Tag Archives: VORTEX2

VORTEX2 Summary

Preliminary numbers show VORTEX2 intercepted about 30 supercells, and 20 weak or short-lived tornadoes.  Several of the tornadoes with a greater than EF2 ratings were observed by a few teams.  Operations occurred in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.  The fleet of 10 mobile radars and dozens of other instrumented vehicles were driven over 15,000 miles each.  Up to 75 hotel rooms were booked each night, housing up to 150 people at times.

Several intercepts included the operation of the Unmanned Aerial System, an instrumented remote control airplane that was flown through different parts of the storm.

Researchers feel VORTEX2 was successful, but the number of tornadoes during both years of the project were below average.  “We certainly sampled the most typical type of tornadic events, rather than the big tornados.  In the long run, this could turn out to be even more useful data,” reflects Lou Wicker, NSSL researcher and VORTEX2 steering committee member.

Analysis of the vast amounts of data now begins.  “Data from the original VORTEX experiment was still being discussed and published for 5-7 years after it ended.  I expect that to be the same here, at the very least,” says Wicker.

Researchers hope they will be able to have a VORTEX3 in another decade, but anticipate smaller efforts in the meantime.

VORTEX2 was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and NOAA.

VORTEX2: Storm-Scale radar data summary

This will be the beginning of a series of reports on VORTEX2 data that was presented at the American Meteorological Society Severe Local Storms Conference in mid-October.

The two Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radars (SR-1 and SR-2) operated during much of VORTEX2.  Terra Thompson, OU grad student compiled a great list of highlights from their data collection.  The dates in bold have been selected as research priorities by the SR teams.  (SPC Tornado) indicates there was a report of a tornado in preliminary SPC reports.  All of this data is available to the other VORTEX2 researchers for their own work.

  • June 5, 2009 – LaGrange, WY – Tornadic supercell (SPC Tornado)
  • June 9, 2010 – Greensburg, KS – Rotating supercell
  • May 6, 2010 – Wakeeny, KS – Small supercell, no low-level rotation.
  • May 10, 2010 – Central OK – Sampled tornadic supercell storms, but at edge of radar range (SPC Tornado)
  • May 11, 2010 – Western OK – Short lived ordinary cell, one storm had weak rotation
  • May 15, 2010 –  Artesia, NM – Good deployment, ordinary storm
  • May 17, 2010 – Artesia, NM – Long, continuous dataset of a supercell (SPC Tornado)
  • May 18, 2010 – Dumas, TX – Long continuous dataset of a supercell (SPC Tornado)
  • May 19, 2010 – Central OK – Dual-doppler of a supercell storm merger
  • May 21, 2010 – NE/WY border – Supercell storm
  • May 23, 2010 – Western KS – Supercell storms, moved quickly north
  • May 24, 2010 – Ogallala, NE – Squall line with embedded rotation
  • May 25, 2010 – Tribune, KS – SR2 captured supercell storm intensification, tornado within dual-doppler lobe, SR1 captured storm decay (SPC Tornado)
  • May 26, 2010 – NE CO – Dual doppler of isolated, slow moving supercell
  • May 29, 2010 – Cherry County, NE – Multicell storms, mesocyclone development in dual-doppler lobe
  • May 31, 2010 – Bassett, NE – Dual-doppler of low-topped pulsing supercell
  • June 2, 2010 – Oberlin, KS – Decaying supercell
  • June 3, 2010 – Creighton, NE – Multiple updrafts, cyclonic shear
  • June 6, 2010 – SW NE – Possible weak tornado, supercell transition to linear system (SPC Tornado)
  • June 7, 2010 – Scottsbluff, NE – Dual-doppler of tornadogenesis, upscale growth to MCS (SPC Tornado)
  • June 9, 2010 – NE/WY border – Decaying supercell and steady supercell
  • June 10, 2010 – Last Chance, CO – Dual-Doppler of first supercell, high-res data of second supercell leading up to tornadogenesis, data of second tornado, dual-doppler of second supercell (SPC Tornado)
  • June 11, 2010 – Limon, CO – Fast evolution from supercell to multicell, tornado cyclone develops (SPC Tornado)
  • June 12, 2010 – Perryton, TX – Broken line of convection, rotation embedded
  • June 13, 2010 – Perryton, TX – Numerous mesocyclone cycles observed, storm intensifies to have a tornado cyclone (SPC Tornado)
  • June 14, 2010 – Tahoka, TX – Supercell gust front with strong blowing dust, larger scale wrap up, flooding
  • June 16, 2010 – Oshkosh, NE – LP supercell, slow evolution, weak rotation
  • June 17, 2010 – Albert Lea, MN – Powerful supercell, circulation on multiple scales (SPC Tornado)
  • June 18, 2010 – SC Iowa – Circulation embedded in multiple updraft storm, circulation decreases intensity as storm grows upscale
  • June 19, 2010 – Concordia, KS – Dualdoppler of tornadogenesis, upscale growth to squall line (SPC Tornado)
  • June 20, 2010 – N KS – quick evolution to a linear mode
  • June 21, 2010 – Yuma, CO – Two supercells merge and become large high-precip, dual-doppler of tornado genesis (SPC Tornado)

8.3.10 Reflections

Similar to spacecraft launching on missions and ships setting sail on voyages, an armada of land-based research vehicles embarked on a historic expedition to study tornadoes in the Great Plains during the past two years.

The project was called the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2009-2010 (VORTEX2). More than a hundred researchers and students were attempting to cast a net of weather instruments around and under a supercell thunderstorm with the hope of catching a tornado as it formed.

Like space and the sea, much of the atmosphere remains a mystery. A thunderstorm is a massive monster climbing miles into the sky and stretching hundreds of miles across the land. How does such a thing begin to rotate? What causes the beast to concentrate its energy into a spinning funnel? What then draws it to the ground to destroy? When will it shrink back into the depths of the sky?

If we could find clues to the answers to these questions, could we make our tornado warnings more accurate? Could we be more specific in our alerts? Could we find something that would enable forecasters to generate warnings 30 minutes or more in advance? These questions are what drive researchers to solve the mystery of tornadoes.

The nomadic fleet included 10 mobile radars, a remote control aircraft, weather balloons, instrumented vehicles, and vehicles equipped to drop instruments in the path of the storm. VORTEX2 roamed across nine states during five weeks of spring 2009 and six weeks of 2010. The pace was grueling as teams drove an average of 500 miles a day in search of tornadoes. Over the two-year project, most vehicles logged over 25,000 miles.

But VORTEX2 did have to sleep.

It was a challenge to find a town with enough empty hotel rooms to host the crowd of up to 150 researchers and students that would stumble in late at night. “We usually got in to the rooms so late that we barely had time to eat before we needed to get some sleep,” recalls Sean Waugh, a student from the University of Oklahoma who works at NSSL. Waugh drove a minivan with instruments on the roof measuring the storm. He was also one of the ‘go-to’ fix-it guys and was adept at using duct tape. “I was constantly fixing various vehicles, so after a hard-days drive there was still more work to be done. We kept going though, knowing how important our mission was to the success of the project.”

VORTEX2 rarely spent more than one night in a town, relieving the strain on small hotels to position for the next day’s target storm. The crews would depart after the morning weather briefing to be ready to deploy at the honk of a mobile radar horn.

Being on alert at all times made eating a challenge. Fast food was often the only meal of the day as the chance for a “sit-down” meal was rare. It was estimated over 5,000 Subway sandwiches were consumed during the two-year project, while the numbers of tacos, burgers and ice cream cones remain unknown.

VORTEX2 teams have been home for over a month now, catching up on bills and yard work. Finally, there is time to reflect on the data collection phase of the project.

“Last year, we only got one, but the one we got was a very good one – a significant tornado,” said Don Burgess, a retired NOAA research meteorologist who works part-time with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies in Norman, Okla.

“We encountered quite a number of smaller, short-lived tornadoes this year,” continued Burgess, also a VORTEX2 Steering Committee member.

“These are the most prevalent type of tornadic activity,” explained Lou Wicker, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory researcher and VORTEX2 Steering Committee member along with Burgess. “And they are the most difficult to forecast, detect and warn for by the National Weather Service.”

VORTEX2 researchers gathered data on at least 30 rotating thunderstorms (supercells), and 20 weak or short-lived tornadoes in 2010.

Analysis of the vast amounts of data now begins. “We’ll be looking at this data for five to 10 years,” Wicker said. “Two years from now we’re going to have a much better feel for what we’re going to learn out of this.”

The Morning Conference Call

The Morning Conference Call
VORTEX II hold's their first official conference call of the 2010 season

Have you ever wondered what it takes to coordinate such a massive field campaign like VORTEX II?  It certainly isn’t an easy task.  With over 100 people and oftentimes over 50 separate vehicles, each with a different mission, it is imperative that everyone starts off each day on the same page.  This is where the morning conference call comes in.

Every morning the principal investigators and the VORTEX II Operations Center at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, OK, hold a teleconference to discuss the state of VORTEX II.  The conference call time is flexible depending on what that day’s mission is anticipated to be.  If a long travel is required to get into position for potential storms, the conference call is held very early.  If it appears that operations will not take place on a given day, the conference call will take place a little later in the morning to allow principal investigators an opportunity to rest.  (This project is grueling for everyone and everything involved!).

Each conference call begins with a review of the previous day’s operations and a status report on all equipment.  This is a chance for everyone to learn what pieces of equipment will be available for that day’s mission.  Because VORTEX II is such a grueling project, things break.  Additionally, some of the missions put vehicles in the way of very large hail that could result in destroyed windshields that need repairing.  If a piece of equipment is inoperable on a given day, the principal investigators must adjust the standard operations plans to ensure that the project’s science objectives are still met.  This is also the chance to discuss how things went the day before.  If things went well, principal investigators will discuss what they must do to keep things working smoothly.  If something went afoul the day before,  ideas and suggestions to improve operations are discussed.

Next comes the forecast discussions.  We begin with a look at the current day’s forecast and also carefully examine the forecast for tomorrow and beyond.  Because this project is highly dependent on being in the right place and the right moment, we have to keep a “big picture” view on things.  An example of this is when a given day has two areas of potential severe thunderstorms and tornadoes and the following day also holds potential for severe weather.  In this example, the VORTEX II crew must contemplate picking the location today that will allow them to operate the next day as well.  This means that the forecasters responsible for aiding VORTEX II achieve their research objectives must be prepared to answer detailed weather questions about not only today, but tomorrow and the next day to help the crew maximize their opportunities to collect observations on thunderstorms and tornadoes.

After the morning teleconference, which only the principal investigators attend, a briefing is given to the entire VORTEX II armada to let them know about that day’s mission.  After this briefing, the mission of the day is put into action – and the real fun begins…

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll continue to give a glimpse into what a typical day is like for the VORTEX II crew…

4.6.10 V2 gearing up for 2010 ops

Teams are gearing up for VORTEX2 2010 operations!  Here are some facts we know so far:

1.  NO media day this spring.

2.  May 1 will be the first travel day to target area where teams will meet.  We are gathering from Norman, Okla., Boulder, Colo., Lubbock, TX., and Lincoln, Neb.

3.  May 2 will be first possible mission day.

4.  The Weather Channel is tentatively planning to follow VORTEX2 for three weeks.

More to come!