Flying cows and dreams of reality…

The movie “Twister” inspired a new generation of prospective meteorologists upon its release in 1996. As an exercise in pure spectacle, the film is a success. From flying cows to falling tractors, “Twister” makes quite an impression with its occasionally fanciful depictions a tornado outbreak.

twister tornado

But in a few scenes, excitement comes at the expense of reality. For example, the terrifying opening sequence features the arrival of an “F5” tornado (announced by one of the characters). The scene takes place in 1969, yet the “F-Scale” was not actually invented until the early 1970’s.

We expect minor mistakes like this when watching movies, but often the filmmakers do a reasonable job of scientific accuracy. The “Dorothy” device featured in Twister is actually based on a real-life attempt to sample the inside of a tornado. The Totable Tornado Observatory (TOTO) was developed by NOAA scientists in the late 1970’s/early 80’s.


The unit was deployed several times, but ultimately failed due to an unsuitable center of gravity in high wind situations. The unit was later featured on public display in the atrium of the National Weather Center (University of Oklahoma campus).

(images courtesy of Warner Bros and NOAA)

jerry-jackson Chief Meteorologist Jerry Jackson


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