Growing up in a farming family, Brad Emel learned at an early age what it was like to live at the mercy of the weather. He can also remember a few storms that terrified him as a child, as well as the movie “Twister.”
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the software engineer developed a passion and interest in storms that led him into storm spotting at the age of 16 with the Emergency Service Disaster Agency in Sullivan, Illinois.
His interest continued into his college years at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale as he decided to join the city of Carbondale’s Emergency Management Association. Five years later, when he started his computer programming career in Mattoon, he also joined the Coles County Emergency Management Association. He has nearly 20 years of experience as a storm spotter.
Today, he is a trained spotter with the National Weather Service. He said the employees at the National Weather Service in Lincoln know him.
This same passion and love of a beautiful storm gifted him an entrepreneurial spirit in the creation of a storm chasing video device, the MesoDome.
Emel said the idea was generated after he and a friend spent about 10 days chasing storms in the Great Plains area several years ago. The computer company they had been working with failed financially, and they decided to make the trip. He said they witnessed probably 40 to 50 storms in the regions between South Dakota and Roswell, N.M.
“It was a great experience and a lot of fun,” he said. “We slept in our cars. You have to be in love with the open road to be able to do something like that.”
While chasing storms, the software engineer/farmer said he realized that tornadoes move fast: He said it was difficult to get good video by hanging out the window. He said with the MesoDome, the storm chaser can just drive toward the storm. The video camera rotates 360 degrees, he said.
In addition, he shared the basis for his device’s name, ‘Meso’ in ‘MesoDome’ stands for a ‘mesocyclone,’ which is the parent rotation in a thunderstorm that can produce a tornado.”
He offers three versions of the unit on his website, mesodome.com. The unit provides an effective way of recording tornadoes.
“There’s nothing like this,” he said. “I am the only person who is manufacturing this for storm chasing. Obviously, this is a very niche-based unit.”
This unit, initially created with the storm chaser in mind, has become a favorite with national television stations and the Weather Channel. His primary customers, he said, were storm chasers in the Dixie Alley region. This week his client base was extended into another area as he was getting ready to deliver four MesoDomes to be used at the University of Alabama-Huntsville for the purpose of government research.
He said he started making the MesoDomes in his garage about four or five years ago.
“People with the right media contacts can sell high quality tornado video for as much as $500 a second,” he said. “I realized it would be more profitable to sell equipment that captures the best video instead of fighting the crowds for the best shot.”
The software is the key to all of it, he said. It integrates GPS, a gyroscope, magnetometer, mathematics, a video camera, and a Windows-based joystick.
MesoDomes are mounted on the chaser vehicle and allow the storm spotter to monitor it from inside via a laptop and the joystick. The vehicle becomes the tripod, his website states.
The Weather Channel has purchased three of these units, and 90 percent of his business goes to television stations, he said.
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