Archive for June, 2009

Tornado Chasing Success!


Friday, June 5–what an outstanding day. It will likely go down as one of the greatest days in tornado science history. The Vortex2 research team finally intercepted their first tornado of the season in Goshen County, Wyoming after nearly four weeks of chasing, and it was perfect. Never before has so much scientific data been collected in one intercept.

My time with the Vortex2 project started 10 days before the intercept in Topeka, Kansas. Immediately upon joining them we hit the road driving nearly 2500 miles across 5 states (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado and Wyoming). Though we chased many severe storms, conditions were never favorable for tornadic activity.


Caption: Josh Wurman, president of the Center for Sever Weather Research, inside of DOW 7 (Doppler on Wheels).

The intercept itself was amazing but what makes the day so historic is the sheer amount of scientific data gathered on the storm. Intercepting this tornadic supercell for nearly an hour, the team deployed a diverse army of scientific instruments. Tools like mobile radars, sticknets, disdrometers, mobile mesonets, photogrammetry teams, and in situ tornado pods collected data from about 20 minutes before the tornado formed until it vanished into the sky. This enabled the team to collect historic amounts of data.

On the day of the storm I was lucky enough to be riding in one of the probe vehicles responsible for dropping pods in the path of the tornado. Each pods weighs 120 pounds and has numerous instruments mounted to it which gather data about conditions surrounding the tornado. The ultimate goal is to get them in the path of the tornado for direct impact, so five teams dropped 14 pods, each 150 meters apart within a mile of the tornado. Pod dropping is risky business. The vehicle I was riding in had roughly five minutes to deploy our 3 pods before fleeing for safety. Scientists monitoring radar data in the back of the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) direct the probe teams from several miles away. If anything would have gone wrong or the storm suddenly shifted direction it could have been disastrous. Needless to say the adrenaline was pumping. It was intense!


Caption: Tim Marshall and Lindsay Bennett deploying a pod in the path of the tornado. This shot was taken with a super wide angle lens so the tornado is much closer than it appears.

Witnessing something so beautiful and destructive in such close proximity was an amazing experience that I will never forget. The Weather Channel has some amazing footage on their website of this storm since they have been covering the Vortex2 project. You can view some of the videos here. In the near future I’ll be posting a special gallery on my website from my time with the Vortex2 project.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 Recent Shoots 1 Comment

Tornado Chasing

StormChase4Ever since I was a kid I have had a fascination with thunderstorms and adverse weather. Growing up in Western Kansas, I have many vivid memories of watching storms build on the horizon and then taking shelter when they struck. It was not uncommon to be woken up in the middle of the night by intense thunder and flashes of light. This week I have had the chance to experience the storms of the High Plains all over again.

I’m currently in the field working on a project to document a team of researchers who risk it all to study tornados and adverse weather. Needless to say, I am stoked! For the past 5 days I have been tagging along with Josh Wurman and his scientific research team from the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR). They are part of Vortex2, one of the largest tornado research projects ever undertaken. Since May 10 they have been combing the plains from South Dakota to Texas in search of tornadic activity.

Ultimately Josh and the Vortex2 project are trying to answer the following questions:

- How, when, and why do tornadoes form? Why some are violent and long lasting while others are weak and short lived?

- What is the structure of tornadoes? How strong are the winds near the ground? How exactly do they do damage?

- How can we learn to forecast tornadoes better? Current warnings have an only 13 minute average lead time and a 70% false alarm rate. Can we make warnings more accurate? Can we warn 30, 45, 60 minutes ahead?

So far this season the weather hasn’t cooperated with the research project. There have been no intercepts to date. However, everyone is remaining hopeful for last two weeks of the chasing season. I’ve extended my stay with the crew until later in the week in hopes that things will pick up. Stay posted for more . . .

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 From the Field No Comments