The first telltale sign is a swirl of dust on the Kansas horizon. The second swirl sends a band of watchers back into their van and racing towards it, straight under an ominous dome of black clouds. The spiral grows, darkening as it swallows all in its path. Slamming on the brakes, the team leaps out to lock on their radar -- with only a wheat field and an IMAX camera between them and the twister that will soon rip through Wichita.
While meteorologists were analyzing the Wichita tornado and hundreds were fleeing from it,
a team with the world's largest movie camera was filming it -- up close. Real close. And then they headed back out on the road for more, punching through the
eye of a hurricane in a
P-3 weather plane and tracking
a monsoon across India.
These are not the stunts of thrill seekers, but the daily work of meteorologists studying severe weather from every angle in the effort to improve their predictions. Stormchasers gives viewers an unprecedented look at the combination of fieldwork and bold predictions that go on behind-the-scenes of storm forecasting.
The meteorological agencies involved in this research, such as the National Hurricane Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, cooperated fully in the creation of the film, having already worked with Stormchasers executive producer NOVA/WGBH on the acclaimed NOVA television programs Hurricane! and Tornado!
The collaboration allowed MacGillivray Freeman Films to capture footage of breathtaking power, including the first IMAX scenes ever shot in the eye of a hurricane and of a tornado at close range. Director Greg MacGillivray used innovative IMAX production techniques, including custom lightweight cameras and Steadicam shooting, to create this documentary record of meteorologists responding to the most challenging situations of their careers. The film also includes a stunning computer graphics sequence created by Wedge Studio and the scientists of the Storm Group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign to visualize the complex events that lead to the formation of a tornado.
Scientists featured in the film include Dr. Surindra Bhandari of the Indian Meteorological Center, Dr. Robert Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, and Dr. Howard Bluestein of the University of Oklahoma at Norman.
Speaking for them all, Dr. Bluestein -- dean of tornado chasers -- sums up the intrepid attitude of his profession: "As long as there is something to learn, we'll keep chasing these storms, wherever they take us."
Stormchasers is an encore production for MacGillivray Freeman Films, Museum Film Network and NOVA/WGBH Boston, who previously collaborated on the highly acclaimed 1989 IMAX film, To The Limit.
IMAX cameras use a film frame 10 times larger than the 35 millimeter used in standard moviemaking, increasing by tenfold the projected image and clarity of the picture. The 70 millimeter film is projected on either a flat IMAX screen or a hemispherical OMNIMAX screen soaring 50 to 80 feet above audiences with six-channel sound systems. The theaters are located at cultural and entertainment centers around the world.
Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch, executive producer for Museum Film Network, notes that the opportunity to "see weather scientists at work is thrilling. Their commitment to unraveling the mystery of storms will be truly inspiring to our visitors."
Paula Apsell, executive producer of NOVA, adds that, "enriching audiences' understanding and appreciation of weather -- not only storms, but everyday weather patterns as well -- is what Museum Film Network and NOVA hope to achieve."
Museum Film Network is an international consortium of 14 science museums formed in 1985 to provide high quality science films for IMAX/OMNIMAX theaters.
Join Us/E-mail | TV Schedule | Schedule | Teachers
Archive | Search | Site at a Glance | Shop | To Print | NOVA Home