Storm Probe Idea

D. Bailey

I'm not quite sure what part of the forum I should post this to. This section looks pretty relevant. Of course I could be wrong. lol

Anyway, I came up with an idea earlier and wonder if it would be feasible.
I got my idea from noticing the coke can sitting in front of me.
What I'm thinking of is building some storm probes the diameter and length of a standard aluminum coke can. These would be launched using a small diameter balloon. They would be spaced at predetermined intervals(say maybe 1/2 mile) and launched into inflow of storm.
each probe would consist of the following: Telemetry Transmitter, Parts for measuring windspeed, direction, air temperature, dew point, pressure.
I was told I would want to include cabability to measure vertical windspeeds. I'm going to try that sometime but right now I'm going to stick with what I plan to try. Before I forget, a means of locating the probes after they've landed. A tracking beacon of some kind.
I'm wondering if I should recover them via parachute or freefall.
I realized that there is limited space to put the whole package in and am considering as an alternative to building the probes with just one type of data collection method, using circular printed circuit boards in a tier-like fashion. I could construct the probe packages using Surface Mount Technology Components. I have now experience building electronics stuff with Surface Mount Technology components so I'd need some help.
As for getting the data from the probes, I would need a multi-frequency receiver of some type with the capability of interfacing it to a laptop and reading the data real-time and storing it. Each probe's transmitter would have to be on a different frequency so as not to interfere with other probes.
Let me know your comments, feedback, ideas on this.

Wow, just like Twister...

Seriously though, you would likely have some pretty big problems with retrieving these storm probes, since supercells can carry them a hundred miles or more away from launch site. If this happens, how would you be planning on retrieving the probes, since radio retrieval probably wouldn't work assuming these things would be able to transmit 50-150 miles? In addition, you'd have problems with these pop-can sized objects falling from the sky (assuming the balloon pops) at very high velocities, which would create serious liability issues.

I'm not meaning to squash you're idea here, but just posing some questions/comments.

What about finding a gas that diffuses very slowly... Make the gas several different colors somehow, and create a canister-type object that holds and dispenses this gas. Then, place these canisters every 1/2 mile or so, an, from them, release plumes of this gas at fixed time intervals (e.g. release a stream of the gas for 10 seconds, then pause 10 seconds, then release more 10 seconds, etc)... You'd be able to track the horizontal and vertical flows by measuring the displacement and deformation of the gas stream, since it diffuses minimally. Assuming this gas would be nontoxic, you wouldn't have to worry about littering or liability from falling objects.

How about those military issue M18 smoke grenades? They come in all sorts of colors and generally last for a certain amount of time. Those things crank out a ton of dense colored smoke. Of course one would need some sort of time release to pull the pins and allow the smoke to do it's thing.

As far as I know, these are perfectly legal to own and aren't toxic. You can find them at military surplus stores.

Anyway, I just saw your post and thought of the smoke generators. Hehe.

Over here in the uk if you look at the well known auction site you can find Radio sondes available - All you need is the appropriate decoder equipment.
Any Ideas every one else . I did think about buying one to experiment with using the sensors to build a mini portable weatherstation for the car if I could disable the radio transmitter and do a direct cable link. I need the circuit diagrams etc. will try the manufacturer first.
Jeff has pretty much outlined the basic problems that would exist in doing such a thing. Personally, I don’t know why some chasers feels this need to create probes for whatever reason. By no means am I not knocking the idea down or anyone who wants to do the whole probe thing, but personally I would rather focus on other things while chasing than running around with homemade probes.

For one, I feel more at use and feel I’m playing a much greater role by reporting severe weather to the Weather Service which in turn could save lives. To me, public safety is the number one thing. Then once my report is made, I would do the studying; I would rather study the storms structure, to document it by means of video and photography, and even gather data around the storm simply using a weather station (handheld or car mounted).

In all honesty, the question I ask is what would you – a single individual – be accomplishing that actual scientists from NSSL isn’t able to accomplish? What would be your main objective for the research? What are you looking for, what part of the science are you aiming to unlock – in other words be more specific, what part of the science are you trying to better understand? Why do you think your technique of throwing a coca-cola can probe into a storm be better than what NSSL is currently doing?

I mean in general you’re just obtaining generic weather data (temp, humidity, dew point, barometric pressure), which I do the same on ground level so in the end of a chase when I’m documenting my chase I can also note what the weather conditions were just for my own record.

Between the liabilities that Jeff pointed out and the cost of doing such a project, I don’t see what would make this worth the effort. You mean well, but what are you going to do when you spend hundreds of dollars designing those probes and then when the storm carries those probes hundreds of miles away, then what? Do you just spend even more money and make more?

Remember the rule, what goes up must come down… what if one of your probes finally comes down and damages someone’s car or other property that became the landing site for your probe? Even worse what if it falls and smacks someone right in the head? There are a whole lot of liabilities at hand here.

Like I said at the start though, I’m not degrading anyone who does it – I mean Tim Samaras made history by placing his professionally made probe into the direct path of a tornado – but I mean.. could you imagine one day during a chase seeing Chuck Doswell in a cowboy hat running around in a field amongsts a herd of cows tossing probes around made out of coke can’s?

Leave the research to NSSL, this hobby is expensive enough as is – why add more un-needed costs to it? If anything, focus more on reporting severe weather to the Weather Service. The time you spend throwing around your pop-can probes could be spent reporting invaluable and life-saving information to the Weather Service and perhaps may even save a person’s life.

I'm not out to flame you, just trying to put things into perspective here and maybe try to better understand what it is you want to accomplish. I mean if you have a better method of conducting scientific research that NSSL may not be aware of, then all the power to you - but I don't think that's the case here.
I think a few people said Benjamin Franklin was a moron about that whole kite thing...
I agree with Shane here - why are you all lashing out at this guy? Not that the comments aren't all relavent - there are some serious liability issues to consider here - but I don't think anyone would call Tim Samaras a quack and he built his own tornado sensors. With a new major project to investigate tornadic storms coming up in a few years - I can assure you that new ideas are certainly welcome to solve the problem of how to get accurate measurements from a storm. Weather instruments at the ground vs. remotely sensed information beginning several hundred feet above the ground leaves a very large gap - one that has been extremely difficult to fill. Anytime you want to talk projectiles - there are serious liability issues. How much will your probe weigh? How close will you need to be to the tornado to 'launch' your probe? What will they cost? How will you recover them? What instrument calibrations will be required? BTW, the balloon launching is problematic - as the strong winds and downdrafts have proven too much for releasing weather balloons in practice - and these are pretty big balloons.

The current possible solution to this is RPVs (remotely piloted vehicles), as in a number of model airplanes outfitted with instruments, which is being led by Erik Rasmussen. There are a number of problems to overcome to get this to work - and if folks have serious and helpful input - I'm sure it would be well recieved. That said - this is not a raw brainstorming session - the feasibility aspects need to be well thought out - including costs, logistics, etc.... But, feeling out an idea is not a bad thing - and maybe D. Bailey can invent something useful, or someone else. Just because the folks at NSSL have lots of degrees and experience doesn't mean they have thought up every possible solution to the problems at hand.

Serious question on D.Baileys idea.
Would the tin need holes in it for the pressure and temp sensors to work, Just thinking about all the metal screening and similar problems.
Tim Samaras is one person and he has done amazing things with those probes so far.

Besides all that, some people just enjoy trying to experiment, figure things out, learn about stuff in their own way. The Amateur Radio Service was founded on that (which btw, APRS would make an excellent way to track something), and sometimes, new technologies have evolved from the casual experimenters.

Hate to think where we might be today if ol' Ben Franklin had listened to everyone else and gave up his ideas about electricity!
I think it's a great idea as well. Again, there were some good questions asked by Jeff Snyder and Glen Romine that you would need to address/reslove before going onward with the experiment.
If I remember correctly, weather balloons have been deployed in the inflow in to a tornado before. I see nothing wrong with what he wants to do. Weather balloons are sent up with attached sondes twice a day all over the world. Those sondes do come back down. How many cases have you heard of that one of those has hurt anybody? Have you ever seen them? There are several types. The larger ones have parachutes on them. Most are light enough and packed in Styrofoam. They float back down and wouldn't hurt anything. Something like this could easily get caught up in a tornado with enough tries. I once bought a surplus sonde for only $8. It would lot take hundreds to develop something like this.

I first built the Dillo-Cam just to get video close to a tornado without having to be in it myself. Later I added instruments so that I could see what the wind speeds, tem, due point, pressure was doing in that video. Most of it was personal curiosity than anything. What is wrong with that?
I will say that there have been several instances of balloons dropping their payload and doing damage, a couple of them by amateurs doing near-space projects. It's definitely something to keep in mind.

Radiosoundes actually have parachutes for the instrument package so they come down at a respectable fallspeed.

What I'm thinking of is building some storm probes the diameter and length of a standard aluminum coke can. These would be launched using a small diameter balloon.

Really, the present soundes we use aren't much larger than a cokecan. While a smaller balloon would be nice, the main problem is weight. We need the large balloons just to get the instruments lofted. (ever try lifting objects with small myler helium baloons... you can't lift much!!!) Then the issue is inflating the balloons. While it would be nice to launch dozens of soundings in an area of a supercell at the same time... the man power/equip to do this is extensive. We have taken many measurements within updrafts and near supercells. I'd encourage you to check out the TELEX website to see video of balloon launches near storms.

Now that's not to say that our soundings can't be improved...

The main key is to reduce weight... yet still be able to transmit data.

Oops, yeah, I guess I didn't see that he wanted to launch balloons into updrafts only. The part of the storm most in need of sampling is the RFD, and I don't think any balloons have been successfully launched there. The soundings that go up the center of the main updraft often aren't very informative - except to reinforce the idea of surface parcels not being mixed with environment air - and show moist adiabatic ascent. Some collect considerable amounts of ice - and promptly start sinking again. Of course, even the balloons launched in th einflw can be tough with strong surface winds - the balloons don't rise very fast - and with a fast horizontal speed can easily be tangled in fences, power lines, trees, etc... even when these are a long distance from the launch site. Further, you are only getting a snapshot - instead of continuous information at roughly the same point. So, you'd prefer to have lots of instruments out at the same time - but as Aaron pointed out - the current radiosondes take quite a bit of time and manpower to get them off the ground. Engineering could perhaps overcome some of these hinderances.
I personally think this sounds like an awesome idea. Yeah, the delivery of the packages would have to be tweaked a little bit, like with the parachute idea or whatever. Now, I know I'm not the one who started this thread with the idea, but I'll stand up for someone with an idea I support. In response to jketcham's comments, I'd like to say the following:

what would you – a single individual – be accomplishing that actual scientists from NSSL isn’t able to accomplish? What would be your main objective for the research? What are you looking for, what part of the science are you aiming to unlock – in other words be more specific, what part of the science are you trying to better understand? Why do you think your technique of throwing a coca-cola can probe into a storm be better than what NSSL is currently doing?

In my opinion, one of the main things an individual can accomplish when opposite a government agency is solving the problem of regulation. The NSSL can't say "I want to go throw 200 coke cans into a storm". No, the NSSL would have to go to the Lab director for funding approval, who would have to contact the budget department of NWS, up to NOAA, up to the Vice President for budget approval for the next fiscal year (and we all know how much Dick loves the environment). A individual person or civilian team would be able to say "Hey, lets go throw some coke cans" and do so (as long as they picked up the cans so they wouldn't be charged with littering).

The possibilites of research from something like this are litterally endless. Perhaps the team would like to research the exact wind dynamics within a supercell, or perhaps the interaction of updraft/downdraft in a tornadic environment, or what triggers the Rear-Flank Downdraft. Heck, he could even say "I just wanted to see some coke cans fly into a storm. Heck of an advertisement, eh? 'Coke - It'll survive a supercell.' " Literally. Endless possibilities.

Now, I'd just like to say to jketcham that this is neither an attack on you personally nor on your views, it is just my opinion on the matter.

And Mr. Bailey, I don't mean to try to take your chi. :wink: I just like to voice my opinion regarding ideas I agree with.

Catch y'all on the flip side.
I agree with Glen about the RPVs. The only real problem is even large planes have problems in and around thunderstorms! While, RPVs would be an ideal solution, I think turbulence around the edge of a storm (let alone the RFD) might be a littl e much for a RPV to overcome--something that is probably being considered. Best of luck to those who try to get instruments in and around storms...I don't think I would have the patience to deal with all the planning and issues associated with it (just give me a radar and I'll be fine ). :D

As far as the coke can idea, I think a modified artillery gun might work best...just shoot a couple into the storm and track them with GPS :wink:
I am personally acquainted with a balloon experimenter, Harry Mueller, KC5TRB. His informal outfit is Oklahoma Research Balloons, [url] [/url]. I have been to several of his launches and took part in a couple of balloon chase and recovery efforts.

Harry uses three means of tracking his payloads - APRS (Automatic Postion Reporting System), an RF beacon on amateur radio two-meter FM simplex, and an audio beacon. The RF beacon is a backup to APRS. Teh adio beacon is for when searching close to the payload and the RF signal is too strong for direction finding techniques.

Amateur radio balloon groups exists across the nation. I believe the closest active group to D. Bailey is in north Texas. I suggest he contact one or more of these groups and learn as much as he can from them. That may save him some time gettignthis project "off the ground" - literally!