Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sorry I didn't get to post today! Rather than write an email AND post a blog each day, I'll write the email only and post the pictures here. If you aren't on my email list, and would like to be, please email me at pfeister@siu.edu.

Onto images! The first three are from driving through Missouri, when I took shelter at a restaurant from two tornado warned storms: one to my north east and one to my south west. If I was ten minutes ahead of or behind where I was, I may have ran into them...

The National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma:
Look familiar? The "pods" on the left and central is the original "Dorothy" from the movie "TWISTER", based on the original one used on the right...
The beautiful interior of the National Weather Center:
The Storm Prediction Center and other parts of NOAA. The NPC puts out all the watches and warnings for the United States.
On our first day down, I walked around Oklahoma University in Norman, which was beautiful!!!

For my mom and sister, because I knew they'd love this. Two black cats wandering around campus....

The Library:
At the Storm Prediciton Center: they still hand draw some of their maps to visually comprehend ALL the imformation needed to accuratly forcast... and they do it in crayon!

A forcaster at the NPC:
A beautiful painting at the National Weather Center:
Hey, meteorologists like doughnuts too...
Onward to Woodward, Oklahoma! Where it's so hot, spoons melt into the road....
A news station from Tulsa, Oklahoma is following the Center for Severe Weather Research...
Josh Wurman opens the first full V2 morning meeting. We do this every morning.... Dr. Wurman is on the right, someone from the Discovery Channel's "Storm Chasers" is filming on the left...
People prepare to take off tomorrow... Mike Bettes from the weather channel is in the hat...
I met Mike Bettes!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Day two in Norman, OK

Well, we are still here in Norman. It's another down day, but V2 is more than likely traveling to Texas tomorrow to rondevous with the other teams. It will be the first day the entire V2 armada will be together, and it sounds like a practice deployment may be in the near future. But for now, all is quiet and the teams are back at the hotel.

Hopefully more tomorrow from Texas!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tornados to my north, tornados to my south!!!

Well, after a rather eventful night of driving, I made it to Norman, Oklahoma. About 3 and half hours in, I hit two tornado warned storms; one on the ground and one potential producer, near Mountain View, MO. The sirens were blaring so I finally found a restaurant to stop at and take cover until the storms passed, and then got back on the road, only to be stopped again by the same thing! So after another round of waiting at a local firehouse in Mountain View, I finally got back on the road and made it into Norman around 3:30AM.

Today was supposed to be the launch day for V2, however the weather models are showing little to no potential of super cells being produced, so we have a "down day", here in Norman. I plan on using it to catch up on SLEEP (I only got 4 hours last night), and sightseeing around Norman.

Crossing my fingers that we get to take off tomorrow!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Procrastination, anticipation, and a trip to Chicago

This is day two with severe storms and tornado watches to my north! I feel like the shunned child in the candy store who can't have any candy... I'd take off (almost did!), but I have a portfolio due Friday so I absolutely have to be good and do my work... Turns out there was a tornado warned storm two counties due east of me too!

These last four weeks of class are going to be brutal. Never mind that I only have ONE class, I can't even find the motivation to FINISH this last class... photographing outside in the gorgeous sunshine and watching all this severe weather break out is proving to be much more interesting then my lame "masks" portrait project I somehow conjured up thinking it would be "artistically creative" and something to keep me preoccupied until VORTEX2 rolls around... fun, but proving to be more time consuming then I would like...


I have one paper (ironically a 100 level course on geology I couldn't bring myself to take before now...), one lab, and one final portfolio review to culminate my degree before the end of the month. I also have one final trip up to Chicago with my portfolio class to visit studios and photographers this week, including Paul Elledge Photography whom I externed with over spring break. Should be interesting, and it will be good to be home and see my family, a very pregnant friend, and my newly engaged friends from high school.

I've learned a little more about who exactly I will be traveling with in May and June. VORTEX2 has a "media" vehicle that serves as a "base" vehicle for all the media that venture out with the crew. There is a woman by the name of Susan, who I've found out will be my "contact" person out in the field. She is a meteorologist and science writer for the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, and she is the one who will help me get into all the different teams on VORTEX2 over the course of the six weeks. I've also learned I'll be heading to Norman, Oklahoma to start off with her "group" on May 1st instead of Hays, KS where I was headed originally.

Just 18 days until I take off for Norman!

(caffeine and adrenaline, haha)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

from http://www.weatherwise.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2010/January-February%202010/vortex2-full.html

VORTEX2: Inside the Biggest Tornado Chase in History

It was day 26 of the largest tornado research project in history, and the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2009–2010, otherwise known as VORTEX2, had yet to see a tornado. Weary team members crammed into a small hotel meeting room to learn where they were headed, just as they had done every morning for almost a month. Day after day they geared up, learned the target, drove cross-country—sometimes covering hundreds of miles and several states in one day—to watch, wait, deploy, and intercept everything but a tornadic supercell.

They had spent weeks honing their deployment strategies on various types of storms: weak supercells, multicell storms, and one they called “cumulonimbus junkus” in disgust. They were now closing in on the final week of operations.

“The very real possibility that we might not even see one tornado was on everyone's mind,” reflected VORTEX2 Steering Committee member Don Burgess, a retired researcher from NOAA NSSL working part-time for the University of Oklahoma. NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) records confirmed the quiet weather pattern. SPC had issued the fewest severe weather watches during May 2009 since 1992.

Caption: The shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching radar heads toward the Texas Caprock in the panhandle.

Caption: (L to R) Chris Weiss (TTU), Josh Wurman (CSWR), Yvette Richardson (PSU), David Dowell (NCAR), Howie Bluestine (OU), and Lou Wicker (NSSL).

VORTEX in History

The original VORTEX project was conducted in the central and southern plains in 1994–1995. It was designed to address research questions relating to tornadogenesis and tornado dynamics. However, like 2009, researchers struggled the first year, as an incredibly quiet year for tornadoes prevented them from collecting much data. Only three tornadic supercells were intercepted, and one problem after another prevented data collection on the tornadoes. In 1995 their luck changed, and scientists scored big by documenting the near-ground weather conditions close to several tornadoes. Building on the progress made with VORTEX, VORTEX2 was planned to answer more specific questions.

Researchers began planning VORTEX2 nearly a decade ago, with funding provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists and support personnel gathered from across the globe, coordinating, driving, operating, or deploying 10 mobile radars, 14 vehicles with instruments attached, and dozens more outfitted to deploy devices in the field. Their goal was to measure and document all parts of a supercell thunderstorm using the largest collection of cutting-edge weather equipment ever assembled. Researchers hoped to answer important questions about these cyclonic storms. Why do some supercells produce tornadoes and others do not? How exactly do tornadoes form? Are there clues that will help us predict when a tornado will form, how long it will last, and how strong it will be? What specific characteristics of the storm can we measure that will help reduce the false alarm rates of our warnings? How can we increase lead-times so that hospitals, schools, and other large groups of people have more time to get to safety?

The V2 Armada

VORTEX2 had dozens more instruments than the original VORTEX, making a much bigger impression as the caravan rolled through the rural Great Plains. Researchers had carefully choreographed deployment strategies for different types of storms, and each vehicle and instrument had a specific mission. Though individual teams were in charge of positioning and deployment of their instruments, the VORTEX2 Field Command vehicle provided guidance on target storm locations and projections of movement. Field Coordinators worked to organize and communicate storm intercept activities in real-time to all teams, maximizing data collection opportunities while keeping safety a top priority. The entire project was backed up by the VORTEX Operations Center (VOC) at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The VOC provided forecasting and logistical support.

Ten mobile Doppler radars with varying levels of sensitivity were the anchors of the project. University of Oklahoma (OU) and NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) teams operated 2 C-band radars, the largest and most cumbersome vehicles in the armada. Their mission was to scan the storm from a distance. The 6 X-band radars in the fleet were sensitive enough to detect smaller particles, including cloud droplets, and would be used by NSSL, the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR), and the University of Massachusetts(U-Mass) to distinguish tornado debris clouds from precipitation in the mesocyclone region during tornadogenesis. Two even more sensitive radars run by teams from Texas Tech University (TTU), OU, and U-Mass were assigned to scan the features in and around the tornado.

For collecting data inside the storm, Penn State, NSSL, and the University of Michigan teams operated 12 mobile mesonets, or probes (minivans outfitted with racks of surface weather instruments). They had the task of taking measurements of temperature, pressure, humidity, and winds as they drove transects through the storm. StickNets, or 2.5-meter-tall meteorological observing stations, were set up by TTU to measure the environment as the storm and tornado passed by. And tornado pods, or 1-meter towers of instruments, were deployed by CSWR in the path of the tornado to measure the core flow, while disdrometers, or particle probes, were positioned by the Universities of Colorado and Illinois to measure the size of raindrops, searching for tornado indicators in the gradient between light and heavy rain.

Another key element was weather balloons, handled by North Carolina State University, SUNY Oswego (State University of New York at Oswego), and the National Center for Atmospheric Research crews. The balloons were designed to be launched both ahead of storms to give scientists a picture of the prestorm environment, as well as after the storms formed to measure the vertical structures of temperature, humidity, and winds near the thunderstorms.

Meanwhile, high-resolution imagery of the wall cloud, tornado, debris, and damage were to be collected by photogrammetry teams from Environment Canada, NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Lyndon State, and the NOAA National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Branch. Researchers planned to perform a frame-by-frame analysis of clouds or debris to determine the speed of winds swirling around a tornado.

The media rounded out the caravan of VORTEX2. The project provided a great opportunity to involve the public in weather science. The Weather Channel (TWC) committed to follow VORTEX2 from beginning to end—telling the story of the research and process day by day, on every level as it unfolded. It had its own small armada of producers, freelancers, cameramen, technicians, and even a satellite truck. NSSL offered seats to reporters and photographers in a “media vehicle,” which was an attempt to minimize the number of extra vehicles in the field. The riders could then be embedded in research vehicles for a close-up experience. Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter updates were all part of the effort.

June 5, 2009: Tornado!

June 5 started out like any other day for VORTEX2. The team gathered in a small hotel meeting room in Sterling, Colorado, for the morning weather briefing. Don Burgess, Mission Scientist of the day, announced the target area was on the fringes of the VORTEX2 domain—southeast Wyoming. Burgess made the call to “play the upslope,” which meant to capitalize on winds getting lift from the ridges and bluffs of the western high plains. The armada packed up its luggage and gear and began to snake its way to the northeast toward Kimball, Nebraska, the first staging site.

Three prestorm balloons were launched, and soundings indicated sufficient shear and moisture. The storm was declared the “target” at 4:00 p.m., as it took on tornadic characteristics. All teams deployed to their assigned locations ahead of the storm. NSSL Media Vehicle Driver John Oakland began taking video of the supercell. Voices crackled on the radio as radar operators reported their latitude and longitude at the point of deployment. Oakland panned west towards the storm, capturing the sun silhouetting the supercell and outlining a wall cloud hanging beneath. The sky grew darker as the storm moved towards the armada.

“The entire base of the thunderstorm seemed to be turning and descending towards the ground,” said Oakland.

“There we go, we have a tornado!” reported Mike Bettes live from The Weather Channel, giving the entire nation the opportunity to share in the first VORTEX2 victory. The teams deploying instruments on the ground moved quickly to set up an array of instruments ahead of the tornado. The tornado was now on the ground and moving across the plains with a curtain of light rain circling it. As hail started to fall, crews had to undeploy some of the radars to avoid subjecting them to damage.

Bettes described the scene live on the TWC broadcast: “It looks like it is now tilting—the top portion of the tornado looks to be tilted toward us. You can look right inside the tornado! It almost looks like an outer funnel and inner funnel!”

VORTEX2 teams along with those watching The Weather Channel were amazed as they witnessed the funnel narrowing into a rope, then twisting and turning into a thin wisp of vapor. And then it was gone.

The day that started like every other day ended with a perfect deployment on a supercell thunderstorm that produced a tornado. VORTEX2 collected almost an hour of data on the storm, beginning 20 minutes before the tornado formed until it faded away.

“That one dataset was worth all the heartache,” said Tanya Brown, a Texas Tech University team member.

All 10 radars scanned the tornado, producing classic images of rotation. Mobile mesonets reported excellent sampling of the mesocyclone and rear flank downdraft region within the areas scanned by mobile radars just prior to and during tornado formation. Sixteen balloon soundings were made during the storm-scale deployment. StickNet teams performed a 2-array deployment and sampled the updraft, forward, and rear flanks of the mature tornadic supercell as it crossed the western array. All 12 tornado pods and 4 disdrometers were deployed successfully. As a result, the LaGrange, Wyoming, tornado is now the most intensely examined tornado in history.

The successful research was not without its price. Damage to the VORTEX2 fleet was being reported as operations ended. Probe 1, a mobile mesonet, had a shattered windshield from hail.

“This was unusually relentless,” said Steering Committee Member and Penn State Professor Paul Markowski, who was in Probe 1. “Basically 20 minutes of baseball-sized hail mixed with smaller sizes.”

The next day, the National Weather Service Forecast Office (NWSFO) in Cheyenne, Wyoming, gave the tornado a rating of EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale. However, the storm assessment team documented power poles snapped off near the ground along the path of the tornado, caused by an estimated wind speed of 118 mph. VORTEX2 teams shared their wind measurements with the NWS, showing that the winds at 10 feet above the ground were about 130 mph. The fastest winds recorded below 328 feet were 143 to 148 mph. The NWSFO subsequently revised its rating of the tornado to EF2 with this new information.

In Retrospect

2009 was a historically low tornado year in the VORTEX2 domain. The 1 tornado intercept was well below the VORTEX2 goal of 5. However, researchers remained encouraged as they worked toward understanding why some supercells produced tornadoes and others did not.

“We made atmospheric lemonade from atmospheric lemons,” said Paul Markowski of Penn State University. Three supercells very close to producing tornadoes were documented during operations and offer valuable “null” cases.

Burgess added, “We got some very interesting data sets on weather types other than supercells—dry microbursts, squall lines, bow echoes, quasi- linear convective systems, ‘ordinary cells'—I learned more about each of these.”

Overall, the VORTEX2 armada traveled over 11,000 miles through 9 states during 2009 operations. Researchers collected data on 11 supercells, including the Wyoming tornadic supercell. The data collected will be studied for years to come. Early attention is being focused on the evolution of the rear-flank downdraft and its apparent role in aiding the development of low-level mesocyclones and tornadoes, or in causing strong surges that diminish the likelihood of tornadogenesis. VORTEX2 researchers met in November to discuss 2009 operations and plan for spring 2010 operations, which are tentatively scheduled for May 1-June 15.

But for many of the researchers who participated in the project, it was not only the science, but the spirit of what they were doing, that will be remembered. VORTEX2 Steering Committee member Howie Bluestein, a Professor at OU, commented, “It wasn't just ‘I' watching a tornado, or just our radars, or my graduate students out there. It's dozens and dozens of people all focused on that one tornado. That was amazing.”

SUSAN COBB was a VORTEX2 participant and is a meteorologist and science writer for the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year, New Goals.

Well, things are rolling along much better then I thought they wood. Most recently I've spoken with Dr. Kosiba at the Center for Severe Weather Reasearch (www.cswr.org) and got some more details on traveling with VORTEX2, which is so exciting.

Right now I'm working on reading and studying through Ahren's textbook on Meteorology which has proven to be really interesting.

Classes start back up next week, which means back to the grind for the next five months so I can graduate and get out onto the plains!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jim Reed

...by far one of my favorite weather photographers. Absolutely beautiful! I love, love, love his work, which has been seen all over from book covers to National Geographic and Scientific American.

Absolutely stunning work. I emailed him, and hopefully I'll get some helpful hints or help from him!

Check out his work here: http://www.jimreedphoto.com/

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