NSSL Researchers Present Preliminary Results from VORTEX2

The data collection phase for the historic VORTEX2 project wrapped up operations on June 15, 2010 in New Mexico. About 40 instrumented vehicles each logged more than 25,000 miles across the Great Plains in search of supercell thunderstorms. The mission of VORTEX2 was to collect data that will help explain how, when, where and why tornadoes form, or why sometimes they don’t. The project was designed to observe all the scales of motion from the thunderstorm down to the tornado.

VORTEX2 teams logged 36 consecutive days in the field in 2009 and 46 in 2010. Researchers have selected 20 of the best data collection days for more detailed study.

The NSSL/Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorology (CIMMS) team operating the NOAA X-Pol (NOXP) dual-polarized radar reported 81 deployments over the two-year period. The team captured data on 11 tornadoes as they formed, and 14 tornadoes during some part of their life cycle. In all, approximately 36 supercell thunderstorms were sampled; 24 did not produce tornadoes, but 12 did.

Another NSSL/CIMMS and the University of Oklahoma team operated the Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radars and reported similar numbers. NSSL’s Field Command vehicle was used to help coordinate operations in the field along with NSSL’s fleet of instrumented vehicles including mobile mesonets, balloon sounding trucks, and a vehicle to deploy disdrometers.

Several intercepts included the operation of the University of Colorado’s Unmanned Aerial System, an instrumented remote control airplane that was flown through different parts of the storm. This was the first time an unmanned aircraft has been used to collect data close to supercells.

Researches are using the vast reservoir of VORTEX2 data to advance their understanding of tornado behavior. Results are expected to help forecasters extending tornado warning lead times and improve tornado warning skill to protect the public.