National Geographic : 2016 Oct
EXPLORE Field Notes National Geographic explorers, photographers, and writers report from around the world ANTON SEIMON Atmospheric scientist Nicolas Mathevon knows what boils a crocodile’s blood. In Guyana in 2007, when Mathevon played a recording of an infant croc distress call, a bellowing mama croc lunged at the boat he was in. He switched off the speaker, and the animal halted mid-attack. After 10 years of NICOLAS MATHEVON Biologist Venezuela When croc babies become teenagers The El Reno tornado in 2013 was the widest record- ed tornado in history. Anton Seimon wants to use slow-motion video and mapping to understand how storms inflict damage. On May 31, 2013, the day the widest tornado ever recorded swept through central Oklahoma and killed 22 people, Anton Seimon was about three miles south. Several of the people killed were Seimon’s colleagues, in- cluding National Geographic Explorer Tim Samaras, whose vehicle was tumbled nearly a mile by the tornado’s 175-mile-an-hour gusts. When the wind stopped, Seimon was left with his grief—and more questions than answers. Why did this storm wreak such hav- oc? He wanted to reconstruct how the storm destroyed everything in its path, including Samaras’s truck. He began to acquire videos shot that day in hopes that, all together, they’d form a detailed portrait of the storm. More than 125 videos later, the footage— when synchronized—shows the storm from nearly every angle. Most advances in tornado science usually center on questions of for- mation: how humans can predict a storm’s power and path. Seimon’s trove of informa- tion, which he published online and calls the Tornado Environment Display, may serve as a model to pursue a different question: How do high-speed air particles inflict damage? He hopes that the answer, revealed frame by frame in the videos, will inspire engineer- ing innovations, especially for construction in storm-prone areas. Studying how a roof is ripped off a trailer—the same way you’d study the mechanics of a slow-motion slam dunk— can help builders learn how to make roofs more secure. Repeatedly battered structures might be more strongly secured to the ground. “No one should die from a tornado in this day and age,” says Seimon. Although extreme storms are expected to grow in frequency and strength due to climate change, “we have the ability to know how to keep people safe.” — Daniel Stone Tracking a tornado’s damage from every angle United States PHOTO: TRACIE ALEXIS SEIMON. NGM MAPS U.S . N. AMER. VENEZUELA S. AMER.