VORTEX projects

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NSSL vehicles on Project VORTEX, equipped with surface measurement equipment

The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment or VORTEX, field projects study tornadoes. VORTEX1 was the first time scientists completely researched the entire evolution of a tornado, enabling a greater understanding of the processes involved with tornadogenesis. VORTEX2 is using enhanced technology allowing scientists to improve forecasting capabilities to improve advance warnings to residents. VORTEX2 is seeking to explain how tornadoes form, how long they last and why they last that long, and what causes them to dissipate.

The VORTEX 2 project concluded on July 6, 2010.[1]


Dimmitt Tornado1 - NOAA.jpg
Project Vortex. The Dimmitt Tornado. National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)
Date 1994 and 1995
Location Tornado Alley
Also known as Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 1
Outcome Documented an entire tornado enabled the NWS to provide severe weather warnings with a thirteen-minute lead time, and reduce false alarms by ten percent
Website http://vortex2.org
Date 10 May 2009 – 13 June 2009 and 1 May 2010 – 15 June 2010
Location Tornado Alley
Also known as Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2
Website http://vortex2.org
VORTEX2 field command vehicle with tornado in sight. Wyoming, LaGrange. 2009

The VORTEX1 project sought to understand how a tornado is produced by deploying around 18 vehicles that were equipped with customized instruments used to measure and analyze the weather around a tornado. The project has also stated that it is interested in why some supercells produce tornadoes while others do not. It also concerned itself with why some supercells form violent tornadoes versus weak tornadoes. The original project took place in 1994 and 1995, while several smaller studies were conducted from 1996 to 2008. VORTEX1 documented the entire life cycle of a tornado for the first time.[2] Severe weather warnings improved after the research collected from VORTEX 1 and many believe that VORTEX1 contributed to this improvement.[3] “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. 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,” said Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology.[4][5]

VORTEX had the capability to fly doppler weather radar above the tornado approximately every five minutes.[6]

VORTEX research allowed the National Weather Service to provide tornado warnings to residents with a lead time of 13 minutes.[7] A federal research meteorologist, Don Burgess, estimates that the "false alarms" pertaining to severe weather by the National Weather Service have declined by 10 percent.[8]

The movie Twister was at least partially inspired by the VORTEX project.[9]


VORTEX2 was an expanded second VORTEX project with field phases from 10 May until 13 June 2009 and 1 May until 15 June 2010. VORTEX2's goals were studying why some thunderstorms produce tornadoes while others do not, how to make more accurate and longer lead time tornado forecasts and warnings, and tornado structure.[10] VORTEX2 is by far the largest and most ambitious tornado study ever with over 100 scientific participants from many different universities and research laboratories.

"We still do not completely understand the processes that lead to tornado formation and shape its development. 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," says Roger Wakimoto, now director of the National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and a principal investigator for VORTEX2.[7]

"Then you can get first responders to be better prepared—police, fire, medical personnel, even power companies. Now, that's not even remotely possible," said Stephan P. Nelson, a program director in the atmospheric sciences division of the National Science Foundation.[6]

Joshua Wurman, president of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado proposes, "if we can increase that lead time from 13 minutes to half an hour, then the average person at home could do something different. Maybe they can seek a community shelter instead of just going into their bathtub. Maybe they can get their family to better safety if we can give them a longer warning and a more precise warning."[8]

VORTEX2 deployed 50 vehicles customized with mobile radar, including the Doppler On Wheels (DOW) radars, SMART Radars, the NOXP radar, a fleet of instrumented vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, deployable instrument arrays called Sticknet and Podnet, and mobile weather balloon launching equipment. Over 100 scientists and crew will research tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms in the Tornado Alley of the United States plains between Texas and Minnesota. A number of institutions are involved in the US$11.9 million project: Finland, the National Weather Service, the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environment Canada, universities across the United States, and the NOAA Storm Prediction Center.

The project included DOW6, DOW7, Rapid-Scan DOW, SMART-RADARs, NOXP, UMASS-X, UMASS-W, and CIRPAS for their mobile radar contingent. The Doppler on Wheels are supplied by the Center for Severe Weather Research CSWR, and the SMART-Radars from the University of Oklahoma. National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) has supplied the NOXP radar, as well as several other radar units from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Office of Naval Research and Texas Tech University (TTU). NSSL and CSWR are supplying mobile mesonets. Mobile radiosonde launching vehicles are provided by NSSL, NCAR, and the State University of New York at Oswego (SUNY Oswego). There are quite a few other deployable state of the art instrumentation, such as Sticknets from TTU, Tornado PODS from CSWR, and four disdrometers from University of Colorado CU, and University of Illinois.[11][12]

VORTEX2 technology allowed trucks with radar to be placed in and near tornadic storms and allowed continuous observations of the tornado activity. Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma said, "We will be able to distinguish between rain, hail, dust, debris, flying cows."[6]

As well photogrammetry teams, damage survey teams, unmanned aircraft and weather balloon launching vans will help to surround the tornadoes and thunderstorms.[11][12] The equipment amassed will allow three dimensional pictures of the storms to be collected with radars and other instruments every 75 seconds, and resolution of the tornado and tornadic storm cells as close as 200 feet (61 m).[7][13]

Scientists met May 10 and held a class which taught the crews how to launch the Tornado Pods which will need to be sent off within 45 seconds.[14] Vortex 2 is equipped with 12 Tornado PODS which are instruments mounted onto 1 meter (3.3 ft) towers which measure wind velocity and direction. The aim is that the measurements are taken in the centre of the tornado.[15] Once the pods are deployed, the teams repeat the process at the next location until finally the teams return to the south of the tornado to retrieve the pods with the recorded data. The process is then repeated again. This happens within 2 miles (3.2 km) or 4 minutes away from the tornado itself.[14]

The team will have 24 two-meter (7 ft) high portable sticknets which can be set up at various locations around tornado storm cells to measure wind fields, provide atmospheric readings, and record acoustically the hail and precipitation.[13][15]

Scientists are still seeking to understand which supercell thunderstorms which form mesocyclones will further produce tornadoes.[6]

Updates on the progress of the project will be posted on the Vortex 2 home page. The scientists have also started a blog of live reports.[16] "Even though this field phase seems to be the most spectacular and seems like it's a lot of work, by far the majority of what we're doing is when we go back to our labs, when we work with each other, when we work with our students to try to figure out just what is it that we've collected," Wurman said. "It's going to take years to digest this data and to really get the benefit of this." Penn State University will feature the public release of the initial scientific findings in the fall.[8]

The forecasters are determining the best probability of sighting a tornado. As the trucks traveled to from Childress, TX, they found mammatus clouds, and lightning at sundown May 13.[17] The project finally encountered its first tornado on the afternoon of June 5 when they successfully intercepted a tornado in southern Goshen County, Wyoming which lasted for approximately 25 minutes. One of their vehicles, Probe 1, suffered hail damage during the intercept. Later that evening, embedded Weather Channel reporter Mike Bettes reported that elements of VORTEX2 had intercepted a second tornado in Nebraska.

A Doppler on Wheels radar loop of the tornado intercepted on June 5th.

Partial list of scientists and crew

VORTEX2 principal investigators plot the next step from the Field Command Vehicle. Left to right, Chris Weiss (TTU), Josh Wurman (CSWR), Yvette Richardson (PSU), David Dowell (NCAR), Howard Bluestein (OU), and Lou Wicker (NSSL).

The complete team comprises about 50 scientists and is supplemented by students. A complete listing of principal investigators (PI's) is at http://vortex2.org. An alphabetical partial listing of VORTEX2 scientists and crew:


  1. ^ "VORTEX2 Heads to the Great Plains to Study Often-Deadly Weather Events World's Largest Tornado Experiment Heads for Great Plains". BBS News. May 10, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-14. [dead link]
  2. ^ "50 tornado experts to deploy as 'chasers' Goal is to improve twister predictions and better understand why they form". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  3. ^ Meyer, Travis (April 28, 2009). "VORTEX 2: Inside A Tornado". News on Six. WorldNow and KOTV. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  4. ^ Bledsoe, Brian (April 27, 2009). "VORTEX 2 ( Tornado Research Project ) National Tornado Experiment to Begin in May". KKTV. Gray Television, Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  5. ^ Lydersen, Kari (April 20, 2009). "Tornado-Chasing Project Aims to Improve Forecasts". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  6. ^ a b c d Lydersen, Kari (April 20, 2009). "Tornado-Chasing Project Aims to Improve Forecasts". The Washington Post:. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  7. ^ a b c Ringer, Kandy (May 10, 2009). "VORTEX2 Heads to the Great Plains to Study Often-Deadly Weather Events World's Largest Tornado Experiment Heads for Great Plains". BBSNews. Retrieved 2009-05-11. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b c Evans, Murray (May 8, 2009). "$11.9 million Vortex2 study is set to launch across the Great Plains". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  9. ^ Shortt, Rachel (2004-09-27). "Twister Movie Put NSSL on the Map". National Severe Storms Laboratory. Retrieved 2009-05-01. 
  10. ^ http://www.vortex2.org
  11. ^ a b "Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2". UCAR. 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  12. ^ a b "What is VORTEX2?". National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  13. ^ a b Flickinger, George (2009). "VORTEX2 project takes aim at understanding tornadoes". KJRH. Scripps TV Station Group. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  14. ^ a b Wurman, Joshua (May 10, 2009). "Glamour, Science and the Start of VORTEX2". Tornado Scientists. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  15. ^ a b "VORTEX2 Vehicles & Instruments". NSSL. 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  16. ^ "VORTEX2 Scientists Start Blog on Tornado Research". The National Science Foundation,. May 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 
  17. ^ Bettes,, Mike (May 14, 2009). "VORTEX2: Close but no cigar". Mike Bettes On-Camera Meteorologist. The Weather Channel Interactive, Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  18. ^ a b c d e f "VORTEX2: Meet the scientists". The Weather Channel. Truveo Video. 2004-2008. Retrieved 2009-05-14. 
  19. ^ a b c "Haag Engineering Co. - Staff - Timothy P. Marshall, P.E". 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Center for Severe Weather Research Team:". Center for Severe Weather Research. Retrieved 2009-05-11. 

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