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Storm chasers collide with tornadoes to save lives | Weather

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Storm chasers collide with tornadoes to save lives
Storm chasers collide with tornadoes to save lives

NORTH ATLANTA -- Springtime across Georgia can be as deadly as it is beautiful as the mix of cold and warm air circulate to form tornado season.

A deadly string of tornadoes on April 27 killed over 160 from Alabama into north Georgia, and stands as a reminder of how quickly the wind funnels can form and their damage to both life and home.

Meteorologists at 11Alive and across the country look to the severe storms office at the National Weather Service for new watches and warnings based on the Doppler radar, and from eyewitness reports from several who chase a newly formed tornado.

They are known as storm chasers, and a few have become well know on the popular show on Discovery Channel, Storm Chasers.

Marcus Gutierrez is one of those well known storm chasers.

This reporter stood with Marcus near the Tornado Intercept Vehicle 2 in north Atlanta -- a heavily armored science vehicle in which he drives in the program. I asked him about his personal thoughts on why he chases these deadly storms.

"I love science, all aspects of it as they're interrelated," Marcus says with a proud smile. "All the sciences are one beautiful world, so I fell in love with storm chasing."

Marcus, a veteran of over 150 tornadoes in his nine years of chasing the deadly storms, is also featured in the new IMAX movie Tornado Alley, which is arriving soon in 3D.

Marcus navigates the armored TIV along the roads of the Midwest and  into the South during tornado season as IMAX videographer Sean Casey films the violent cyclonic thunderstorms. The TIV is also packed with research instruments as the team learns more about the formation of the  twisters.

"Sean took me out in 2003 and on my third day of storm chasing we saw eight tornadoes near Holland, Nebraska," he recalled with excitement. "It was incredible."

Tornado season generally runs from March into June in the United States and can last into September in some regions.

"What gets my adrenalin really pumping is when we're in a town knowing there's a tornado coming towards that town, Marcus explained to this reporter. "It is very stressful for me to see the community not knowing of the threat or getting warnings."

In March 2008, three were killed in metro Atlanta during two days of tornadoes which ripped up the downtown area and northern neighborhoods. Markus adds tornadoes can form anywhere at  anytime.

Marcus reminded me he will not take TIV 2 toward an F4 or F5 scale tornado, "We're always looking at the debris wall that these tornadoes are carrying. If there's a lot of heavy equipment in the bottom of these tornadoes were about to intercept, we will not intercept those."

Each tornado is classified by it's intensity by a scale known as the  Enhanced Fujita Scale. From EF0 to EF5, each tornado is rated by wind  speeds from lowest to highest. The vortex of an EF4 will have wind speeds of 166 m.p.h. or greater.

His role as driver is one of many hats he wears while on the hunt for tornadoes. Marcus is also the team's medic and TIV's mechanic.

Marcus offers advice to storm chasers across the globe, "Don't go out there and just get a beautiful shot. If you see someone in harms way stop and give a hand, and show some compassion because they've just lost  everything."

The ride of a lifetime awaits as Marcus drives IMAX filmmaker Sean into the tornado's path in Tornado Alley, now showing at science museums across the United States.



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