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.