The TOtable Tornado Observatory (nicknamed "TOTO" after the dog in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1939 film The Wizard of Oz—where in a tornado is a key plot element) is a large, instrumented barrel-shaped device invented in 1979 by engineers Dr. Al Bedard and Carl Ramzy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Technology Laboratory (ETL) and Dr. Howard Bluestein, meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma (OU). NOAA's objective was to place the TOTO directly in the path of a tornado, where it could, theoretically, record valuable information about the tornado's structure.
To deploy TOTO, which weighed from 250 to 350 lbs (110-160 kg) two men could unstrap its mooring cables and roll it out of the back of a customized pickup truck in about 30 seconds, using metal wheel ramps. TOTO would then be tipped into a vertical position and swiveled so that a certain side faced north (for accurate wind direction readings). The TOTO crew had to quickly find a relatively level and firm surface, off the road, away from wind obstructions and potential debris generators (such as buildings and trees). With each deployment, there was also a heightened lightning strike risk from handling a large metal object in an open area.
TOTO was deployed several times during the 1980s, but the closest deployment to a tornado was on April 29, 1984 near Ardmore, Oklahoma, by Steve Smith and Lou Wicker of the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). It turned out that TOTO had a center of gravity which was too high for extreme wind, and it fell down as it was sideswiped by the edge of the weak tornado.
TOTO was also deployed as a portable weather station to measure thunderstorm gust fronts and non-tornadic mesocyclones — with more success than its tornado mission. TOTO was retired after 1987 because of safety issues and the logistical difficulty of getting such a large, heavy, cumbersome object in front of a tornado.
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