Friday, April 30, 2010

Dashing Through the Snow

We awoke to snow this morning. That's right, we kicked off the second phase of the largest tornado study in history with a little winter precipitation. The mountains were beautiful and the 8-year old in me that gets excited to see snow perked up, but I did not waste suitcase space packing long-sleeved shirts. I have t-shirts and a North Face fleece. Today was a very cold day.

That was the most exciting thing that happened today, and I have some beautiful mountain pictures I'll upload later. Despite an early morning at the hangar I spent most of the day working on odds and ends: filling up containers with diesel fuel, tightening cables up in probe vehicles, buying large folding tables at Home Depot, and kicking off catering with a fun trip to Safeway. Lindsay and I had been through catering last year, but Erin and Mareike (a student from Germany who is in the States for her first time) were along for the ride. We buy enough food for ~34 people (much less today) to make their own sandwiches and have chips, cookies (Oreos...there always has to be Oreos), a veggie platter, fruit, hummus, yogurt...and anything the team in charge of buying groceries that day feels like throwing into the mix. This can be helpful on chase days to avoid long lines with 100 people waiting for McDonald's, but also involves a lot of planning and time setting up and taking down tables and food. Our crew today did a good job; we received many compliments on our food choices!

Because we are working in a hangar at an airport, the inevitable happened today. A brand new airplane had to be hauled out of the hangar and tested in the parking lot. That cut into a bit of our work time today as we moved materials out of the plane's path and watched the owner experiment with it. A media crew from Japan is also following us for a week or so again this year. As I remember, they were out with us last year and the whole stormchasing concept was intriguing to the foreign audience, so it appears they've returned. Yesterday I explained to a man and a woman translating for him what purpose each mesonet instrument served and gave a little background on the different radars and other odds and ends about the project. They were enthusiastic and so was I, which always makes for good conversation.

My dad is a pilot so I was not as excited about taking pictures of the plane as everyone else. This shot courtesy of Matt.

We were released fairly early tonight and a large group went to a pub right outside the hotel for dinner. There was a good band and good food, but we all were ready to call it an early night with the expectation of a long day tomorrow. Eric has also come down with something and was quarantined earlier today; he ventured out for dinner and tried to talk to Matt and me at our three person table (very odd set-up for an 11-person group) but still has a very sore throat. Hopefully a day of rest has done him well; we'll be returning to the hangar at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hanging at the Hangar

A view from the CSWR hangar in Boulder, CO

Greetings from Boulder, Colorado! We’ve spent Monday and Tuesday at the CSWR hangar prepping vehicles and instruments. A lot of radars (ours and other V2 groups) have been upgraded to dual-polarization, a long, expensive process. Dual-pol is scientifically valuable for multiple reasons, including the identification of microphysical cloud components. We can get a lot of information from identifying which parts of a storm are ice crystals versus water droplets versus very unfortunate bugs. In tornado research, this information is also invaluable in discerning debris from the actual tornado.

How a vertical cross-section of a storm appears in dual-pol radar. The top is the usually-seen reflectivity, and the bottom is the composition of the storm. All the white in the front? Bugs. Sorry bugs.

Although this information is valuable, the upgrade process involves many man-hours (or woman-hours), and quite often a large dose of frustration. We were at the hangar until midnight MST Tuesday night (2 a.m. EST) and some of the crew was up later than that. As of today the CSWR radars are still under construction/testing. The change to dual-pol also lowered our clearance for driving underneath bridges/overpasses/low-hanging trees, so we may incorporate a “scout” vehicle this year. Essentially we’ll be sending a vehicle we already have ahead of the radars along the same road to determine if there’s enough clearance. Because they are dual-pol, we also cannot have the protective radomes over the antennas anymore. Radomes are covers for the radar dish that protect the antenna and dish from debris, small hail, etc. Not sure at this point how or if this will impact operations for all the radar teams on V2 with respect to their locations in the storm environment.

Around midnight EST at the hangar.

Aside from the radars (essentially the stars of the entire project), I have personally spent a lot of time working on pods for the probe vehicles. CSWR has 6 probe vehicles: 4 of which have 3 pods and mobile mesonets, and 2 of which have 2 pods and no mobile mesonets. Both the pods and the mobile mesonets collect the same type of data: temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction. The pods are deployed near the tornado in hopes of getting near-tornado data. The probes have instruments attached to them and drive in the storm and near-storm environment to collect the same type of data—this is when a probe becomes a mobile mesonet.

Working on pods in the back of a probe. Got it? :)

I got a refresher on pods yesterday and then spent today showing some new members how to use them and working on some general issues with Erin. In addition to the instruments we have HD video cameras pointing different directions on the pods. Those have been difficult to attach and maintain in the correct direction on the pods. They also operate when the display is facing outwards, so we’ve been playing around with different solutions to that problem. After doing and undoing a few things we settled on gluing plexiglass over the display, which required cutting a large sheet into smaller pieces and shaving down the edges first.

All of this should give you an idea of how the past few days have gone. Experimenting with ideas, finding out they don’t work, trying other ideas. Testing something, finding out it didn’t work, thinking it works, testing it again. Matt, Jacob, and Eric (henceforth: “the guys”) spent a lot of time wiring vehicles and handling software issues the past couple days. It’s all fun but tiring. Errands away from the hangar involve getting food and supplies for everyone, and often require unconventional seating methods….

DOW we meet again....

The IMAX crew for Sean Casey’s TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) team has also been shooting scenes. At $1000 a minute for film, it’s very important to not interrupt their shots. Yesterday they had us do a time-lapse shot in which they take 2 minutes of footage that will result in less than 20 seconds of actual film time. We carried all 16 pods out of the hangar and then back in. By the way…each pod weighs 120 pounds. My arms, legs, and glutes are SORE! Did you know: IMAX film has to shoot image and sound separately? I’ll explain more on that later. Discovery has also been around filming; in the hangar they mostly like shots where Josh is talking to people. This makes explaining things that are going wrong that much more awkward. Both groups had us all sign waiver forms yesterday then packed up and left today. They’ll be back once V2 really kicks off.

The TIV last year in...Hot Springs, SD, I believe.

We are expected at the hangar at 9 a.m. tomorrow for more preparations; we may be hitting the road soon. There is a good time period for deployments over the next week, so the start of this season is already looking much more promising than last season.

P.S. I expect to put on weight during this season of poor food options and horrible eating schedules. Today, however, I jumped out of vehicle to literally have my pants fall down significantly below my hips. Haha!

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The CSWR crew reunites in Boulder tomorrow! Now that I'm finally caught up on school work, I've been hurrying to clean and pack. Here is the end result of my carry-on:

Inside you will find:
11 shirts that will be worn on the regular, slept in, or exercised in
2 shirts that look a bit nicer
2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of khaki shorts
1 pair of capris
10 pairs of socks
13 undergarments
1 hair dryer
1 pair of Rainbow flip flops
1 pair of long workout pants
1 pair of workout shorts
3 sports bras

This single carry-on has to last me 8 weeks! Also, I'm a female, so scientist or not I don't like having such limited wardrobe options. ;)

I'm also bringing along a roomy messenger bag for my netbook, camera, tripod, a notebook, water bottle, wallet, keys, an assortment of cords for devices...and I think that's all. It's a bit heavy, but mostly it's just a bag to have on my person during the day. It may house some snack food eventually. I decided to bring a folding tripod this year that folds to < 10" and extends to > 40". I may not have the time to use it, but if I do it will make for much better image and video quality.

I played around with it a bit today and it's really intuitive and fast to use, so I'm excited about it. If nothing else it's useful for self- or group photos!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

4 Week Countdown!

Greetings everybody! With one month to go until the official start of VORTEX2 2010 (May 1st), I thought I'd get things updated once more. When we last left our scientists, we'd had a single successful tornado intercept in Goshen County, Wyoming on June 5, 2009. We got an EF-scale rating of EF-2 thanks to the DOWs and the TIV. There was also major windshield damage done to a couple mobile mesonets. For some good images and review (in addition to my own!), go here:

Hopefully we will have many more storms like Goshen this year! No one was hurt, only minor damage, etc. The CSWR crew meets up in Boulder, CO on April 26th, and I have a million things to do in West Lafayette before then. Research-wise, I am working on submitting two papers to two different academic journals in addition to getting preliminary results done for my regular research. One paper is coming from my undergraduate research where we looked at mesoscale convective systems in West Africa as they make the land-ocean transition; these storms can then develop into tropical storms. We will hopefully have that submitted to Monthly Weather Review before I leave for Vortex. The other paper I'm working on came out of a mini field project associated with my fall 2009 radar meteorology class at Purdue. We were given DOW7 for a month and were given the freedom to do whatever we wanted with it (almost). My team of students and a friend's team of students decided to determine the impact of a local wind farm on DOW observations of clear air and precipitation. We got some interesting results that we'll be submitting to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) by the end of this summer at the latest. As for my day-to-day research, I'm using a combination of DOW and WSR-88D radar data to investigate tornadic wind speeds. I'll leave it at that for now... ;)

Looking at DOW scans in SoloII

That is what I will leave you with for a few more weeks. Until then, be sure to check out these websites:

My YouTube

Matt's blog

VORTEX2 page