Appalachian professor develops software to study tornadoes with National Geographic

BOONE - Each year in the spring, Dr. Anton Seimon, Research Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University in the Department of Geography and Planning, heads to the Midwestern Great Plains with his family to observe severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Seimon doesn't just love to watch storms, he studies them. Over the last year, he has been working with a team, including a software developer Skip Talbot and meteorologist Dr. John Allen, to create an online system that will allow scientists to piece together video footage of tornadoes, synchronizing it with maps and radar data to create a 3-D picture.

The new software, called the Tornado Environment Display, or TED, visualization tool, was named for one of the earliest and best known tornado scientists, Dr. Ted Fujita, who pioneered the use of crowdsourcing when he began studying tornadoes back in the 1950s.

Seimon and his fellow scientists were inspired to create this software after the death of veteran stormchaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul and research colleague Carl Young. They were killed by the largest, and also among the strongest, tornado in recorded history, which traveled a path up to two and a half miles wide near El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31, 2013. This tornado was the first known to have caused storm chaser mortality.

With funding from the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Seimon and his team crowd-sourced visuals from other storm chasers who were present during the El Reno tornado. Their project, the El Reno Survey, led to the creation of the Tornado Environment Display, which may now contribute to scientists being able to better understand the behavior of storms and how they cause damage.

Seimon says, "Looking forward there will be interesting project possibilities for Appalachian students to use the TED system to conduct research investigations of El Reno tornado, as well as hail and lighting, among other topics, using the video contained therein."

The TED visualization software was launched publicly last Sunday in conjunction with a documentary on the National Geographic Channel called "Inside the Mega Twister." The episode will be aired again on Friday, December 9th.

Photo credit: (c) 2013 Tracie Seimon

Published: Dec 10, 2015 12:10pm