Thursday, May 28, 2009

Never Too Late

Mammatus clouds north of Dallas, TX.

Well it is definitely possible to be a little too late. Although the past week has not been overwhelming with chasing, we've been doing enough to keep me busy. I'm online on my computer long enough to check email, Facebook, and Twitter, then I'm off to do something else. So let me briefly recap the past few days, with promises of pictures being filled in and more detail at a later date and perhaps with a better internet connection.

Saturday: North Platte.
Sunday: Drive to Texas.
Monday: Killing three supercells.
Tuesday: Dallas supercell.
Wednesday: Travel to Kansas and laundry.

Saturday: Saturday we left Hot Springs, SD to head back to North Platte, NE. Along the way, the CSWR team stopped in the Walmart parking lot for lunch, because we're classy like that.

It's like a family reunion, complete with pickup trucks.

About 100 miles away from our destination, we received a report of a sighted tornado in North Platte. We were not happy, and many people were skeptical of the report judging by the radar images and other information available to us at the time. Once we got to North Platte, another cell had developed and we deployed...DOW7 deployed in somebody's driveway.

They later showed up with a new stove in the back of the truck. They unloaded it and let the children run around without saying anything to the massive blue truck scanning in their driveway.

I was in the DOW Van, and was sent away from the storm to avoid any damage on the rental.

That night we stayed in a nice hotel, and saw The Weather Channel folk having a party in one of their rooms. Haha.

Sunday: On Sunday we drove from Nebraska to Amarillo, TX. The drive was long but we drove past and through some good storms. We saw a rainbow and some dust devils; all in all it was a very scenic drive. We kept ourselves entertained on a private radio frequency with bad puns and stories.

It's bad when you've gotten tired of seeing rainbows.

That night we ate at the Big Texan, famous for their 72oz. steak. The deal is, if anyone can finish the steak AND side dishes in one hour, the meal is free. Otherwise it's something like $70. Quite the incentive to finish! We saw two guys try and fail. They looked pretty miserable towards the end too.

Mother of All Steaks. Actually I guess that would be a cow.

Monday: Monday we killed three storms. There is no other way to put it. We had our sights on three individual promising-looking cells. As soon as we got to them and began to deploy, the storm began dying. No fair! I also got lost somewhere in either Oklahoma or Texas after ferrying someone around in the DOW Van. I never even caught up with the team for the second deployment/third storm (we didn't deploy on the first storm). I was too busy getting lost with a bad GPS and little radio contact. Probe12 eventually found me and we headed back to Childress for dinner. I ate dinner at 12 A.M. EST that night.


Tuesday: Tuesday was a decent day. After awhile of "hurry up and wait" in a gas station in Gainesville, TX (where it hit 100 degrees with a 70 degree dewpoint...think hot and humid), a cell suddenly developed near the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area. Now our problem was, do we go after a cell we can't get around in a huge city? Or do we wait for the theoretical next one?

Thankfully the cell split and we had a very interesting situation where we followed the "left-moving" cell and it turned out to be a good opportunity. The cell developed an anticyclonic hook (also interesting) and there were reports of golf ball-sized hail, although we only received pea-sized. I was in Probe 14 that day and was able to participate in transects.

Not dead.

Ok that was a lot of terminology in that paragraph. I will explain in detail later when I go into depth about that deployment.

Severe-warned and thunder all over the place.

After ops were called off because it was 9 P.M. and dark, we headed towards Norman, OK. Some of us stopped at Chili's on the way and I think we got into the hotel around 1 A.M.

Wednesday: Yesterday was a travel day. Only CSWR left Norman to head into Kansas. The next couple of days will be down days. Yesterday a few of us got our laundry done (my first time at a laundromat!) and today we will be working on missions summaries to present tomorrow.

My first ever laundromat.

Speaking of which--that meeting is in 45 minutes and I still have to shower! Pics posted later! I will be making a Facebook album (or 6) and will post public links here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can't Hurry Love (or Tornadoes)

I'm posting this late and without any pictures from the day because...well...we didn't really do anything. Before the weather briefing even started one of the hotel women announced to the room that we would be staying in the same hotels tonight that we did the night before. Dr. Paul Markowski took over as the designated leader today and gave a more optimistic discussion of the next few days than Josh had. Yesterday Josh had ended his tenure by saying that we could expect more hope from Markowski than we'd gotten from him.

Our initial departure time was 11:30 A.M. MST...which became 12:30 P.M. MST...which became...1:30 P.M. MST. Around 1:15 P.M. a few of us suddenly became aware that we hadn't had lunch and asked Karen if we had time to run to Subway. We did! Sadly, that was the most in-a-rush we'd been since I got here.

Of course we were in a rush with so many delicious options available to us!

Before that we spent our time tossing the frisbee or football around (I did so poorly with the frisbee I wasn't about to try the football) and...well that was about it. We talked too. As soon as the four of us (Probe 12 team and myself) got back with our Subway meals we headed west for about half an hour, then pulled over to watch DOW7 scan for, well, about half an hour. I managed to get on one vehicle's wireless and entertained myself that way. We then turned around and went completely the opposite direction, passing back through the town we started in.

We pulled over for DOW7 to scan to a bee farm. I am not fond of bees. I managed to jerryrig the wifi again and made that comment on Twitter, which resulted in Mike Bettes (who is following us from The Weather Channel) letting me know he had his epi pen ready if I needed it. After awhile we moved back towards the hotel while the CSWR probes went with the TIV crew to do shots for the Discovery Channel. As they began filming, a bull went to charge at Probe 14.

Probably a different bull.

Thankfully Lindsay hit the gas and no one and no vehicle was harmed. I guess they wouldn't have been able to put the "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" if that had happened, huh? They probably don't put it anyway since I'm pretty sure tornadoes harm a few animals.

Anyway, then as the probes headed back the mobile mesonets took off to do their shots. I'm in the DOW Van (read: I ride in the vehicle that holds everyone's luggage) so I didn't get to do any film shots. I did, however, end up in a one second spot on The Weather Channel today:

Did you catch that? Me neither.

Tomorrow is likely a travel day. Hopefully within the next few days I'll have some weather to report on. And I'll try to give a little background explanations on some of the terms I use/will use frequently in here.

Til then!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Bet you weren't expecting this.

"Oh my God!!!" That was our greeting as Probe 11 and Probe 12 pulled over at a scenic spot near Mt. Rushmore. Two elderly couples stared in awe as our fully-equipped VORTEX2-labeled vehicles stopped in an area most definitely out of our domain:

The theoretical domain of the VORTEX2 project. The area was determined based on climatologically favorable areas for tornado development and regions in which the road network is close to ideal--a simple grid with paved roads.

As we got out of our cars one woman apologized to us as they took pictures, saying, "I'm sorry but we can't remember all of your profiles that we've seen on The Weather Channel so we're not sure which ones you are!" I laughed and assured her that was fine since there are over 100 of us. I didn't point out that only the steering committee has full profiles on and only a handful of the nine of us in our mini-convoy had been interviewed otherwise. :)

I don't know how this could be distracting to tourists.

So yes, we were in South Dakota the Black Mt. Rushmore...where the chance for a tornado was even slimmer than in the rest of the area we've covered. Today was a travel day, and we are awaiting further instruction at tomorrow's morning weather briefing about whether or not we are going to target anything. On the bright side we got to check out a cool part of South Dakota. Including the Crazy Horse monument:

Pretty crazy, right?

The Crazy Horse monument was started back in the day by the same man who carved Stone Mountain in Georgia. He was hired by a Native American tribe to sculpt a 3D monument of Crazy Horse into a mountain relatively close to Mt. Rushmore. The Crazy Horse monument would be much larger than Mt. Rushmore...unfortunately, it would also be finished roughly sometime in the next 300 years. Essentially, the original man started it, got married, and together they made a lot of babies. Those babies then became children, whose chores were more focused around blowing up mountainsides than taking out the trash. Those children then ran off and found their own spouses, made their own babies, and turned those babies into the people working on the monument today. Because they have refused federal funding (if I remember the story correctly), the project is taking significantly longer than Mt. Rushmore. I am sad, however, that not only will I never see the monument completed, but neither will my children...or grandchildren...or great-grandchildren..........ok I don't think anyone will ever see it. Someone will probably conquer the United States and destroy all national monuments before it's completed.

But that's just my Orwellian opinion.

So yeah, that was today in a nutshell! Hopefully a cooler update tomorrow!

Our mini crew for the evening.

That's me!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dust In The Wind

Taking pictures of the media taking pictures. Blows your mind, right?

Dust in the wind is SO not a good thing! I had to put my sunglasses on in the middle of a storm tonight to keep the sand out of my eyes. I couldn't keep it out of my mouth though...might still have some grit in there, haha.

Today was pretty cool. I was put with the photogrammetry team and was assigned to man the HD video camera. Also, I was in charge of driving. Which was good, because it gave me something to do. We took a couple of hours to reach our initial target in northwestern Nebraska. We found a nice picnic area to have lunch. It was near a school, so lots of small children and high schoolers wandered around looking at everything--especially the TIV. Today was my first real experience with media everywhere! It was very intimidating; I am much more aware of how awkward I am when faced with a video camera.

So then it was go time, and I'm sure we looked pretty cool running to our vehicles and taking off at once. Of course I ruined the sequence of the photogrammetry/mobile mesonet row by not getting the memo that a camera wanted to get all of us pulling out one after the other. Everyone else was flawless; I had to wait until the end after staring at the camera awkwardly for about a minute.

So we took off towards the east to get in front of this bugger:

The aforementioned bugger.

Unfortunately after travelling for about an hour, we decided to give up on the storm. A severe thunderstorm warning was later issued for the same storm... that's life. Meanwhile, some of the leaders discussed whether or not we were going to call it a night or aim towards another cell northwest of our hotel location. The cell began to blossom on the radar as we moved towards it, and we actually were able to semi-deploy many of our instruments.

NOXP Radar moving towards our new target.

Tony and I got out to set up the photogrammetry equipment, and I brought along my own camera. As we were setting up the tripod for the HD camera, this started happening:

Tumbleweeds and dust

A still of the same time period.

And it was followed shortly thereafter with intense downpours and small hail. Needless to say we had to hurry to get the photo equipment back into the vehicle so it didn't get ruined. After some time the radars continued with their scans and most of the rest of the crews headed to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow doesn't look too promising, but what's new?

We saw two rainbows today. One after each storm. :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blowin' In The Wind

A wind farm in northeastern Colorado

Today has been quite the day for me. I woke up at 3am EST, rode two hours to BWI, flew for four hours to Denver, waited two hours to get on my next flight, then spent an hour on my way to join the V2 crew. After I got to the airport, I waited another hour for my ride, then spent an hour riding to the actual location that everyone was stationed at. Ten minutes after I got to the crew, I was in the Probe 12 vehicle driving towards a potential microburst...

...It has been a LONG day!

When I got to Denver, I was excited to see the mountains off in the distance. The sky was pretty clear and I could see the snowcaps. Two hours later, as I walked outside to the plane, storms were brewing:

Storms developing over the mountains in Colorado

Curiously enough...this was the same group of storms that we were later aiming for in northeastern Colorado!

First good shot of the storm

We were pretty impressed with how high the cloud bases were for the developing storms:

Imagine a tornado popping out of the bottom of this cloud. As one person put it: "Tallest Tornado EVER"

To make a long story short, the storm was more impressive for photo opportunities than for microburst data.

Ok fine another picture.

The DOWs set up and the mobile mesonets ran a couple of transects, so it wasn't a total loss. I was just happy to be there and get a feel for how things work.

Another interesting thing in the area was the wind farms. Colorado is one of the top producers of wind energy in the United States, owing largely to consumer interest in renewable energy that started before going green was "cool." The U.S. Department of Energy determined in 2008 that 20% of our electricity needs should be met by wind power by the year 2030. With the rate that technology is improving in the arena and the need to update the transmission grid for all forms of power, I argue that this is a feasible goal. The physical area needed to produce that percentage of energy is smaller than the state of Rhode Island. Many projects are beginning offshore and in regions that are not highly populated (such as the area we were in today). Most states (the Department of Energy counted 35 in 2008) are already meeting a good portion of their energy needs by wind power; now it is time to go national.

Please be green. :)

Anyway that is my two cents on wind power. Today really was Wind's Day; high winds all day and overnight tonight too! Early to bed for me now, because I've been up for about 20 hours and have my first full day with the team tomorrow--woot! A woman stopped me in the elevator a few minutes ago and asked, "Are you with the stormchasers?"

Yes ma'am!


Friday, May 15, 2009

Highway to the Danger Zone

Welcome to my humble little contribution to the blogging world!

My purpose here is to relay my experiences in the field to friends and family that are interested in knowing the nitty gritty details they can't find elsewhere. What field is that? The Great Plains! For the next few weeks of this summer and for a good portion of the next, I will be joining the largest tornado field experiment in history: VORTEX2 (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2). The data collected in V2 will be used to help us understand and better predict these forces of nature. For the general population, that means (hopefully) an improved warning system and fewer false alarms, so when that siren goes off, you know it means business!

I will be graduating from the University of Virginia with a B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Atmospheric Science this Sunday. Following that, I will be going on to Purdue University for my M.S. in Atmospheric Science. Because I am between schools as this project begins, I am still not exactly sure what my role in V2 is going to be this summer! You will find out when I do!

VORTEX2 is all over the media right now! The Weather Channel is hyping the project with Mike Bettes out in the field with different crews, which I think is awesome because it makes the research more accessible to the general population. I will join the group in the field this upcoming Tuesday and will be posting plenty of pictures and even video of our activities. That's right: graduation on Sunday afternoon and an early-morning departure Tuesday morning! I am hurrying to tie up all my loose ends at home! Until then, keep yourself busy with all the information available online, especially:

Stay tuned....