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Scientist Head Out To Tornado Alley In World's Largest Twister Study

April 30, 2010

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, James West

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Hoping to gather ground-breaking observations of severe storms and tornadoes, a triple-digit size team of scientists will spend May and early June hunting storms across Tornado Alley.

This $11.9 million research project, utilizing nearly a dozen mobile radar systems, dozens of instrument packed vehicles, a remote-controlled drone and at least 100 leading meteorologists and scientists, will gather detailed information about thunderstorm development and conditions needed to spawn tornadoes. The research will look at the evolution of thunderstorms during the lifespan of a tornado.

The research project is called Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2, or VORTEX2 for short. The original VORTEX project conducted in 1994 and 1995 gathered extensive information on supercell thunderstorms, the large, long-lived storms that can produce most destructive and deadly tornadoes.

Scientist hope the data collected from this year`s field project will help improve forecasts. Last spring, a similar field study yielded valuable insight on squall line thunderstorms. These long lines of storms produce damaging winds, hail, frequent lightning and can spawn tornadoes.

Current tornado warnings have a 13 minute average lead time and a 70 percent false alarm rate, says the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), lead agency of the study. Can the lead time increase and false alarm rate decrease? These are few questions researchers are hoping to answer.

Source: NCAR, UCAR, NOAA

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Story Image: WeatherBug user Barbara Guerra of St. Bernard, La., snapped this photo of a tornado in July, 2009.

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