USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

Confessions of an Original Storm Chaser

Meet Storm Chaser Josh Wurman and Discover first-hand from this original storm chaser what it’s like to track and study deadly tornadoes across the Kansas landscape and stare down wicked hurricanes off the Gulf of Mexico!

You could say Josh Wurman was born to chase storms. Even as kid he was adventurous with a penchant for science, especially delving into the mysteries and wonders of bad weather.

But growing up in the relatively placid climates of Pennsylvania, he really didn’t have any meaningful opportunities to experience really severe weather like tornadoes, hurricanes, or even real deep snow, he says. “So I did my best to impress friends and girls with my home weather station and insect collection,” Josh recalls with a laugh, “but these efforts, among other factors, kept me well out of the running for being named homecoming king” in high school.

Today, as an internationally-known atmospheric scientist and founder of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado, he has all the bad weather he can handle.

As an original storm chasing scientist, he has pursued and researched wicked tornadoes across Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and other parts of the nation, braved the treacherous winds of Rita, Ivan and other destructive hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, and stared down raging wildfires in the West.

In addition to his prowess as a field researcher, Josh is also known for inventing
state-of-the-art technology that aid scientists in studying tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires and other severe meteorological conditions, and he holds about a dozen patents.

The idea for one of his most well-known inventions – the Doppler On Wheels (DOW), a network of mobile radar stations that enable weather phenomena to be studied up close – came to him after viewing severe thunderstorms and tornadoes on the High Plains. “I then conceived of building a network of big, fast-scanning radars that could drive right up to tornadoes and fires, and go inside hurricanes,” he says.

The DOWs permitted the first ever mappings of tornado winds, hurricane wind streaks, and other important data that help scientists better understand and predict severe weather.

Josh is also known for other important advances in the study of weather and atmospheric science and is credited for observing the fastest winds ever measured and the largest tornado circulations, and being the first to observe hurricane boundary layer rolls and streaks.

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he earned his Bachelors and Masters of Science (at the early age of 21) and his Ph.D., Josh later moved to Colorado to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and then on to the University of Oklahoma where he was a tenured faculty member. He later moved back to Colorado and to begin the Center for Severe Weather Research, a small non-profit research company he runs with his wife.
“We have four young children who, so far, show no unhealthy obsessive interests in tornadoes, hurricanes or radars,” Josh laughs.

What’s next on his radar screen to tackle? “Well, I’ve just finished the VORTEX2 tornado study which is the largest tornado research mission ever,” says Josh. “The goal of VORTEX2 is to peel back the mysteries of origin of tornadoes and low-level tornado winds.” A formidable undertaking, the study, funded mostly by the National Science Foundation (NSF), involved about 120 scientists and crew in a huge fleet of 50 vehicles and other heavy-duty weather research equipment.

Needless to say, when Josh is not involved with research, he is in popular demand by the news media as a reliable and entertaining source for information involving severe weather. For instance, he has been featured in the Discovery Channel’s reality series “Storm Chasers,” as well as National Geographic’s “Tornado Intercept,” and “The True Face of Hurricanes” , on PBS (NOVA) “Hunt for the Supertwister”, IMAX “Forces of Nature” and IMAX “Tornado Alley”, and several international documentaries, the Weather Channel, NBC Dateline, CBS 48 hours, interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, and others. He and his work has been written about in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, Scientific American, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Discover, Economist, FHM, and elsewhere.
Click here for more information.

http://www.cswr.org

Comments

  1. #1 Mia
    March 12, 2011

    Growing up in Chicago with the possibility of tornados, I used to ask myself, “what if I got sucked up into a tornado?”. I always thought it sounded enjoyable, to fly around town at high speeds, like being on a roller coaster. This blog post reminded me of that, is it talked about the probes that record measurement as the tornado spins over them. It amazes me that there are people out there like Josh who make a living by chasing these frightening natural disasters to witness them firsthand for the sake of entertainment and collecting data. I really hope that using the Doppler on Wheels will improve the methods in which scientists use to predict natural disasters, because movable probes are an excellent idea. It saddens me to realize how many lives are lost by tornados and hurricanes.

  2. #2 Mia
    March 12, 2011

    Growing up in Chicago with the possibility of tornados, I used to ask myself, “what if I got sucked up into a tornado?”. I always thought it sounded enjoyable, to fly around town at high speeds, like being on a roller coaster. This blog post reminded me of that, is it talked about the probes that record measurement as the tornado spins over them. It amazes me that there are people out there like Josh who make a living by chasing these frightening natural disasters to witness them firsthand for the sake of entertainment and collecting data. I really hope that using the Doppler on Wheels will improve the methods in which scientists use to predict natural disasters, because movable probes are an excellent idea. It saddens me to realize how many lives are lost by tornados and hurricanes.

  3. #3 Tütüne Son
    March 19, 2011

    Growing up in Chicago with the possibility of tornados, I used to ask myself, “what if I got sucked up into a tornado?”.