Tornadoes are fast-moving but deadly events, able to carve out a wide path of destruction in just seconds. Now, scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other organizations hope to get a better handle on how and why tornadoes form, by launching what is reportedly the largest and most ambitious tornado study ever undertaken.
The collaborative international project, known as VORTEX2, will be conducted from May 10 through June 13. Scientists will deploy radars and other ground-based instruments across a 900-mile swarth of the Great Plains region, stretching from west Texas to southwest Minnesota. This is the part of the U.S. most prone to tornadoes.
The radar fleet will include ten mobile radars, which will have resolution as fine as 300 feet and time steps as small as 15 seconds. More than three dozen portable surface weather stations will blanket the area in and near a target storm.
"We still do not completely understand the processes that lead to tornado formation and shape its development," said Roger Wakimoto, director of NCAR’s Earth Observing Laboratory and a principle investigator for VORTEX2 . "We hope that VORTEX2 will provide the data we need to learn more about the development of tornadoes, and in time help forecasters give people more advance warning before a tornado strikes."
In the New York City area where I live, the effects of coastal hurricanes are more of a concern than tornadoes. But while forecasters can now predict when and where hurricanes will strike with reasonable accuracy, current weather observation networks and radars often fail to accurately capture rapidly-changing temperature and wind changes that can spawn a tornado within minutes.
I have all too often seen video footage of the destruction tornadoes leave. Within seconds, tidy, well-kept homes are destroyed, with all the possessions families work hard to attain buried in a pile of rubble. Within seconds, families' lives are turned upside down .
Let’s hope the study can help scientists better predict when and where these deadly storms will strike next.