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.”

2010 V2 Operations Summary

May 1 – Down

May 2 – Down

May 3 – Travel to Woodward, OK

May 4 – Down – Woodward, OK

May 5 – Travel to Hays, Ks

May 6 – GO – Elevated supercell near Oberlin, KS

May 7 – Travel to Amarillo, TX

May 8 – Down – Amarillo, TX

May 9 – Travel to Perry, OK

May 10 – GO – Fast moving supercells near Seminole, OK.  Tornado briefly sampled

May 11 – GO – Supercell intercepts south of Woodward, OK

May 12 – GO – Supercell in near Willow, OK

May 13 – Travel – Midland, TX

May 14 – GO – Monahans, TX – Tornadic supercell

May 15 – GO – Artesia, NM – Supercell

May 16 – Travel – Lubbock, TX

May 17 – GO – Artesia, NM – 2″+ hail reported

May 18 – GO – Texas Panhandle – Weakly tornadic HP supercell

May 19 – GO – NW/Central OK – Marginally tornadic supercell

May 20 – Travel – Colby, KS

May 21 – GO – North Platte, NE – Two supercells, no tornadoes during ops

May 22 – Down – North Platte, NE

May 23 – GO – Leoti, KS – Short-lived supercell with visible rotation

May 24 – GO – Gothenberg, NE – Two weak supercells

May 25 – GO – Tribune, KS – Tornadic supercell

May 26 – GO – Hudson, CO – Long-lived, slow-moving isolated supercell

May 27 – Travel to Spearfish, SD

May 28 – Down

May 29 – GO – Scrubbed

May 30 – Down – North Platte, NE

May 31 – Travel

June 1 – GO – York, NE – Scrubbed

June 2 – GO – Benkelman, NE – Supercell

June 3 – GO – Niobrara, NE – Outflow dominated supercell

June 4 – GO – Kearney, NE – Scrubbed

June 5 – GO – Omaha, NE – Non-supercell

June 6 – GO – Ogallala, NE – Two supercells

June 7 – GO – Scottsbluff, NE – Two tornadic supercells

June 8 – GO – Ft. Morgan, CO

June 9 – GO – Torrington, WY – Multi-radar observations of supercell – good null tornadogenesis case

June 10 – GO – Last Chance, CO – Data collected on two supercells.  UAS flights through inflow and RFD.  Last Chance, CO tornado.

June 11 – GO – Seibert, CO – Long-lived, weakly tornadic supercell

June 12 – GO – Morse, TX – Outflow dominated supercell

June 13 – GO – Booker, TX – Tornadogenesis data collected on elevated supercell

June 14 – GO – Outflow-dominated supercell – significant landspout reported

June 15 – Lubbock, TX

6.13.10 The feeling on not great operations days

Feels like Groundhog Day…complete with the Sonny and Cher song – “I got you babe.”  My iPhone alarm goes off – I want to be up before someone wakes me up.  Turn on the Weather Channel. Get up, pack, eat breakfast, check the weather, go to the meeting, update Facebook, Tweet, race to the staging site, wait at the staging site, deploy, deploy, DEPLOY!  Hail!  Too dark to take good pics if you are an amateur like me, low clouds, rotation wrapped in rain, storms merge, sun sets, operations conclude, update Facebook, Tweet.  Drive drive drive drive to hotel.  Sometimes it’s close.  Most times, it is not – but we are trying to position for the next day.  Wait in line.  Get your key.  Go to your room.  Oh yeah!  Dinner!  Walk to whatever stays open after 10.  Buy fast food, or eat the soggy Subway you bought for lunch 8 hours ago.  Take back to room.   Turn on Weather Channel.  Blog.  Unpack only what you need, including what you need tomorrow, repack.  Turn off Weather Channel.  Goodnight!

5.12.10 V2 Groundhog Day

The idea for this post was born during the second week of VORTEX2, but just posted now.

Feels like Groundhog Day…complete with the Sonny and Cher song – “I got you babe.”  My iPhone alarm goes off – I want to be up before media calls wake me up.  Turn on the Weather Channel.  Get up, pack, eat breakfast, check the weather, go to the meeting, get media requests for the day, assign media, race to the staging site.  Get lunch, fill up woth gas, wait at the staging site, wait, wait, wait, target, deploy, deploy, DEPLOY!  Hail!  Too dark to take good pics if you are an amateur like me, low clouds, rotation wrapped in rain, storms merge, sun sets, operations conclude.  Drive drive drive drive to hotel.  Sometimes it’s close.  Most times, it is not – but we are trying to position for the next day.  Wait in line.  Get your key.  Go to your room.  Oh yeah!  Dinner!  Walk to whatever stays open after 10.  Buy fast food, or eat the soggy Subway you bought for lunch 8 hours ago.  Take back to room.  Turn on Weather Channel.  Unpack only what you need, including what you need tomorrow.  Check for bugs and other unwelcome room occupants.  Fall asleep to Weather Channel.  Goodnight!

6.12.10 VORTEX2: The perils of storm chasing for six weeks straight

Yes, I haven’t posted in awhile.

Why?  Because I am STILL recovering from my two weeks in the field, granted it was the first two weeks of VORTEX2.

A short recap of the perils, in no particular order:

1.  Motels that advertise “Lazyboys in every room!”  Okay, not really a peril, but…curious.

2.  Hail – makes your ears ring, causes you to cringe, and ruins windshields.

3.  Farm roads.  Farm roads, when dry, are great.  Farm roads, when wet, are a trap.  No vehicle, no matter how many wheels you have driving has traction.  It is like waterskiing in a 4WD.  Down hills, and there is no way to get up.  Deep ditches on each side running full with water.  Pulling corn stalks and using car mats for traction.  The upside is that farmers tend to be very friendly, though my experience of getting out of the mud should be a ride and Universal Studios.

5.  Intermittent cell service to get help when stuck on said farm road.  Hubby worried…especially when I asked him to check radar for tornadoes.

6.  Late night food.  Sounds good at the time…

7.  Addiction to The Weather Channel because they are with you and really are killing themselves to involve the public in the science.

8.  Addiction to “Internet in motion” and SASSI.  It is a hard reality to then chase by yourself with only an iPhone and a 11 year old navigator.

9.  Laundry.  Seriously, what do the astronauts do without a laundromat?

10. Feels like Groundhog Day…complete with the Sonny and Cher song – “I got you babe.” See next post.

June 10, 2010: Last Chance, CO

5.24.10 Chase StormDawg on Tornadoes, elephants and dinosaurs?

Chase StormDawg, special weather science correspondent from VORTEX2, is starting to answer questions from students and science teachers around the country.  The questions and answers will be posted here as they come in!

Question: Could a tornado ever pick up a grown elephant?  Also, do you think a tornado ever passed over a huge dinosaur without hurting or killing it?

Chase StormDawg: Tornadoes have been known to toss train cars and tanker trucks weighing up to 10 tons. Since an adult elephant weighs 3 to 5 tons, it is certainly possible that a tornado could pick up and move a grown elephant. As for the dinosaurs, scientific research suggests that the brontosaurus weighed over 30 tons. That would make him very difficult to move! In addition, we are still trying to study what the climate must have been like during the period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. I don’t know of any research that studies whether dinosaurs had to deal with tornadoes. But, if they did, they would have needed very large tornado shelters!

Send your questions to Chase StormDawg at nssl.outreach@noaa.gov, or chasestormdawg@gmail.com

5.18.2010 Supercell intercept in the west Texas panhandle.

A single supercell thunderstorm developed in far western Texas panhandle and tracked east toward Oklahoma.

A tornado developed to the north and west of the armada, and was briefly visible by several VORTEX2 members before becoming wrapped in rain.  Mobile mesonets collected some data, but the rotation was too far away from a decent road network to be sampled.

VORTEX2 teams again ran into extremely large hail as the storm tracked along the only main east-west road in the area.