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METEOROLOGIST OFFERS A BLOW BY BLOW ON `TWISTER,' FROM FUNNEL CLOUDS TO FLYING COWS.

Byline: Mark Caro Chicago Tribune

With a tornado bearing down on them, the two storm-chasers crash their truck into a small wooden bridge and then scramble under the structure.

The twister lifts the pickup and whooshes it away as the mud-splattered pair crouch beneath the rattling boards. After they emerge unharmed, one of them calls the encounter ``just a close call.''

``My God,'' exclaimed meteorologist Tom Skilling of Chicago TV station WGN after an early screening of ``Twister.'' ``Those two probably would have been impaled by 2-by-4s.''

Skilling knows his tornadoes. A forecaster since his Aurora, Ill., radio debut at age 14, the 44-year-old weatherman co-hosts the annual Fermilab Severe Weather and Tornado seminar and traveled to Oklahoma City a couple of years ago for his award-winning WGN documentary - ``Chasing the Wind'' - about scientists who pursue tornadoes.

So Skilling was an eager participant when asked to provide expert testimony on ``Twister,'' which opened Friday. ``There's so much extensive footage (of tornadoes) available, it will be interesting to see how the filmmakers re-create it,'' he said before seeing the movie.

In some ways, he wasn't disappointed. In others, well, blame Hollywood.

Here's Skilling, post-``Twister,'' on:

The tornadoes themselves: ``I take my hat off to the special-effects people. I think they did a fantastic job. That's really the way it looks. It's a sky filled with debris. ... But the one that split (into `sister tornadoes'), that strained credibility a bit.''

A tornado ripping off a storm cellar door along with the man gripping the handle: ``There's been some artistic license there. If you're beneath the surface of the Earth, the tornado doesn't come into the ground after you.''

Large airborne vehicles: ``The notion of hurling automobiles through the air is certainly possible. That fuel truck was a bit much.''

An airborne cow: ``The animals blowing through the air is true. I've heard stories about a farmer coming out of his storm cellar and finding his cow chewing cud on the other side of the farm.''

Storm-chasers driving alongside tornadoes: ``The regular and intelligent spotters would never put themselves in harm's way like they did in the movie.''

Storm-chasers fleeing on foot from a pursuing tornado: ``There's no way you could outrun one of these things. You're advised to lay flat because that stuff that's flying around is not paper. Those are projectiles, and you can suffer serious harm.''

The storm-chasers' general rock-'n'-roll-blasting, whooping, gonzo attitude: ``There's no question storm-chasers are cut from a different cloth. I just think it's another piece of cloth than the one shown in the movie.

``They're fascinated by (tornadoes) and realize they're seeing one of nature's rare events, but at the same time are cognizant of the fact that people's lives can be destroyed by one of these storms rolling through their property.

``You kind of got the feeling that this group got an adrenalin charge watching the farm getting blown away and were ready for another one.''

The tornado skies, sometimes ominous, sometimes blue: ``There were a couple of sequences where they were coming up on tornadoes where you had strato cumulus clouds, and those are not the type of clouds that accompany tornadoes.''

The appearance of a new tornado every couple of hours: ``I presume what we were to believe was happening was a family outbreak of storms. It's not unheard of for tornadoes to occur in groups like that.''

The clunky-looking machine, called Dorothy, that's supposed to launch sensor balls into a tornado: ``Dorothy was based on an authentic meteorological piece of observation gear called Toto. For a while they did tote this thing around to put it in front of tornadoes. To the best of my knowledge, they abandoned these a few years ago.''

The technical mumbo jumbo: ``The use of jargon in all those weather centers was accurate.'' One exception: the phrase ``cone of silence,'' which actually denotes the unscannable area above a radar antenna. ``They were referring to it as the quiet period between the emergence of one funnel, its dissipation and the emergence of another funnel.''

The disdainful references to being a ``weatherman'': ``I didn't think they misrepresented us at all. As a meteorologist, even though they didn't get everything right, I'm flattered that Hollywood took time to look at what some people in our profession do.''

The movie itself: ``I thought it was fun. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It's kind of `The Towering Inferno' of tornadoes.''
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 12, 1996
Words:742
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