Storm Chasers Score Bullseye On Tornado With Instrument-Packed Rocket

Model rockets are a heck of a lot of fun, and not a few careers in science and engineering were jump-started by the thrilling woosh and rotten-egg stench of an Estes rocket launch. Adding simple instrumentation to the rocket doubles the fun by allowing telemetry to be sent back, or perhaps aiding in recovery of a lost rocket. Sending an instrument-laden rocket into a tornado is quite a few notches past either of those scenarios, and makes them look downright boring by comparison.

A first and hopefully obvious point: just don’t do this. [ChasinSpin] and [ReedTimmer] are experienced storm chasers, and have a small fleet of purpose-built armored vehicles at their disposal. One such vehicle, the Dominator, served as a mobile launch pad for their rocket as they along with [Sean Schofer] and [Aaron Jayjack] chased what developed into an EF4 monster tornado near Lawrence, Kansas on May 28. They managed to score a direct hit on the developing tornado, only 100 feet (30 meters) away at the time, and which took the rocket to 35,000 ft (10.6 km) and dragged it almost 30 miles (42 km) downrange. They lost touch with it but miraculously recovered it from a church parking lot.

They don’t offer a lot of detail on the rocket itself, but honestly it looks pretty much off-the-shelf, albeit launched from an aimable launchpad. [ChasinSpin] does offer a few details on the instrument package, though – a custom PCB with GPS, IMU, a temperature/humidity/barometric pressure sensor, and a LoRa link to send a data packet back every second. The card also supported an SD card for high-resolution measurements at 10 times per second. Check out the launch in the video below, and be sure to mouse around to get a look at the chaotic environment they were working in.

Even if this isn’t as cool as sending a sounding rocket into an aurora, it’s still really cool. We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of data this experiment collected, and what it reveals about the inner workings of these powerful storms.

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Fire. Vortex. Cannon. Need We Say More?

Tornadoes are a rightfully feared natural disaster. Fire tornadoes are an especially odious event to contend with — on top of whatever else is burning. But, a fire vortex cannon? That’s some awesome eye candy.

The madman behind this cannon belching huge gouts of fire is none other than Youtuber [JAIRUS OF ALL]. This build is actually an upgrade to one of his previous projects — a fire tornado gun that burned itself out and is now twice-revived — and is arguably better at creating a proper vortex to direct the flames. Built around a modified NERF gun, a pair of 60mm electric ducted fans with some additional venting — and tunable via a speed controller — direct the airflow through slits in a vortex chamber. A backpack of liquid propane literally fuels this phoenix of a flamethrower, so [JAIRUS] had plenty of time to put together some great footage. Check it out!

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Every Tornado Siren In Dallas Hacked

Someone had some fun with the Dallas early warning tornado siren system on Friday, April 8th. All 156 tornado sirens were hacked to go off just before midnight until they were manually turned off individually, reports The Washington Post. Thousands of residents flooded 911 call centers asking if they were under attack, if there was a tornado or if the zombie apocalypse had begun. The sirens were blaring for at least an hour and was originally put down as a malfunction, however it was later revealed that it was a hack and the “hacker” must have had physical access to the siren control center.

This isn’t the first time Dallas has had problems with “hackers” breaking into their infrastructure, Only last year some unknown person/persons hacked electronic road signs (a prank we’ve seen before) in and around Dallas claiming “Work is Canceled — Go Back Home” and “Donald Trump Is A Shape-shifting Lizard!!”. Mayor Mike Rawlings claims the perpetrators will be found and prosecuted although we don’t share his confidence since last year’s attackers are still at large.

The video below is one of many on YouTube filmed by bemused Dallas residents.

UPDATE: This hack seems to have been accomplished via DTMF signals broadcast on radio frequency in the clear. Recognizing the vulnerability after the fact, the system is now using some form of encryption for the control messages. Thanks [Dan J.] for posting this in the comments below.

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Better Tornado Warnings With Polygons And Pi

Everyone pays close attention to the weather, but for those who live where tornadoes are prevalent, watching the sky can be a matter of life and death. When the difference between making it to a shelter or getting caught in the open can be a matter of seconds, it might make sense to build an internet enabled Raspberry Pi weather alert system.

We know what you’re thinking – why not just buy an off-the-shelf weather alert radio with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) reporting, or just rely on a smartphone app? As [Jim Scarborough] explains, living in the heart of Tornado Alley and having had a brush with tragedy as a kid teaches you not to be complacent with severe weather. He found a problem with the SAME system: lack of locational granularity below the county level, leading to a tendency to over-warn during tornado season. [Jim]’s build seeks to improve SAME by integrating National Weather Service polygon warnings, which define an area likely to see a severe weather event as a collection of geographic vertices rather than a political unit. He’s using a Raspberry Pi NOAA weather radio receiver with SAME decoding, and while details are sparse and the project is ongoing, the idea seems to be to use the Pi to scrape the NWS site for polygon data once a county-level warning is issued.

It’s an interesting idea, and one we’ll be keeping an eye on as [Jim] continues his build. In the meantime, you can brush up on weather radio and SAME encoding with this Arduino SAME decoder.

[via r/weather]

Parts Bin Emergency Lights Deal With Tornado’s Aftermath

Sometimes having a deep inventory of parts in your shop is a pain – the clutter, the dust, the things you can’t rationally justify keeping but still can’t bear to part with. But sometimes the parts bin delivers and lets you cobble together some emergency lighting when a tornado knocks out your power.

It has been hard to avoid discussions of the weird weather in the US this winter. The eastern half of the country has had record warm temperatures, the west has been lashed by storms, and now December tornadoes have ripped through Texas and other parts of the south, with terrible loss of life and wide-ranging property damage. [TheTimmy] was close enough to one massive EF4 tornado to lose power on Saturday night, and after the charm of a candlelight Christmas evening wore off, he headed to the shop. He had a bunch of sealed lead acid batteries from old UPSs and a tangle of 12V LED modules, and with the help of some elastic bands and jumper clips he wired up a bunch of lights for around the house. Safer than candles by a long shot, and more omnidirectional than flashlights to boot.

The power came back before the batteries ran out of juice, so we don’t get to see any hacks for recharging batteries in a grid-down scenario. Still, it’s good to see how a deep parts bin and good mindset can make a positive impact on an uncomfortable situation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this hacked cordless tool battery pack or powering a TV with 18650 batteries. Be sure to share your story of epic power-outage hacks in the comments below.

Over-the-top Hackerspace Donation Box Brings Out The Brony In You

“You’ll never believe how this happened, doc.” [Source: CRASH Space]
If you’re going to pass the hat for donations to your hackerspace, you might as well add to the value proposition and give potential donors a little something for their generosity. And what better way to cash in than to channel the inner Brony in your donors with a My Little Pony themed dollar-bill vortex box?

Sick of the boring cheezy-poof jug her hackerspace was using as a donation jar, not-a-Brony [Michelle] was inspired by the CRASH Space mascot Sparkles, pictured left, to build a new box that will maximize donations by providing donors with a multimedia extravaganza. The Plexiglas box, resplendent with laser-cut acrylic hearts and spangled with My Little Pony stickers, is fitted with a sensor so that donations trigger an MP3 of the MLP theme song. A scrolling LED marquee flashes a gracious message of thanks, and to complete the experience, a pair of fans creates a tornado of the fat stacks of cash in the bin.

Putting a little [Twilight Sparkle] into your donation box makes good financial sense, as does providing incentive to deposit bills rather than coins. This project reminds us of our recent post about a custom claw machine which could be leveraged as a value-added donation box – just add a coin slot. And rainbows.

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Build Your Own Steel Reinforced Storm Shelter

build-a-steel-reinforced-storm-shelter

The last few years have seen a lot of dangerous storms rip through middle section of the United States. We’re surprised to hear that many residents in that part of the country don’t have basements to take refuge in when in imminent danger. But a resourceful hacker will always be able to find a way to improve their own situation. This example is particularly useful. It’s a steel storm shelter which opens into the garage.

It all starts with a cage made of square tube. With the skeleton fully assembled it is wrapped in steel plate, adding weld joints running nearly the entire length of each of the cage’s ribs. The image at the left shows the steel door frame clamped in position. Check out the finished version on the right after the shelter has been slid into place and bolted to the concrete slab.

The Reddit discussion includes a debate on whether the door should swing in or out. Swinging out means you could be trapped if the opening is blocked by debris. But there may be scientific research that proves this is a better orientation. Either way, we hope the three dead bolts, door latch, and heavy-duty hinges will stand up to the pressure if this is ever used.