Tornado-chasing meteorologist shows off mobile-radar truck at OMSI

Find out why one of the crew of a huge mobile radar truck, seen on the Discovery Channels’ Storm Chasers program, visited East Portland. The truck’s stay was brief, but you can view the results of their work on the five-story-high OMNIMAX screen …

Inside the DOW (Doppler On Wheels) mobile weather radar truck’s workstation, severe weather scientist Dr. Karen Kosiba works at an information-gathering station.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It wasn’t the impending threat of a tornado that brought “DOW 7” – a huge mobile weather radar truck – to East Portland on June 23. Although the dish antenna was turning, and an information-gathering pod was activated just east of the Willamette River, this massive scientific information-gathering device was visiting for a different purpose.

“We’re here at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) for the opening of the IMAX motion picture, Tornado Alley – here to give folks a first hand look at one of the main tools that we use to learn more about severe storms and tornados,” said Dr. Karen Kosiba of the Center for Weather Research.

For several years before she earned her advanced degree in atmospheric sciences, Kosiba volunteered on storm-chasing crews studying severe weather.

DOW Technician Ab Pheiffer readies a “pod” – dropped into the path of a tornado – for operation, to collect ground-level data.

“Our not-for-profit company, funded mostly by the National Science Foundation, operates three of these mobile radar trucks as a national resource,” explained Kosiba. “But we also do our own research, which is often tornado research.”

For several years, the organization was associated with the TV show Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel. “They were along on our big project, called Vortex 2, which had more than 120 scientists out in 50 vehicles studying how tornadoes form, how they do damage, and what the structure of the winds is inside tornadoes.”

Parking relatively close to major storms, the DOW’s mobile radar system gives scientists a wealth of real-time data, displayed on multiple computer screens. There weren’t tornados near OMSI, images on these screens are replays of actual storms in “Tornado Alley”.

Also documenting tornadoes alongside the group was IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey. “When he first started doing it, he hooked up with our group to more effectively chase tornadoes, while he was shooting footage for this feature documentary film.”

The result of Casey’s efforts takes audiences along on “heart-pounding mission to experience a tornado’s destructive power, while gathering the most comprehensive extreme weather data ever collected,” OMSI’s spokesperson, Debra Sonner, explained. “On our five-story high OMNIMAX screen, Portland audiences will see an IMAX film that captures nature’s power in an immersive, eye-of-the-storm cinema experience.”

With instrumentation up and running, “DOW 7” scans the skies, observing weather patterns.

Asked why she occasionally puts herself in harm’s way while chasing severe weather, Kosiba replied, “I really like it. It’s a great field, and really exciting. It’s a diverse a job; you get to study things that others don’t ever get to see.”

For information on tickets and show times for the movie, call (503) 797-4640 or visit see their OmniMax Theater webpage: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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