Category Archives: VORTEX2 News

VORTEX2 makes science history in 2009

P6050025_1VORTEX2 research teams made science history by deploying 70 instruments, including 10 mobile radars and at least 30 other vehicles, on a tornadic supercell for the first time. Detailed data were collected from 20 minutes before the tornado formed until its demise. The tornado, intercepted in LaGrange, Wyoming on June 5, 2009, is now the most intensely examined tornado in history.

VORTEX2 is also historic in its scope. There were 150-200 people working in VORTEX2 at one time during five weeks of the 2009 operations. Ten mobile radars, 13 mobile mesonets, 4 mobile ballooning systems, 4 particle probes, 24 sticknets, 14 tornado pods, and photogrammetry teams were choreographed to measure all parts of a supercell thunderstorm. Data were collected on 11 supercells, including one tornadic supercell. The V2 armada traveled over 10,000 miles through nine states during the experiment.

2009 was a historically low tornado year in the V2 domain. The one tornado intercept was well below the VORTEX2 goal of five. Researchers remained encouraged because they are also trying to understand why some supercells produce tornadoes, and others do not. Three supercells very close to producing tornadoes were documented during operations and offer valuable “null” cases.

VORTEX2 researchers are convinced that learning more about how tornadoes form may significantly improve tornado forecasts and warning times. VORTEX2 is a two year experiment and will operate for six weeks in 2010.

VORTEX2 is funded by the National Science Foundation ($10M) and NOAA NSSL ($3M). Participants include researchers, students, forecasters, and staff from across the U.S. and around the world. The unprecedented collaboration includes NOAA NSSL, Rasmussen Systems, and the Center for Severe Weather Research, Penn State University, University of Oklahoma, CIMMS, University of Colorado, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, NCAR, Lyndon State College, University of Massachusetts, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Nebraska, Purdue University, SUNY Oswego, and NOAA NWS and WDTB. Environment Canada, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute were also involved in the project.

VORTEX2 is a two-year project, with six weeks of operations planned for 2010.

VORTEX2 teams adjust to the weather

The VORTEX2 team is making the most of a quiet atmosphere by using the opportunity to practice deployment on non-tornadic storms during the lull in the supercell activity.  VORTEX2 researchers believe there is still much to learn about thunderstorms, and since the collection of unique and diverse instruments is unprecedented, they do not plan to sqander this opportunity.

While VORTEX2 is still operating, the NSSL VORTEX2 media vehicle has been grounded until the end of May.  “The longterm forecast for the VORTEX2 domain is not favorable for severe weather or supercells,” says Keli Tarp, NOAA Weather Partners Public Affairs.  Those scheduled for seats in the media vehicle will be accommodated when weather conditions change.

National Tornado Experiment to Begin in May

Mobile Mesonet during VORTEX95
Mobile Mesonet during VORTEX95

A collaborative nationwide project exploring the origins, structure and evolution of tornadoes will occur from May 10 through June 13 in the central United States. The project, Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment2 (VORTEX2 or V2), is the largest and most ambitious attempt to study tornadoes in history and will involve more than 50 scientists and 40 research vehicles, including 10 mobile radars.

“Data collected from V2 will help researchers understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado formation,” according to Louis Wicker, research meteorologist with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and V2 co-principal investigator.

Scientists will sample the environment of supercell thunderstorms – violent thunderstorms capable of producing damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes – that form over more than 900 miles of the central Great Plains. Areas of focus include southern South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma. The V2 Operations Center will be at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla.

Preliminary results from V2 are scheduled for presentation at Penn State University during fall 2009. At that time, organizers will begin planning details of the second phase of V2 scheduled for May 1 – June 15, 2010.

V2 is a $11.9 million program funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation, 10 universities, and three non-profit organizations.

The original VORTEX program, operated in the central Great Plains during 1994 and 1995, documented the entire life cycle of a tornado for the first time in history. Recent improvements in National Weather Service severe weather warning statistics may be partly due to the application of VORTEX findings. V2 will build on the progress made during VORTEX and further improve tornado warnings and short-term severe weather forecasts.

“An important finding from the original VORTEX experiment was that the factors responsible for causing tornadoes happen on smaller time and space scales than scientists had thought,” said Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology. “New advances will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm’s wind, temperature and moisture environment and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form – and how they can be more accurately predicted.”

Scientists and students throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia that will work with the V2 program include the Center for Severe Weather Research, Rasmussen Systems, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, OU/NOAA Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, NSF-sponsored National Center for Atmospheric Research, Penn State University, University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University, Lyndon State College, University of Colorado, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, University of Massachusetts, University of Nebraska, Environment Canada, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

For a complete list of participating scientists, and to learn more about the experiment, visit the V2 site and the official project Web site Offsite link warning.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $6.06 billion. Its funds reach all 50 states through grants to more than 1,900 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

VORTEX2 Planning Meeting

A VORTEX2 planning meeting was held in Boulder, Colo. February 23–24. VORTEX2 Principal Investigators gave short presentations on their planned projects, strategies, and scientific objectives. A roundtable discussion followed to address questions, concerns and logistics. Participants also talked about operations details, information flow, and deployment issues. A post-V2 meeting will be held during Fall 2009 to share preliminary results.

NSSL Gears Up for VORTEX2 in 2009 and 2010

VORTEX-95 photo of Dimmitt, TX tornadoNSSL is gearing up for the largest-ever field program to study how tornadoes form and dissipate: VORTEX-2 (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment – 2). VORTEX-2 is set to run from May 10 – June 15 of 2009 and 2010. V2 is a NOAA/National Science Foundation (NSF) funded program bringing collaborators from around the United States. Key players are NOAA’s NSSL, the University of Oklahoma (OU), OU’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, the Center for Severe Weather Research, Penn State, and Texas Tech Univeristy.

The legacy VORTEX 1 program collected unprecedented datasets on tornadoes in the central Great Plains during 1994 and 1995. Scientists hope to build on the succes of VORTEX1 through V2, ultimately leading to even further improvements in tornado warning skill, and short-term forecasts of severe weather. and is a follow-on to the VORTEX project of the mid 1990’s designed to study how tornadoes form.

VORTEX-2 is a carefully planned field experiment that will target a potentially tornadic storm and canvass the area with an armada of instruments including radars, mobile vehicles equipped with instruments, instrumented weather balloons, and research aircraft.

The project will focus on answering new questions about how, when, and why tornadoes form, why some thunderstorms produce tornadoes and others do not, the structure of tornadoes, and the relationship of tornadic winds to damage. Answers to these questions will help improve forecasts and warnings of tornadoes.

NSSL is providing leadership and equipment for VORTEX-2. During Spring 2008, organizers will be outfitting vehicles, testing equipment and upgrading communications. A test run on V2 technologies is planned from 15 May-15 June to identify and solve any problems.

“VORTEX1 made a significant difference,” says NSSL researcher Lou Wicker, “But now we have a lot more technology to make real-time predictions, which can increase warning times.”

Background: For over 30 years, researchers at NSSL and their colleagues have been working to unravel the mysteries of tornado formation. VORTEX-2 will provide valuable data to help complete the picture begun with the original VORTEX project in 1994 and 1995. VORTEX-2 is receiving significant funding from the NSF and NOAA.

Significance: Understanding how and why tornadoes form will lead to improved forecasts and warnings of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes saving lives and property.

SMART-Radar Team Wins NSF Major Research Instrumentation Award

SMART-R Team and Vehicles

The NSSL and University of Oklahoma Shared Mobile Atmospheric and Teaching Radar (SMART-radar) team was awarded the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Award to upgrade one of the mobile C-band radars with dual-polarimetric capability. SR-2 will be taken apart during Fall-Winter 2008 and rebuilt with the ability to perform simultaneous transmit/receive dual-polarization measurements. The radar is expected to be fully functional again in time for the proposed VORTEX-2 project beginning in April 2009.

Background: The goals of the MRI Program are to: support the acquisition, through purchase, upgrade or development, of major state-of-the-art instrumentation for research, research training and integrated research/education activities at organizations; improve access to and increase use of modern research and research training instrumentation by scientists, engineers and graduate and undergraduate students; enable academic departments or cross-departmental units to create well-equipped learning environments that integrate research with education; foster the development of the next generation of instrumentation for research and research training; and promote partnerships between academic researchers and private sector instrument developers.

Significance: Radars with dual polarization capabilities (radio waves that are sent out both horizontally and vertically) can more accurately determine precipitation types and amounts.