SURVIVE THE STORM: Researchers using technology to "listen" to tornadoes to better predict them

Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 7:24 PM CDT
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The sound of a tornado has been described as a loud roaring sound, even sometimes described as a freight train or a jet engine. Right now tornado research is being done using sound that we can't even hear.

That imperceptible sound is known as infrasound.

"Infrasound is just like what you hear," said Dr. Brian Elbing. "It's just at frequencies so low that the humans can't perceive it."

Doctor Brian Elbing teaches mechanical and aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University. He uses special equipment to capture those frequencies which may detect the formation of tornadoes.

"It's just like a canister with soaker hoses coming out of it," said Elbing.

While it's still being studied, the research is showing some promise to help predicting where a tornado might form.

"There's definitely supportive evidence that tornadoes specifically within the storm are producing the infrasound," he said. "In May of 2017, there were supercells all around us. We weren't really picking up any signal until this one tornado formed just to the south of us."

Doctor Elbing's research team detected that tornado 8 minutes before it even formed.

The goal is to get similar results from more storms to one day warn people about tornadoes well in advance