Review

Hunt for the super twister: nature at its most terrifyingly beautiful

Can such forces of nature be understood, or even tamed?

Hunt for the supertwister

Product details

Product name: Hunt for the super twister: nature at its most terrifyingly beautiful

Reviewer: Jenny Blackford

Author: Julia Cort and Thomas Lucas

Publisher: Distributed in Australia by Lightscape distribution

Price: $19.95

Size: 60 minutes

G Rating:

4

Few Australians appreciate how dangerous the tornado season is on the Great Plains in the United States.

Pictures of perfect, whirling tornado funnels reaching down to the ground make most of us think of The Wizard of Oz rather than of real danger.

However, they can be as dangerous as they are beautiful: the supertwister that went through Oklahoma City on 3 May 1999 killed 40 people and destroyed 8,000 homes. As cities sprawl across former farmland, more people are becoming vulnerable to tornadoes.

Meteorologists can predict the violent storms that produce tornadoes, but knowing just when and where a tornado will form, and how severe it will be, is still extremely difficult.

Despite the best efforts of weather scientists, official tornado warnings come on average only 12 minutes before tornadoes occur, and are often false alarms.

By contrast, hurricanes are far larger and more destructive than tornadoes, but they are usually visible on radar and satellites well before they present a danger.

Hunt for the Supertwister is the story of scientists trying to unlock the secrets of tornadoes so that weather predictions can be refined; even an extra five or ten minutes of official tornado warning time could save lives.

However, the problems the scientists face are difficult.

They need to understand the dynamics of thunderstorm supercells, with their updrafts, downdrafts and rotating winds, and how wind speed, temperature and other variables interact to trigger a tornado.

The documentary shows scientists approaching the problem of finding the tornado trigger from various directions, from creating highly detailed computer simulations, to chasing storms around the countryside with mobile Doppler radar units.

As Josh Wurman from the U.S. Centre for Severe Weather Research says in Hunt for the Supertwister: "Meteorology, in contrast to chemistry or biology, is not a good laboratory science. We can't produce an accurate representation, a controlled representation of a thunderstorm, and change the variables one by one to make tornadoes."

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