen it associated with non-tornadic storms in general. I never have.

KR

I think your ratio of viewing tornadic vs non-tornadic is just too high then(if that is possible) ;).

02-07-26(8v).jpg


No tornado. It seems pretty darn normal to see them in non-tornadic storms.

I think most tornadic events I see I'm not noting any cgs. Most of them just seem to have the lightning activity in the tilted updraft. I think it is really cool when you have a highly tilted updraft which bubbles through the anvil and you hear a constant roar but see no cgs.....well maybe an occasional strike from the anvil.
 
Originally posted by Mike Hollingshead
I think most tornadic events I see I'm not noting any cgs.

I generally agree with this ... only inasmuch as I don't believe in bonified correlation between the tornadic mechanisms in the storm and the electrical mechanisms (said I wouldn't get involved - oh well) ... these are two different storm processes I cannot see as being related, as they occur separate and apart from each other so often. Like you said, there are too many times when there is a tornado and no lightning whatsoever.

However - I am really interested in why this meso-associated lightning occurs so often --- I am thinking it probably has to do with the maturity of the storm and the formation and collision of ice particulates at specific levels around the storm's updraft. There must be a reasonable explanation, and this lightning that Karen describes is certainly unique and different from the lightning typically encountered in other regions of the storm.

(By the way - when I say it occurs "so often" ... that is relative. This is actually a rare occurrence that I've only seen less than a handful of times. Out of the '1 in 1000' storms that becomes a supercell, this probably happens in about '1 in 100' of those - both tornadic and non.)
 
Back
Top