I don't remember how I landed the assignment to write about the Totable Tornado Observatory. I do recall that it sank in very quickly, after just a little bit of preliminary research, that I had seen something like an ode to it in the movie "Twister." I thought it was an interesting homage and gave the movie a bit more weight. In fairly short order, though, I came to like the real story of TOTO more.
The haphazard, kitchen-sink-inclusive design of the TOTO that these highly trained meteorologists had to come up with themselves was almost comical. This thing could use a pressure gauge, I could imagine one meteorologist saying. "Well, put one in there," I could hear another replying. And the name, itself an homage to "The Wizard of Oz," really illuminated the blurred line between hobbyist and scientist among the storm chasing community, which I came to respect.
And I also remember coming to the realization that TOTO's creators came to at some point: How are they going to get the observatory precisely in the path of a tornado? This one turned out to be really interesting and fun to write.
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- "Things that have been deliberately placed in the path of an oncoming tornado (either successfully or not)." Tornado Project. http://www.tornadoproject.com/cellar/curiosity.htm
- "What do you do with a tornado once you've chased it down? Look inside it." University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. April 10, 2000. http://www.ucar.edu/communications/highlights/1996/programs.html