Meteorologist uses Starlink RV to live stream tornadoes and save lives

Award-winning meteorologist Nick Stewart told Interesting Engineering Starlink RV "did not have a single hiccup" during a recent storm chase.
Chris Young
Stock photo: Tornado outbreak near Dodge City, KS, USA on May 24, 2016.
Stock photo: Tornado outbreak near Dodge City, KS, USA on May 24, 2016.

Francis Lavigne-Theriault/iStock 

  • Emmy award-winning meteorologist Nick Stewart recently used Starlink RV to live stream a tornado storm chase.
  • Stewart has previously faced close calls while storm chasing, with one encounter with hurricane-force winds leaving a bad scar on his hand.
  • Stewart said Starlink RV allowed him to live stream storms that wouldn't have been possible with regular cell coverage.

SpaceX's Starlink internet service has allowed civilians in Ukraine to stay in touch with their loved ones amid Russia’s ongoing invasion. It has also helped users in other parts of the world live an idyllic off-grid lifestyle.

Recently, the satellite internet service has also helped an Emmy award-winning meteorologist and storm chaser Nick Stewart to live stream a tornado. 

As Stewart pointed out in an interview with Interesting Engineering (IE), the Starlink RV internet he used for his latest storm chase on Jan. 16 "did not have a single hiccup," and it "was better than any cell data I've used."

Most importantly, the service could help him keep the public safe by informing them about life-threatening oncoming storms in rural areas.

Storm chasing to educate and save lives

Stewart began storm chasing as a pastime during his teenage years, partly for the thrill of chasing down massive tornadoes and partly for educational purposes. 

"I really started storm chasing as both an educational activity to learn more about the weather and to help fulfill my curiosity of seeing a tornado," Stewart told IE.

"I started in high school and continued through college."

The meteorologist, who now chases storms and forecasts the weather professionally for Iowa’s News Now, said that "learning meteorology in a textbook is one thing," but "actually forecasting for severe weather and winter storms and trying to position yourself to be in the worst of it is worth way more."

Ultimately, Stewart continued storm chasing into his professional career, in part, due to the fact it can save lives. It can do this by helping to provide data that helps understand storms better, as well as a compelling alert for the public, who may otherwise ignore weather warnings.

In 2010, for example, a study by a Michigan State University scientist showed that an alarming 37 percent of surveyed respondents didn’t understand that a warning is the most urgent National Weather Service statement during severe weather.

"As I entered the field professionally, storm chasing and providing live video to viewers helped back up our warning about a storm," Stewart explained.

"Saying a tornado is possible is one thing based on radar data, but actually seeing a tornado live on TV provides such a higher level of danger to the viewer they are more willing to take shelter."

It’s a risky business, Stewart explained, but it’s one that has bagged him an Emmy award. On May 24, 2019, he and his team used a LiveU coverage unit, which connects to several cell providers at once, to live stream a tornado approaching Iowa City, from its formation to its demise. The video can be viewed above.

"This was probably the best example we have ever done where everything worked perfectly," Stewart told IE. "I was awarded an Emmy alongside our team that day for breaking news coverage of that tornado."

Is Starlink the best option for storm chasers?

Though cell coverage provided by the LiveU unit helped Stewart and his team win an Emmy, the meteorologist is now using SpaceX's Starlink RV service. Stewart explained that the service’s impressive capabilities allow him to live report on storms it would be impossible to cover using cell service.

On the day of the Emmy award-winning coverage, Stewart told IE, "we were close to Iowa City, a larger metropolitan area, so we did not have issues streaming," adding, "We had great cell phone service."

However, the day that prompted Stewart to get Starlink came on March 5, 2022, as several tornadoes struck the state of Iowa.

On that day, "I watched a mile-wide EF-4 tornado affect the city of Winterset and race northeastward toward my viewing area," he said.

“Another tornado quickly approached Tama, Iowa, but we did not have cell phone service. We did not have the ability to stream it live on air, thus hurting our ability to warn the public and help our station provide life-saving information."

"This was a more rural area that lacks better cell phone service," Stewart continued.

"After this, when the portable RV version of Starlink was released, I did not hesitate to get it."

Last month, Stewart put his Starlink RV storm-chasing rig to the test for the first time.

The entire video is shared above, with the action starting around the 56-minute mark. "On January 16, 2023, I streamed a live tornado on social media using Starlink, and I did not have a single hiccup," he said.

"I tried to use our LiveU at one time and could not, but when I hooked it up via WiFi to my Starlink router, we were good to go. That in itself proved its worthiness."

An award-winning meteorologist's advice for aspiring storm chasers

Starlink’s high-speed, on-the-move service is increasingly democratizing the internet for interesting use cases such as storm chasing and impressive travel content creation.

But can anyone go out and chase a tornado with a Starlink dishy strapped to their vehicle? And more importantly, should they?

It's worth noting that Stewart is a professional with years of experience and expert knowledge in weather systems. However, the meteorologist did explain that "some of the best storm chasers out there don't have a formal education or degree in meteorology."

Still, he urged caution and warned that "when it comes to storm chasing, never try and do it alone without some experience or guidance. You can find yourself in a really bad situation really quickly without the understanding of how the weather cooperates and will move."

In fact, Stewart himself has faced some dangerous close calls while out storm chasing. "Most recently, on Aug. 10, 2020, the costliest thunderstorm disaster in the US hit the state of Iowa," he explained.

"It was a storm type known as a derecho. It caused wind gusts up to 140mph, and we were right in the middle of it. Live on TV, we lost the windows in our car to the really strong wind gusts."

"I got cut up pretty good by the glass, but we got through it and covered the storm's aftermath," Stewart continued. "I probably needed to get stitches but did not, and I have a pretty bad scar on my hand from that day."

Stewart’s standard Starlink dishy — which he tested on his vehicle before SpaceX announced its Starlink RV service — made its way through a few storms surprisingly unscathed, though.

"While I wouldn’t advise it," Stewart said, "I did once drive through a hail core with baseball-sized hailstones falling, and my Starlink dish did not take any damage."

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