[Researchers in front of a mobile radar unit and the NOAAP-3 airplane used in VORTEX-Southeast.]
NOAA researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory had a different view of tornadoes this spring — flying high above them in a NOAA P-3 “Hurricane Hunter”
[Time lapse video of WP-3D Orion #NOAA42 flying in front of a tornado-producing thunderstorm in northern Alabama on March 20th]
During the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast
project, or VORTEX-SE, scientists collected data on several isolated supercells and large convective systems during a short time span with airborne Doppler radars mounted on the P-3, a lidar operated by the University of Wyoming, and ground based mobile and fixed radars. NSSL scientist Conrad Ziegler recently presented preliminary findings from the project.
[Cockpit video from inside WP-3D Orion #NOAA42 from a flight around severe weather in Alabama from March 20th.]
From early March to mid April, the researchers concentrated observations on severe weather processes in supercells. They conducted missions with the NOAA P-3 on eight days and gathered data on a total of 10 tornadoes from four supercell thunderstorms. This spring also provided the first opportunity to combine observations from the P-3’s airborne radars with other ground-based radar measurements of the same storms. The result and goal was to derive a more accurate and detailed storm airflow analyses.
On April 13, 2018 — the last P-3 mission day before the end of the project — Ziegler, along with colleague Kim Elmore and a team of researchers, followed a single cycling supercell storm for over two hours observing the growth, maturity, and decay of three different tornadoes.
Use of the P-3 allowed researchers to position themselves closer to storms in a safe way while retrieving higher resolution radar scans and images of a tornado’s life cycle. They were able to fully analyse the atmosphere’s features without impeding terrain to achieve the ultimate goal of better understanding the growth of intense low-level storm rotations that typically accompany severe weather.
Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels