Tornado Research Could Give You Extra Time to Reach Safety

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High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Scientists involved in the largest tornado field experiment in history are doing their best to give you every extra minute to seek shelter from dangerous tornadoes.

The average time between when a tornado warning is issued and a when a tornado touches ground is 14 minutes. That may be enough time for some, but not for everyone:  schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other large-gathering places need all the time they can get to move people into safe quarters.

Now, NOAA scientists and their partners from a dozen organizations  have launched a massive tornado research project that could put more time on your side.

NSSL's Field Command vehicle will coordinate all of the research instruments as they near a supercell thunderstorm, including the Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radar.

NSSL's Field Command vehicle will coordinate all of the research instruments, including the Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radar.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

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 100 scientists and 40 research vehicles, including 10 mobile radars.

For five weeks in May and June, scientists will sample the environments of supercell thunderstorms  — violent thunderstorms capable of producing damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes — that form over much of the U.S. but are more common in the central Great Plains known as “tornado alley.”

This collaborative, nationwide research effort is jointly funded by NOAA, the National Science Foundation, 10 universities, and three nonprofit organizations.

Uncovering the Secret Lives of Tornadoes

Weather instruments attached to the top of minivans are called Mobile Mesonets.

Weather instruments attached to the top of minivans are called Mobile Mesonets.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Researchers close in on the massive storms using a fleet of mobile radars, weather balloons, and minivans mounted with weather instruments to collect important storm data.

Data collected from VORTEX2 is expected help clarify how, when, and why some thunderstorms produce tornadoes and others do not. They also hope to more thoroughly understand how tornadoes are structured and how tornado-force winds relate to damage.

VORTEX2 researchers are convinced that learning more about how tornadoes form may significantly improve tornado forecasts and warning times. They hope that in the future, storm forecasts will include details about a tornado’s strength and lifespan.

All Tornadoes, All the Time Online

Scientists from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) are using Facebook, Twitter, and a blog called V2Talk to increase public awareness of severe weather safety, share the cutting-edge science behind the VORTEX2, and inspire the next generation of researchers.

One enthusiastic Facebook fan, “Karla from Virginia,” wrote in a recent post: “Safe travels — I hope you intercept some serious weather soon!  Without that data, you won’t be able to learn how to keep us safer.”

You can follow the progress of V2 scientists as they traverse “tornado alley” by visiting the VORTEX2 Web site. NOAA logo.