For most of his life, Anton Seimon has been fascinated by the dynamics and formation of some of the strongest forces on Earth – tornadoes. Yet the scientific community did not know for sure whether tornadoes formed from the sky down or from the ground up. Until Anton turned to crowdsourcing for an answer.

From the age of eight years old Anton was an avid reader of books on mountaineering, volcanoes and storms – all created by major forces of nature. It was almost inevitable that his childhood fascination would become an adult vocation, and today Anton is a leading atmospheric and environmental scientist: and a “storm chaser.”

Recent scientific advancements have contributed greatly to understanding tornadoes, and that they are the offshoot of a much larger air system of a rotating thunderstorm called a supercell storm. The accepted wisdom had been that tornadoes formed through warm air rising in to colder air in a storm cloud above it. Inside the supercell cloud, variable wind speeds and directions could encourage the warmer air to rotate, and on gaining sufficient strength it would re-emerge back through the base layer of the cloud and extend down to the ground. Though nobody was certain.

How Crowdsourcing Solved the Riddle of a Twister

To use an incident that was bound to stick in people’s minds, Anton’s team used social media to reach anyone who might have seen the largest tornado ever recorded, in El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2013. This beast was 4 kms across, rather than the more normal 100 metres. It sadly took the lives of some of Anton’s friends and teammates, and gaining a better understanding of tornadoes took on an element of a personal debt to their memory and sacrifice.

With greater understanding, better advice can be given, trajectory predictions can be more accurate, resulting in less loss of life and damage.

The most significant discovery was that everyone who was at El Reno and witnessed it in real time said the tornado started from the ground up, contrary to conventional wisdom.

Among his other accomplishments, Anton is also a National Geographical Explorer, and you can see and hear him talk about his passion for storms and his problem-solving crowdsourcing exercise in a National Geographical video.