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Aftermarket Truck Equipment Counts in Gathering Groundbreaking Tornado Data
October 29, 2010
Viewers of the Discovery Channel's "Stormchasers" program may not give much thought to the truck equipment that helps these daring tornado researchers do their job, but something as seemingly simple as a liftgate can make a big difference.
Stormchaser Tim Samaras will be at this week's SEMA show.
A hydraulic liftgate is only one of the special specs on the A.R.E. Truck Caps' 2010 GMC Sierra "Twistex Probe" Vehicle, which enabled stormchaser Tim Samaras to record historic tornado measurements earlier this year. Samaras and the truck are scheduled to be at the SEMA show this week in Las Vegas.
Samaras has been fascinated by tornados since he saw "The Wizard of Oz" as a child. He's been chasing tornadoes for about 20 years, professionally for 10. He now spends every May and June putting 25,000 miles on his vehicle, chasing elusive tornadoes across the Plains.
Earlier this year, when he was hoping to build a new chase truck, Mastercraft Truck Equipment in Englewood, Colo., put together what Samaras refers to as the "ultimate tornado chase vehicle."
Because the special probes that he deploys into the path of the storm weigh more than 400 pounds each and measure about 3 feet high when stored, a traditional truck cap wouldn't work.
The truck is outfitted with a custom A.R.E. Deluxe Commercial Truck Cap and Tommy Gate G2-Series 1,500-pound-capacity hydraulic liftgate. To resist hail damage, the chase truck was spray-coated with Line-X Protective Coatings, more typically used as bedliner coatings. Other additions include an Eclipse navigation system with back-up camera, Jotto Desk mobile office laptop holders, Luverne hitch steps, mega steps, grille insert, Hellwig front and rear sway bars, a Warn XD 9000I Winch system, as well as numerous sensors covering the hood and cab.
This vehicle enabled Samaras and his crew to record some first-of-its-kind information about tornadoes.
Watch a local TV station's interview with Samaras about his job and the truck:
Samaras needed to deploy a 400-pound "probe" instrument, his own invention, in the path of a highly destructive tornado while at the peak of its powers. On June 22, in South Dakota, Tim did precisely that. "The measurements we collected that day were historic, as we measured the wind speed of the passing tornado at two different heights. This confirmed that the boundary layer (the highest rate of change wind speed) is less than 2 feet high," Samaras explained. "This measurement would not have been possible without a way of quickly getting the instrument off the truck -- and the liftgate most certainly has risen to the challenge!" The data collected is another step in further understanding tornadoes and will help engineers in how they design and build structures in the future. "This information, along with future deployments, will be very useful for engineers to construct buildings in the Midwest to help resist these types of wind," Samaras said. "If we can build better buildings, then we'd eventually save lives."
2010 TWISTEX PROBE: Team TWISTEX's new lead chase vehicle — also christened PROBE — is a customized 2008 GMC One-Ton Diesel truck that carries a full range of the latest severe weather research equipment. The customization was managed by A.R.E. Accessories who designed and installed the special truck cap that provides Tim and his team much better access and efficiency with probe deployments and other operations. In addition, Tim added an array of extras, including better lightning, a mobile hail research station and more powerful storm chasing "survival" gear.
FRONT END (Overview): The standard brush guard also serves as a mount for the PROBE's extra high-intensity driving lights that come in handy when storms turn day into night. By the time this picture was taken the guard had already been tested in Colorado by a deer impact that knocked out one of the driving lights (lower right in view).
FRONT END (Detail): In the center of the forward array the PROBE carries a WARN brand air compressor and winch unit with 8,000 pounds of pulling power. This rig started paying for itself right out of the gate when it pulled a show production vehicle out of a ditch in Kansas.
HAIL RESEARCH TOOLS: Mounted over the hood is a custom, state-of-the-art hail research plate designed by Tim that uses carbon composite sample and piezo impact blocks to collect data on hail impacts. The two extra sets of HELLA brand lighting mounted up either side of the windshield provide maximum illumination for high-speed photography of hail striking the plate.
TRUCK CAP: The over-sized utility shell built by A.R.E. to Tim's specifications has compartments and shelving for monitoring equipment and portable tornado probes. The ultra high speed Hail Data Acquisition System (16 channels running at a mega-sample per second) is housed In the left bay while the right holds the smaller, traditional HITPR instruments and the 7-camera video probe. The shell also contains auxiliary batteries to power instrumentation, several VHF radios and the indispensable data-logger. The flip-up side doors offer much easier access to all the instruments.
LIFT GATE: One of the best new features of the PROBE's truck shell is a TOMMY GATE brand 1500 pound capacity lift gate that is primarily intended to get the new 400-pound TOWER probe in and out of its custom rear storage bay.
TOWER PROBE: The latest TWISTEX probe is designed to measure rarely studied tornado-generated winds within 12 feet of the ground. These winds are all but invisible to radar although they pack much of a tornado's destructive power. This heavyweight marvel comes packed with instruments and gear designed to provide a detailed 3-D wind profile. The steel base and pillar support five anemometers (2 sonic and 3 windmill types), smoke generators (to help visualize wind motions) and six cameras.
FLOOR MATS: These specially-designed metal mats help keep mud from taking over the passenger compartment. They provide much better boot traction for the driver and can be easily removed, cleaned and dried.
CUSTOM CONSOLE: The PROBE's console includes the main weather data laptop that supplies all the latest information that Tim and Carl need for the chase. A backup camera for rear visibility has been installed In the rear-view mirror position and below that rests the pedestal for the high-speed camera (removed for better view) used to photograph the hail impact plate.
A.R.E. - Specally Made DCU
Tommy Gate - Rear Lift Gate
Line-X - Exterior Protectant on entire truck
Pilot Automotive - Aluminum Floormats
Jotto Desk - Laptop Holders and Accessories
Hellwig Products - Suspension System
Warn Industries - Power Plant HD
Luverne - Grip Steps
SPAL USA - Backup Camera and LCD Monitor
Goodyear - Silent Armour Tires
Hella Automotive Lighting - Auxiliary Lighting