Tornado Chasing: How to Track a Tornado

An electronics researcher shares his efforts to develop a reliable tornado detection system and how you can turn any TV set into a tornado detector.

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    Many people may find tornado tracking to be an exciting and extremely rewarding hobby.

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On September 22, 1968 Newton Weller—a self-taught electronics researcher—released a strange story to the Des Moines Register and Tribune. He told Iowa readers of his long efforts to develop a reliable tornado detection system, and gave simple instructions for turning any TV set into a tornado detector.

The story could not have broken at a better time. Sunday morning found the newspaper already delivered in Orange City, a town not far from Des Moines By noon ominous dark clouds blotted out the sun and the air became sticky with heat. At five o'clock an Orange City fire truck raced through the streets, its beeper wailing. This was the town's method of giving a tornado alert. Recalling the tornado detection story in the morning's paper, many Orange City residents hastened to their TV sets.

Following the directions in Weller's article, they turned the sets on, let them warm up and tuned to Channel 13. By using the brightness control knobs, the screens were darkened until they were almost black and the sets were switched from Channel 13 to Channel 2. The TV's were then left alone, as instructed, with no further adjustment of the brightness controls.

Before the eyes of these viewers the screens of their TV sets soon began to glow with a strong white light: the signal of a very close and approaching tornado! Heeding the warning, the Orange City residents rushed for places of safety and—minutes later—the tornado struck the town. Damage was later assessed at over one million dollars but, fortunately, no deaths resulted. Here was solid proof that the Weller Method of TV Tornado, Detection worked!

Any functioning TV set will pick up electrical disturbance from a twister as far as 20 miles distant and Weller's research has shown that Channel 2, the lowest of all TV frequencies at 55-megacycles, is the most sensitive to a tornado's electrical discharge. As a twister approaches a TV set tuned to that channel, the storm will produce a steady white light on the receiver's previously-darkened screen.

There is always the possibility, of course, that a person turning on his TV set, switching to Channel 2 and finding an already—glowing screen could unknowingly darken out the twister's signal. To avoid this possibility, Weller insists that—for tornado detection—a set always be tuned to Channel 13 and have its screen properly darkened before it is switched to Channel 2. Using such a technique, Weller says, makes the system foolproof.

1/20/2009 12:14:57 PM

This article is exciting and helpful, although it would be really great if, instead of just saying Channel 13, there would be an explanation of what Channel 13 is to Des Moines TV viewers, what makes it the special one to tune into to darken the screen, because of course up here in Canada channels are different. We had a sever tornado here a decade or so ago, and that info would be very helpful. Interesting and helpful article, thanks. c

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