As awful as the movie Twister was, it helped bring to light the challenges of researching tornadoes. Namely, how do you get close enough to study something that's powerful enough to kill you? One obvious solution is to simulate them, and thanks to recent advancements, a team of researchers was finally able to create a deadly F5 tornado in a computer and keep it alive for an hour and 40 minutes, providing countless insights as it tore its destructive (but simulated) path.
The simulation, which was presented at the 27th annual Severe Local Storms Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, produced countless physical features that storm chasers have often reported seeing, and even filmed, in the field — like curtains of rain surrounding the actual funnel. The researchers also found that the storm's updraft tended to suck rain-cooled air upwards which served to actually fuel the tornado and maintain the vortex.
So what does this mean for the future? For the time being simply more info, which is crucial to developing a full understanding of why tornadoes form and what keeps them going. Data collected in the field is still of the utmost importance, but the simulations can be used to generate tornadoes at the push of a button, again and again, instead of having to hunt them down across the midwest. And even if the simulations only produce a tiny bit of useable data each time, eventually it could add up to finding a better way to predict when a tornado is going to form, and giving those in its path more time to seek shelter. [YouTube via Slashdot]