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Tornado Research in the Southeast Enters Second Year

21 Mar 2017, 9:47 am

Tornadoes kill more people in the southeastern United States than anywhere else in the country. This month, NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory kicked-off the second year of VORTEX-SE, a research program designed to understand how environmental factors and terrain in the southeastern U.S. affect tornadoes in that region. VORTEX-SE, shorthand for Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast, will also look at how people learn of the threats posed by these storms and how they respond to protect their lives and property.

VORTEX-SE activities are supported by special Congressional allocations of more than $10 million to NOAA made in 2015 and 2016. “The southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the Midwest where conditions for tornado research have historically been focused. Within funds provided for Weather and Air Chemistry Research Programs, OAR shall collaborate with the National Science Foundation’s VORTEX-SE to better understand how environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeast United States affect the formation, intensity, and storm path of tornadoes for this region.” — United States Senate, 2014

[Credit: NSSL, VORTEX]

This study, which runs March 8 through May 8, brings together 40 physical and social science researchers from 20 research organizations. Scientists will deploy NOAA’s P-3 aircraft, 13 vehicles, five mobile radars, one fixed radar and other instruments in northern Alabama. NOAA is supporting research in three main areas:  improving forecast models, addressing risk awareness and response, and observing and modeling tornadic storms and their environments.

[Credit: University of Alabama-Huntsville]

In 2016, researchers spent about seven days during a two-month period gathering data on storms around Huntsville, Alabama, using an armada of instruments. They targeted a range of weather situations from multiple rapidly evolving supercell thunderstorms to days when anticipated storms failed to develop.

[Credit: Keli Pirtle/NOAA, VORTEX]

With a year’s worth of data in hand, researchers are gaining insights into how to study storms in the southeast, which has a very different terrain from the Great Plains, said Erik Rasmussen, VORTEX-SE project manager and research scientist for the University of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

[Credit: NSSL, VORTEX]

“We now have a tremendous amount of information about what we can and can’t observe in the southeastern environment, and an understanding of how to move forward from here. We know what to expect and how to observe it, ” Rasmussen said. “We’ve learned a lot in the social science related studies as well — where we should focus our attention to answer the critical questions of how weather information is used and how people respond.”

[Credit: Keli Pirtle/NOAA, Erik Rasmussen]

For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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