Designer of tornado research probes killed in Oklahoma tornado

Probes designed by Samaras gathers crucial data

Tim Samaras was on a mission: Predict the exact coordinates of an unborn tornado, arrive before it does, and place a weather-measurement probe directly in the storm's path.

"Data from the probes helps us understand tornado dynamics and how they form. With that piece of the puzzle we can make more precise forecasts and ultimately give people earlier warnings," Samaras explained to National Geographic.

The probe is a six-inch-high weather station encased in a steel, pyramid-shaped case.  The 45-pound probe has sensors that measure humidity, pressure, temperature, wind speed, and direction.

The pyramid shape Samaras designed helps hold the device in place, because the wind actually pushes the probe into the ground, according to National Geographic.

On June 24, 2003 Samaras placed a turtle probe 100 yards from the face of a half-mile wide tornado in South Dakota, according to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Sixty seconds later, the Manchester Tornado hit the probe directly, with winds over 200 mph.

The probe logged the lowest change in barometric pressure ever recorded in the heart of a tornado -- 100 millibars over 10 seconds. The dramatic drop in pressure is the condition that triggers a tornado's extreme wind speeds, according to National Geographic.

Samaras also built a special probe equipped with cameras that "are able to look inside of a tornado safely."

The probe allowed Samaras and his partner Carl Young to document the tornado from different angles and speeds when they deployed the device in the path of a twister on June 11, 2004 near Storm Lake Iowa, according to ABC.

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