MSU Professor Develops Tornado Detector Prototype

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Although we may not think about it on a beautiful sunny day like Tuesday, we are still in severe weather season. We are alerted of tornadoes with tornado sirens. Plus, meteorologists use tools like radar to detect tornadoes and alert the public. However, there are a few limitations with these devices.

A Missouri State University professor believes his creation may save your life during a tornado. Dr. Emmett Redd hopes his tornado alarm will alert more people in the future.

We cannot predict well in advance exactly where and when these deadly storms will form. This is part of the reason Dr. Emmett Redd got caught by surprise several years ago.

"I went up over I-44 and met up with it," he says. "It was blowing rain horizontally through the vents in my door and I couldn't see anything."

His life-threatening tornado experience spun him into action.

"I said, 'need a little earlier warning about things like that," says Redd.

He developed an indoor alarm that rings when the pressure change over a certain length of time exceeds a certain threshold.

"This is a circuit board. One example of about a hundred that I have," says Dr. Redd as he holds his tornado alarm. There is a small piece of the device that detects barometric pressure change. Based on this, the device can alert you of an approaching tornado.

The device has two stages of alarm. The first signals people to get ready to take shelter, giving a lead time of about three minutes. The second signals people to take shelter immediately, indicating a tornado is about 30 seconds to a minute away.

"I don't want it a whole lot longer than that," says Redd. "Someone thinks, 'Oh yeah, I've got time I can wash a few more dishes.' it needs some immediacy."

"I definitely think I would feel safer with a personal tornado alarm in the house because I can't always hear the sirens outdoors," says Luke Kreienkamp, a Missouri State University student.

There are limitations with tools used in the tornado warning process. Tornado sirens are not meant to be heard indoors. Plus, radar cannot always detect tornadoes. Sometimes tornadoes, especially the smaller ones, aren't radar indicated. As distance away from the radar site increases, the radar beam detects what's happening higher in the atmosphere. In other words, it overlooks what happens at the ground where tornadoes are.

"And so, there are gaps in the system, and this might fill a few," adds Redd.

Although the alarm is not for sale on the market today, Dr. Redd hopes it will be available to the public in the future.

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