Storm Chasers Use ThinkPads, Trucks Full of Mobile Tech

Lenovo’s providing ThinkPads, IdeaPads and desktops to the non-profit Center for Severe Weather Research. They’re using mobile Doppler radars, trucks full of Lenovo computers and a lot of brain power to improve how scientists predict tornadoes and other severe weather phenomenon.

The researchers are trying to ultimately save lives, but in order to do that they need to drive directly into the storms that almost everyone else is fleeing.

Rob Bushway from GottaBeMobile spent a day with CSWR founder Joshua Wurman, who showed off all of the cool gear they use to track and intercept storms. Besides all of the Lenovo gear, Wurman’s team uses several mobile phones, wireless broadband cards and satellite phones to stay connected. He points out that he uses multiple wireless carriers because none of them have comprehensive coverage in rural areas.

Rob was kind enough to put together a comprehensive video of how CSWR uses mobile technology.

The team uses the following notebooks:

ThinkPad T400 laptops Used in the instrumented Probe and Disdrometer vehicles, these laptops play an important role in transferring data collected through the dozen weather pods that are placed in the path of a storm. These pods measure weather data, such as wind speed and temperature. The laptops also power diagnostic software used to test and monitor weather stations in the field.

ThinkPad W500 laptops Attached to the mounts inside the Probe and Disdrometer vehicles, the laptops run navigation, tracking and mapping software.

ThinkPad W700 laptops These laptops are used for housing a variety of radar and mapping applications for analyzing and displaying graphically demanding data and video without being tied to a desk. The laptops are also being used for public presentations of preliminary science results as well as in the field for a first analysis of data.

ThinkPad X200s laptops For lightweight and portability, the team is using these laptops to conduct tornado damage assessments.

IdeaPad S10 netbooks Individual scientists are using the netbooks as a quick and convenient way to check Internet weather forecasts and email.


As you can imagine, the team works outdoors a lot. All of Lenovo’s Thinkpads are semi-rugged, which means they can stand up to minor drops, spills and dirt without missing a beat. One ThinkPad that’s particularly useful for outdoor and in-vehicle usage is the T400 with a 680-nit outdoor display. As you can see in the above photo, CSWR drivers need to be able to read the display while driving.

Lenovo sent us a T400 with an outdoor display so we could try one ourselves. I lined up my MacBook Pro, HP 2730p and the T400 on a bench in my garden and turned set all of them to maximum brightness. I could easily read the T400’s display , but using it at full brightness really taxes the battery. The 2730p has a matte display, which makes it more readable than the glossy MacBook Pro, but it isn’t nearly as readable as the T400. The MacBook Pro is pretty much worthless outdoors because the screen is highly reflective.  t400_outdoor

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