back to article Tornado-chasing stealth Batmobile set to invade killer vortices

A pair of intrepid 20-year-old Iowans have constructed a tornado-chasing vehicle that looks for all the world like a cross between a Stryker M1126 ICV, F-117 Nightwhawk, and a Ford E-350 van. Iowa Storm Chasing Network's 'Dorothy' tornado-chasing vehicle Armored, equipped, aerodynamically and aesthetically enhanced – Dorothy …


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  1. Mark 85

    Tornado Rule #1

    They're fickle. They can pick up a house and leave a baby behind. I would have hoped they had some windtunnel testing or will at least drive it into the path of tornado, run away in another vehicle and see what happens to it before staying in through a tornado. Too many people underestimate these storms.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      What data is it they're interested in anyway.

      Surely there's plenty of data out there, what is so specific and important it requires driving a truck into a Tornado to collect??

      1. Squander Two

        Re: Data

        > Surely there's plenty of data out there

        A neat summation of the Mediaeval attitude to the Renaissance there. Have you heard of science?

        1. Munchausen's proxy

          Re: Data

          > Surely there's plenty of data out there

          A neat summation of the Mediaeval attitude to the Renaissance there. Have you heard of science?

          And have YOU heard of unmanned drones, wheeled or aerial?

          1. Squander Two

            Re: Data

            Yes. They would all be ways of collecting more data. What's your point?

  2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Are there any test results?

    Air travelling over the bump of the vehicle has to go faster than air travelling beside the vehicle. The energy for that extra speed comes from reducing the pressure. That shape generates lift. If the vehicle stays on the ground, it is because of the weight of the armour, not the shape.

    A more obvious shape would be some legs sticking out sideways to stop it tipping over and an a disk on top: flat on top and curved underneath. That would create down force from wind in any direction.

    The only way I would drive either design is by remote control from the safety of a storm shelter.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there any test results?

      EF5s are very rare, and more common EF3 and less aren't capable of lifting/flipping a heavy vehicle that doesn't allow the wind to get under it.

      Unless they're (un)lucky enough to hit the EF5 jackpot on their first outing, it will be "tested" on your garden variety weaker tornadoes first, and they'll have some empirical data on whether it is merely crazy or truly insane to drive that into the path of a EF4 or EF5.

      As an Iowan, I'm proud of my fellow residents' ingenuity. I just hope I don't see it driving around town on a "mission"....we had a EF3 cut a path straight through the center of town about 7 years ago, so we're not supposed to be due for another in my lifetime!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are there any test results?

      The friction component in a tornado also seems to give rise to lightning, so I guess a bit of high voltage test zapping won't go amiss either...

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Re: Are there any test results?

        I assume the construction is mainly metal, creating a good Faraday cage. That should withstand being zapped. Any sensors outside the cage would be in serious trouble, however.

    3. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: Are there any test results?

      I see that old fallacy of "half Venturi shape" is still alive.

      Go and read introduction chapter in Understanding Flight to see why this is mistaken.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With that colour and poor weather, they are more likely to be hit by another vehicle than a tornado. Do tornadoes actively avoid hi-viz yellow?

    1. Mark 85

      Hi-viz yellow??? Not that I'm aware of. But if they really want to test it, make look like singe-wide trailer. There's a reason trailer parks are called "tornado magnets".

  4. Captain DaFt

    Good luck keeping it on the ground if they get it inside one

    04/27/2011 - An F5 rated tornado hit Smithville, AL.

    Among the other havoc, a ford explorer that was parked a half mile away from the town's water tower was picked up by the tornado and thrown into the top (That's right, the top!) of the water tower. The vehicle was then thrown an additional few hundred feet.

    More details here:

    Picture of truck (it's the red lump in the foreground), and the water tower it hit (waay in the background). BTW, the flat blue and gray thing in the picture under that was a tractor trailer that got tossed a quarter to half a mile in the storm.

    So, um, good luck with that van fellows, you're gonna need it!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good luck keeping it on the ground if they get it inside one

      The shields are there to stop wind getting under the vehicle and lifting it, they also have spikes that extend down into the ground to prevent slippage.

      But still, I'd like to see proper test results, I linked to a Mythbusters test below which shows the vehicles surviving a wind test, but it is far far from actual hurricane conditions.

      I think the dangers they face is from being hit by other debris rather than being lifted and thrown themselves.

  5. tonybarry

    Flip ...

    Air pressure differentials are the reason for things being moved around by big winds. This can't be assayed too easily by eye (or what looks nice). It should be assayed by scaled wind tunnel tests. Driving this thing into a tornado without such tests is foolhardy at best and possibly tantamount to suicide.

    While I applaud their willingness to die for science, it really is worthy of a Darwin Award.



  6. thx1138v2

    ...seeks twisters, data, and adrenaline

    And more than likely some blood.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Vehicles like this have been on Mythbusters where they put 2 of them behind each wing of a plane and cracked the engines up to hurricane winds (IIRC they did 100-150mph winds).

    They did survive, but I'd want a bit more thorough testing before I sat in one during a tornado. They have anchor spikes and the shielding is to provide downforce/prevent wind getting under the car to provide uplift. What they didn't test was impact from other debris, which I'd guess is a bigger problem.

  8. AndrueC Silver badge

    It looks like the latest version of a vehicle that's been around for several years. It features on the reality show Stormchasers.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Indeed. In fact Stormchasers showed multiple iterations of two tornado-chase vehicles - Reed Timmer's Dominator (which started as a common-or-garden Ford Explorer with some extra window protection, but evolved into something similar to this vehicle); and Sean Casey's TIV, which was designed to film tornadoes (not F5's, obviously - many Stormchasers episodes feature Sean's team trying to find sustained tornadoes that aren't too vicious for the vehicle's capabilities) from the inside.

      Casey did eventually get (IMAX) footage from inside a tornado. His film is out and has been shown in a number of IMAX theaters. I think in the last season of Stormchasers he was back at it, trying to get IMAX 3D film this time.

      So: 1) nothing terribly new about this Iowan effort, and 2) this sort of vehicle, including particularly the ground plates, has been tested. I know the supergenius team of Reg commentators knows more than all the rest of the world put together, but really, guys, you could do just a little bit of research before complaining that the Iowan team hasn't done any.

      Of course, Stormchasers is also a reminder that on-the-ground tornado research is very dangerous, even when it doesn't become hey-I'm-no-longer-on-the-ground research. There was plenty of footage of tornado-caused destruction, and a few episodes that consisted mostly of the principals helping out in tornado disasters. And Tim Samaras, one of the most cautious researchers featured on the show, was killed in a 2013 storm, along with a co-worker and Tim's son Paul.

      (It also shows that in fact not all tornado chasers are men. Just the overwhelming majority of them. Of course no one in IT is familiar with that sort of gender disparity.)

  9. Rafael 1

    Why is it always guys?

    Because guys like Stuff. Ask Dave Barry.

  10. Bartlomiej Kochan

    Tough projectile

    So if it does fly it would make a pretty hard damn bullet.

    I wont be in its path, hopefully.

  11. Esskay

    What is it with Americans

    And massive cars?

    I'd have thought something that looked like an upturned saucer would be the best shape - not just with edges as close to the ground as possible, but with the smallest frontal (and side) area presenting itself to the wind - whilst armour plates close to the ground will stop wind getting under, the bluff sides of a Ford Van present a large area for wind to push against, increasing the likelihood of disaster (Not to mention providing a larger and more perpendicular target for any debris to hit).

    Something smaller, lighter, shorter and with air suspension would be the most intelligent thing - increase ride height to drive through tornado-hit areas, before dropping down to touch the ground for enduring a tornado head on. The technology is pretty widespread these days too...

    If you wanted even more security, a Brabham "Fan Car" solution would help - what little air did get under could be sucked out through the top (but would have to run constantly through the tornado, and probably has a high probability of debris getting sucked in and destroying the fan anyway).

    Even better again, smaller "not-flying" upturned saucers (remote controlled, loaded with enough batteries for a few hours driving and full of cameras) that could be loaded onto a truck, offloaded quickly near a twister and move up to investigate the twister whilst relaying info back to the mothership (ie truck) could potentially provide more telemetry, footage and understanding at smaller risk to personnel.

    1. hplasm

      Re: What is it with Americans

      It'll be fine unless a Trenco or a zwilnik's bomb gets under the leading edge...

      1. simlb

        Re: What is it with Americans

        'It'll be fine unless a Trenco or a zwilnik's bomb gets under the leading edge...'

        Well, you just cut in your 'Bergs and float away on the wind!

  12. Chris G


    The Inverted saucer sounds the best bet for not developlng lift, combined with ground anchors it should give a fair level of security. Thhe problem with big storms is the power of some very local vortex effects can exceed the general wind speeds around and produce some impressive damage.

    During the Oct '89 storm in the UK , near High Elms golf course in Kent, there was an area about 50 metres across where mature trees were blown flat in the centre of dense woods, the trees around were unaffected.

    If something like that hit the car adrenalin will be the last thing to think about.

    1. Squander Two

      Re: Saucer

      October '87, wasn't it?

      Tunstall Forest in Suffolk was the same: looked like a giant's footsteps.

    2. Pookietoo

      Re: Saucer

      An inverted saucer sounds like an aerofoil waiting for an excuse to take off.

  13. K

    I always wonder at thing like this..

    Why not simply buy a used Tank.. Pop the turret off it and put in place some ridiculous recording equipment and viewing dome.

    1. graeme leggett Silver badge

      Re: I always wonder at thing like this..

      While I was thinking along similar lines, it struck me that a tank - though offering protection and likely too heavy to be blown along - is not going to cut it as a tornado chaser without sacrificing some of that weight for more speed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I always wonder at thing like this..

        I highly doubt a tank, even with the turret removed so it looks less threatening, is street legal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I always wonder at thing like this..

      Simple, cost. Want a used Sherman, $310,000. What about a lightweight tank? Not cheap either. You can buy an E350 and outfit it cheaper.

    3. JLV

      Re: I always wonder at thing like this..

      Pretty sure tank tracks and pavement do not mix well & your local police may not take kindly on the attempt or your license's applicability in any case ;-)

    4. Mussie (Ed)

      Re: I always wonder at thing like this..

      I like your way of thinking :D

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anti clamping?

    Can I have some of those side tire protectors? try to clamp or tow my truck will you?

  15. harmjschoonhoven

    Dorothy has no spoilers, so she will feel the full upward Bernouilli force of the tornado.

  16. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

    Bloody Merican mutilation of English

    Its "tyres" not "tires"

    Tyres is wot goes on wheels.

    Tires is the effect writing from a yank has on me.

    1. markw:

      Re: Bloody Merican mutilation of English

      It's it's not its.

  17. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Version 2 will no doubt include

    a large borer with an expanding bit so that they can anchor themselves a bit more firmly to the ground.

    V1 will be a write off as it will probably take to the skies along with everything else in the path of the Tornado. my guestimation from having seen a Tornado lift a fully laden tanker (carry water) and toss it around as if it was a fly.

  18. No. Really!?

    Not nearly as exciting...

    Wouldn't some sort of RC camera/instrument drone be the thing to build today?

    It could still be controlled from the Tornadomaster 9000 van for maximum social badassness, and emergency "oh, crap, it's headed straight for us" use.

    1. Alan Edwards

      Re: Not nearly as exciting...

      > Wouldn't some sort of RC camera/instrument drone be the thing to build today?

      Something light enough to be lifted by a couple of electric motors is going to get ripped to shreds before getting in camera range of a tornado.

      What might work is adapting the plan from Twister (which is where Dorothy got her name, BTW) - a shedload of GoPros in armoured balls in a dustbin left in the the path of the tornado. They get picked up by the tornado, and a few might survive long enough to record video of the inside of a tornado before being taken out by a flying combine harvester.

      1. firu toddo

        Re: Not nearly as exciting...

        IIRC, Dorothy was a little girl who liked singing and had a likkle dog called Toto. Which is where Twister got the name from.

        I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.

  19. Martin Budden Silver badge

    Needs a ground-penetrating harpoon.

    Fired down from the centre of the vehicle into the ground, barbed to prevent withdrawal, steel cable winched taught after firing. Basically an anchor. Single use of course because the whole point is that the harpoon is designed to be impossible to withdraw, so after the tornado has passed detatch it and leave it in the ground, and load up another ready for the next tornado.

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    An American tradition.

    The 6000 SUX.

    I'm going to chase a storm.

    I may be gone for some time.

  21. JustWondering

    Well ...

    ... at the very least, this could improve the species. I'm sure the folks at the Darwin Awards will be monitoring this project.

  22. Lghost

    As soon as I read what they were going to use it for

    A voice ( which I think comes from a kamikaze pilot at the back of the room, to whom it has just been explained what his mission is, in "a child's garden of grass" ) spoke in my mind's ear.."you gotta be outta your fuckin mind(s)"

    Will they also have Mr T hair and large amounts of gold chains ( to weigh them down ) around their necks ?

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