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!

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