TORNADO EARLY WARNING SYSTEM USING YOUR TV : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) Preparation Forum : One Thread


When I decided because of Y2K to relocate to the South my major concern was the tornado threat. With my luck I moved into a 'tornado alley,' north central Alabama. The best defense against one of these babies is a totally underground homestead --- but no time or money to do that one. Then, while unpacking the moving cartons I stumbled on a little item published in 'The Mad Scientist's Workshop,' an alternate science newsletter in Plainfield, WI, in 1988.

Back in 1968 Newton Weller, a self taught engineer, came up with the fact that tornadic phenomena generate an abundance of electrical impulses, centering around 57 MHz or thereabouts. This just so happens to be Channel 2 on your trusty little TV (color or B&W.) Here's the adjustment protocol:

1) Adjust the CONTRAST control to maximum.

2) Tune to channel 13 (Doesn't matter if there's a station there or not.)

3) Adjust the BRIGHTNESS control until the screen is almost black.

4) Now tune to channel 2 (Doesn't matter if there's a station there either.)

It seems a ground level twister strong enough to worry about will cause the screen to light up brightly when the storm is still 15 OR 20 MILES AWAY! If channel 2 has a station there it will flare up brightly and stay that way. (Apparently, even without a station there, it will flare up brightly.) When this happens --- head for your shelter pronto.

The article also suggests placing a light-actuated switch, hooked to an annunciator/buzzer, in front of the darkened screen (in a light tight box I presume.) Now you have an automatic tornado early alert alarm.

Encouraged by the method's simplicity, I built a light-actuated switch (from a circuit described in a Radio Shack booklet, #62-5010, Engineer's Mini-Notebook - 555 Timer IC circuits, $1.99), using parts in my electronics junkbox. Took my 5-inch 12vDC mini-TV (B&W), adjusted it per above, placed the switch in front of the screen, draped a black cloth over the TV + switch, and then simulated an approaching tornado by slowly increasing the brightness control, thus triggering the light switch. Of course the only way to "live test" this project is to wait for the next tornado. Unfortunately that may well come within several months (This year 2 whizzers hit nearby in January.)

Further thoughts:

1) I would think a low-end TV antenna (from Radio Shack) would be a good idea, to ensure good detection of the tornadic signal.

2) If you're interested in setting this up, buy a light switch kit for $6.50, #C4164, Electronic Goldmine, 800-445-0697, 'skill level 1" = easy. If you've never put a kit together before, find a local ham friend or teen nerd to do it for you.

3) It would seem that one could take an ordinary cheapo AM/FM pocket receiver, and modify the front end tuning circuit without much trouble to tune down to 57 MHz or thereabouts -- thus tuning directly for the sound of the video signal (It should sound something like a harsh buzz.) If this works it would eliminate expense, complexity, and clutter. Why didn't Weller use this approach? Maybe because he was concerned that those living in an area serviced by a strong channel 2 TV station would not hear the tornadic signal over the TV signal. This may well be the case in most areas of the country. However -- if Y2K is bad enough there won't be any TV signals, in which case 57 MHz should be a clear channel.

4) Has anyone else ever heard of Weller's concept? If so, any personal experience? Any opinions? Any recommendations? Comments on the AM/FM idea?


-- William J. Schenker, MD (, October 24, 1999


I can vaguely recall reading about it back in the late '60s in PE or a similar magazine.

-- Ron Schwarz (, October 25, 1999.

From an ancient, yellowed newspaper clipping that I have in my files (don't know which paper it appeared in or when, but it is a book review): __________________________________________________________

Tornado Wise! by Vinc J. Luciani. Cologne (NJ) press, 44 pages, $3.95

"This is a timely publication by a fellow who thinks he's found a way to use your home television set as a tornado detector.

First, you unplug the cable service and use the old antenna. Switch the dial to channel 13 and turn down the brightness. Then you flip the dial to channel 2 which is a frequency that will pick up large, killer-type tornadoes loaded with electrical charges.

If such a storm is nearby, say within 5 to 15 miles, your TV screen should flash bright. And if it stays bright, head for cover!

The phenomenon was discovered by an Iowa inventer named Newton Weller who found that tornadoes act much like the old radio vacuum tubes in emitting radio signals when the storms touch earth. Weller apparently has some semi-converts in the scientific community but none willing to 100 percent guarantee the method. It works best with old black-and-white TV sets and picks up very powerful tornadoes, not the garden variety dust devils.

The author, a ham radio enthusiast, believes the Weller method is better than nothing and thus sends out review copies of his booklet to spread the gospel whenever interest is likely to be high."


I have no idea if this holds water, as I've never had the opportunity to test it, thank goodness! I'd be more likely to be tuned to The Weather Channel or local TV weather radar if a tornado was coming. I do sometimes get early warnings for thunderstorms by listening to the lightning static in the background on an AM radio station.

-- Toto (not@kansas.anymore), October 25, 1999.


Please give my regards to Dorothy when you get back to Kansas.

"I'd be more likely to be tuned to The Weather Channel or local TV weather radar if a tornado was coming."

I guess I continue to get thrown for a loss whenever I suggest a post-Y2K strategy, and the response assumes: the power grid, commercial TV and radio, telephones, cellfones, the Internet, and other various & sundry critical pieces of the instructure -- will never go down, or at least will immediately come back up.

Being fundamentally lazy beyond belief, it's not my inclination to replace modern electronic conveniences with make-do's. The pin that punctures my sloth however is the miniscule chance that industry leaders, gov't leaders, and the media -- altho having a perfect track record for telling the truth up till now -- may not be telling quite the whole story re what the new millennium might bring.


Here's a cut/paste from a ham buddy of mine in S.D. -- interesting confirmation of the Weller story:

"good morning mr. dr.bill .... yes i always have turned on ch 2 however when i put the directional antenna on ch 2 it doesn't seem to make to much of a difference.. when the blasted tornado is close enough to you it is time to hit the deck,,, have seen the tv show up like that also in years past..."

Anybody else have any comments?


P.S. Re the Weather Channel, local TV, and the NWS keeping me adequately posted re tornados -- in the past 1 1/2 years since living in the South, there was at least one area that wasn't given the warning they needed --- it apparently didn't show on the radar or didn't get reported. If I recollect the one in Jackson, TN, was a surprise and also one down here in AL. Bottomline: I plan to turn on whatever I have available -- my Weatherradio, local TV, AND my Weller device. B.

-- William J. Schenker, MD (, October 25, 1999.

My brother read about this in either Popular Electronics or Popular Mechanics back when we were in grade school (late 60's). We tried it out every time there was a thunderstorm. I don't remember picking up any tornadoes with it, but the TV screen did light up during t-storms--the more severe the storm, the brighter the screen. Tornadoes are created in severe thunderstorms so if nothing else, a very bright screen could indicate that the conditions are favorable for producing tornadoes.

As far as getting any weather info from TV stations during a storm:

We have Directv--whenever a heavy cloud passes overhead, we loose the satelite signal and the TV blacks out. Actually, thats a good indicator itself that something big and nasty is lurking up there.

-- Sam Mcgee (, October 26, 1999.


In my experience [25 y], it does work. The only problem that I see with your device is that strong lightening storms also light up channel 2 [at least on our TV; a lot of false positives]. We did have CEWS [cat early warning system]. We had a cat that would immediately move to the center of the house [no windows] and crouch against the wall when tornadoes were in the area [don't know how he did this, but he was always correct]. Unfortunately, he died last year. Now, we are on our own.

Best wis

-- Z1X4Y7 (, October 26, 1999.

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