Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brief Updates

Hello all,

I apologize for the lack of updates lately, but nothing's really been all that interesting. We stopped at the Twister museum on a ferry day, had what I consider our first legitimate down day on the same day there was a tornado outbreak in South Dakota, drove the same stretch between Sutherland and Ogallala, Nebraska literally 8 times in 50 knot winds, and today we were once again deployed north of a storm that produced multiple tornadoes, another casualty of miscommunication.

My last enttry resulted in more controversy than I'd expected, and I had over 100 hits the day I posted it (I average around 25/day). Regardless of your opinion of the post, I thank you for stopping by, reading, and contributing your thoughts. I'd like to stress that this is my personal blog, and therefore the thoughts I express here are nothing but my own personal take or opinion on a situation. Just like anything, VORTEX2 is made up of individuals, and we all have our own feelings that may either support or differ from that of the collective group. I hope what you take away from these posts are points to ponder and the thoughts of someone that does not have to put out well-thought-out PR statements. With that said, I'd appreciate it if no one posted personal attacks against myself or others in the comments section; I do welcome healthy discussions though.

On a more personal note, my apologies to family and friends I've not had a chance to talk to recently. Even though nothing too interesting (on my end) is happening, we still keep long hours. I am literally just now pulling into the hotel tonight. Hopefully more exciting updates soon!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A note on chaser convergence

Chaser convergence 5/19/10 (Source: J.R. Hehnly via Patrick Marsh)

Today has been a PR nightmare for VORTEX2. A video, which I will not link here, surfaced of the TIV (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) and its follow vehicles/Discovery Channel presumably passing on a blind hill during Wednesday's massive chaser convergence. This coincided with a somewhat heated beginning to the morning weather briefing, at which Josh Wurman expressed all our frustration with the chaser convergence (see picture). He also made a public statement through The Weather Channel, which in addition to the video has people across the chasing community/internet all in a flurry. Here are my thoughts on Wednesday's chase, the result, and the ongoing aftermath:

1. As you can tell from the photographs, it was physically impossible for VORTEX2 to complete its mission on Wednesday. Our mission necessitates that we be ahead of the storm, while the mission of most of the other chasers is to remain almost parallel to (or on Wednesday, underneath) the mesocyclone. Once 33 turned into a parking lot, mobile mesonet vehicles were unable to complete transects in crucial portions of the storm, the mobile radars were unable to maintain leapfrogging dual-Doppler lobes, and pod deployment teams (me) could not get ahead of the rain-wrapped tornado that was on the ground to deploy our instruments.

2. Amateur and "professional" (whatever that means in this instance) chasers have just as much right to be on the roads as VORTEX2 does. It is a free country, and God bless America you can go pretty much wherever you darn well please. That being said...please let us through. This is not a selfish request. We have one overarching goal: to improve the science of tornado forecasting/understanding. By better understanding tornadic supercells and other storms we can increase forecast times and hopefully save lives. The "save lives" creed might sound trite and overused, but it's the reason we are out here. With literally hundreds of vehicles on the road, things can get dangerous really quickly for all of us, and the "save lives" issue becomes much more immediate. If you are in chase mode, please be the same safe and courteous driver I know you normally are.

3. Sean Casey and the TIV have worked closely with Josh Wurman and CSWR over the years, but the TIV and its follow vehicles are not affiliated with VORTEX2 in any way, shape, or form. The CSWR decals on their vehicles that everyone has pointed out in the chaser video have ended up there from years past while on "Storm Chasers," and do not belong there for this project.

4. Josh Wurman's comments to The Weather Channel probably come off strong to a lot of people and may even infuriate some chasers...but that's just Josh. I think a lot of the backlash at Josh comes from the belief that he's being hypocritical after the TIV video surfaced, but let me reiterate: the TIV is not part of VORTEX2.

I really want to stress that I am not saying the 1147 other chasers on Wednesday's storm had no right to be there: free country, etc. I am pleading, however, for cooperation from the chasing community. I've seen threats to intentionally sabotage the V2 mission in internet comments from chasers, and I shudder to think of the implications those threats have. In addition to making all but last year's Goshen County, WY deployment failures, intentional sabotage of the V2 mission sends the message of "I care more that I am offended at a request to pull over for 30 seconds than I do about the fact that this project is designed to improve life not only for myself and my family, but for all those living with the threat of severe weather." That attitude is frightening to me.


On a happier note, I want to thank those chasers that were truly helpful to our mission on Wednesday. One in particular stopped our probes from going down a dirt road with a bridge out at the end as precipitation made its way towards us. Another saw our probe trying to turn left onto 33 and stopped traffic to let us through. The V2 teams are definitely not the best thing since sliced bread, but it's really uplifting to see support in the field. Thank you to everyone that supports our mission!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Tornado visual, finally!

The VORTEX2 crew had a very successful deployment today on a slow-moving HP (high precipitation) supercell in the Texas panhandle in and around Dumas! Teams gathered data on multiple tornadoes spawned by this beast of a storm which had an extensive hail core approaching 80 dBZ! We shared the road with literally HUNDREDS of amateur chasers in a region with a subpar road network, which resulted in traffic for miles along rural farm-to-market roads. After most teams got stuck to the point they could no longer get ahead of the storm, official V2 operations were called off. The CSWR crew, however, had already fled to the south then east then north as most teams observed the (as of current knowledge) longest-lived tornado produced by that storm. Many of those teams also got damaged by hail, however, and CSWR was able to pull off a final nighttime deployment which included (essentially) blind pod deployments. Because it was dark the pod teams had no visual on the tornado, so we completely relied on DOW-7 and DOW-6 to keep us away from the tornado that Josh was observing from the radar.

Our crew did have the earliest sighting of a tornado from the storm, however, as we fled south from an area that was starting to receive heavy precipitation as the rotation became rain-wrapped. The tornado touched down for a few seconds before retreating. Prior to that I also had visual on a very brief rope-like protrusion from the rotation, but in my excitement I didn't get any photos of it--this is a shame because it sounds like most people did not notice this feature, so I may never know if it was a figment of my imagination. At our second location the rotation of the mesocyclone was still very broad with a beautiful green color in the center due to the large hail. As we were standing under it Tim Marshall called in a report of a multiple-vortex tornado that the rest of us did not have visual on. Due to this and another called-in report of a funnel cloud, we were told to deploy pods in 70 mph westerly winds...not only was this a waste of resources, but my clothes are still wet.

As skies turn green.

During our ferry away from the hail core/tornado? the storm "cycled" and produced a new meso with a much less broad wall cloud. We continued moving to get ahead of the storm as the longer-lasting tornado was reported, leaving the amateur chasers in the dust (with baseball-sized hail). Then, with only CSWR left behind, we prepared for our own tornado-scale deployment, which was fairly successful in and of itself.

Massive core

Tomorrow looks to be another big day!

I've also filled up a photo album, check it out!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Mexico

New Mexico

Today we got back to killing storms. We drove all day to a little town called Artesia, New Mexico, inconveniently located between the awesomeness of Carlsbad caverns and Roswell ('nuff said). There we hung out on a playground for an hour or so that was across from an oil refinery, so we breathed in potentially dangerous fumes while running around. Curiously this refinery was across from not only a playground/park, but an elementary school and an animal shelter as well. We entertained ourselves by writing equations on the back of Probe 11. I then literally fell asleep in the backseat of Probe 12 during our "chase" of an unimpressive cell west of Artesia. We then celebrated the death of another storm during VORTEX (dubbed by Jeff Frame the Verification of Ordinary Rain in Thunderstorms EXperiment).
Take that, healthy storm!

Friday, May 14, 2010

One for three

Updates on the past three significant deployments:

Monday May 10th: Outbreak

The outbreak on Monday in Oklahoma resulted in a lot of damage and a few fatalities. As I mentioned in my previous post, no DOW data was collected on any of those storms nor did any of the CSWR crew have a visual. The most poignant thing we encountered was the damage path of the storm; a humbling experience for everyone.

Paul Markowski, this week's mission scientist, explains the plan for Monday's deployment. The multiple circles show different mobile radars' coverage areas. The coverage areas where two radars overlap are dual-Doppler "lobes."

Wednesday May 12th: Dual-Doppler Tornadogenesis

The first (almost) fully-successful tornado deployment of V2 2010. We got dual-Doppler (dual-polarization) tornadogenesis on a short-lived tornado near Clinton, OK. As far as I know no one on V2 had visual on the actual tornado, but a nearby chaser did. Our probes almost got "cored" (slammed by hail) and were sent quite a distance from the storm which prevented any pod deployments as well. The dual-Doppler tornadogenesis, however, is quite a dataset to celebrate! VORTEX stands for Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment, so data on the tornado as it is still developing is valuable for the purposes of the field project. Dual-Doppler lobes are also an important aim of the 10 mobile radars, because from these overlapping areas we can interpolate the three dimensional wind field. A single radar on its own only "sees" the two dimensional wind field, from which we can only estimate certain features. This is also the first time this has been done with dual-polarization data (see earlier post for an explanation).

Before the storm became tornadic and after the probe teams high-tailed it from the hail core.

Friday May 14th: Hail and another missed opportunity

Today we moved west in Texas only to have a tornado happen during lunch. We knew this would be an early show, but despite our efforts we were still out of position by about 20 miles (again). Most teams had visual on today's TWO tornadoes, but the CSWR crew was neither in position for data collection nor for a visual. Early word on the street is that some other teams did get good data, so that is good news for the project. Otherwise we saw some good lightning and took some nice hail that was then taken from the side of the road and put into our cooler in lieu of ice.

Hail from the core of the storm that was tornadic. The hail we took a few minutes later was a bit smaller.

So far the CSWR crew is 1 for 3 for successful tornado deployments and 0 for 3 for visual on the tornadoes. The next two days look to be operations days as well. On the bright side, we did get to stay in a Hilton hotel last night.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts and Prayers

The CSWR V2 team did not see any tornadoes today, nor did we collect any meaningful data. As we drove to a nearby powerless hotel through devastated communities, our dismay became even more tangible. The positioning of hundreds of people and instruments is a difficult task, and unfortunately in this instance my crew was in a bad place.while I am disappointed we did not have a visual on this monstrous storm, I am most disappointed that no DOW data was collected. Tthe destruction that we are currently located near is devastating, and we cannot even find solace in being able to learn something from it. Please keep these communities in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day! This morning kicked off with scattered phone calls to VORTEX2 mamas; the number of phone calls increased exponentially after the weather briefing when Herb made an announcement. A lot of people were at the weather briefing today in anticipation for Monday's play. After learning today would be a travel day to position us for Monday, Herb gave a short speech to everyone that essentially went: "I know we all get a bit busy out here, but everyone needs to remember to call their mothers today. Do we have any mothers in the room?" A few women raised their hands and we all clapped. A cute start to the day.

Afterwards the probes were released to position ourselves for Monday's play, and we had about a 5 hour drive to our destination. A few of us walked to dinner (half a mile away) then got caught literally running back to the hotel in pea-sized hail and lightning. We'll be getting up early tomorrow to check pods, instruments, and our vehicles in general before what promises to be a big chase day. The current SPC outlook calls for a moderate risk of severe storms and has strongly worded discussions like "Supercells with strong tornadoes and very large hail are expected Monday."

"Probability of severe weather within 25 miles of a point.
Hatched Area: 10% or greater probability of significant severe within 25 miles of a point.
A significant event includes any of the following:
  • Tornadoes rated EF2 or greater,
  • Thunderstorm Wind Gusts at 65 kt or higher,
  • Hail 2 inches or larger in diameter"
  • (SPC)

    Wish us luck and safety....

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    First deployment and other travels

    The first official deployment of VORTEX2 2010 was yesterday in northwestern Kansas near sunset. I wish I could offer exciting news about the deployment, but honestly I didn’t even take any pictures of the storm early on due to a very unattractive stratus cloud deck blocking our view of any defining features.

    First let me back up a little. We ferried from Dodge City, KS to Clinton, OK and then back up to Woodward, KS a few days ago, presumably for the sake of driving around. In Woodward we reunited with the rest of the V2 crew before ferrying to Hays, KS, docking point for DOW missions in the pre-V2 days. Yesterday morning we had two options for deployments: northwestern Kansas (close to our location in Hays) or eastern Kansas. The first option gave us a chance to play off the triple point while eastern Kansas provided better moisture along the warm front. Most storms were unlikely to initiate until almost sunset or after, so the steering committee finally decided on the northwestern Kansas target so that daylight might play in our favor.

    The mission began (at least on the radar frequency) mostly as a practice deployment for the instruments, particularly the radars. The cell we were casually eyeing became supercellular so we began moving towards it and were given instructions for a hasty deployment…in dime-sized hail. I’d like to say things went smoothly, but basically the mission was a chance to show everyone what we were doing wrong. As all the probes collected our mesonet, pod, camera, and GPS data on the way home we had a host of issues that still have not been completely resolved. We have an early morning meeting tomorrow to review all probe teams’ data. News I’ve heard from other non-CSWR teams includes 3 vehicles getting stuck in the mud, which could be a first for earliest stuck-in-the-mud vehicle in a season (we’re only a week in!).

    So that small mission has been interspersed with more down-ish time. While awaiting instructions yesterday a few of us worked on papers and a couple hours later we had our first sketchy bathroom stop during the mission. This year we have more girls, so it was a kick to watch everyone’s reaction as a group to the outhouse/hole in the ground. Last night we were also privy to some major winds at the hotel thanks to nearby severe storms. There was a single tornado report yesterday in eastern Kansas, but it occurred in the dark when we would not have deployed. While ferrying today we stopped at the Montezuma wind farm south of Dodge City, KS and got some really neat pictures of DOW-7 right next to a turbine. The visit inspired me to work more on the wind farm paper I’m in the process of editing, because that’s one of the locations we discuss in the paper! I’m writing now from the back of Probe 12 as we move south to position for a potential Sunday mission, but Monday looks to be a really big day….

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    V2 Reunions and (E)F5 Rememberance

    We got the heck out of Dodge (City, KS) on Sunday, a day on which everyone was afraid they'd missed Mother's Day. Most of CSWR stayed to work on the DOWs and other vehicle problems until later in the evening, but a group of 6 of us left early to do a little local sightseeing at Fort Supply Lake on our way to Clinton, OK. Clouds overtook us, however, and we were almost constantly "virga bombed" the rest of the way to our hotel. Basically it got very windy quite suddenly multiple times between our dinner stop in Woodward, OK and our final destination.

    We turned right back around the next day and moved to a place we'd passed through, awaiting the rest of the V2 gang. While waiting we went into a 90 degree F pool and swam around for over an hour, then all piled into the van again to bring 10 people to a local BBQ joint. As we left the BBQ joint, we passed a bunch of the other PI's and some of our friends from other crews--dinner options in town were limited, and the word spread that this place was good. From there we moved to Dairy Queen where we overwhelmed the high schoolers working there; they did a fast job nonetheless. Then last night we went to the hotel bar and hung out, played some pool, and caught up with some friends from other groups. Laundry was also done.

    Hanging out...again (Photo: Andrew Arnold)

    This morning was the first day I had a chance to exercise (yay!) so I got up early to do that. From there I went straight to the continental breakfast (which was excellent) and caught up with even more friends from last year. The all-hands V2 meeting was today! We got briefed on safety issues by Josh and were reminded that a lot of PI's are miked for Discovery/The Weather Channel/NHK/??? so to keep our conversations professional. It is very odd to be involved with a reality show while doing science...we showed up at the hotel yesterday to have one of the crews run over and put boom mics over us while we were cutting up in the parking lot.

    Today became another down day which involved sitting in the sun, catered lunch, a probe vehicles meeting to review procedures, dinner at the hotel restaurant, and some television-watching at the end of the day. The internet access has been horrible! This happened quite often last year when over 100 of us swooped in on a single hotel; I am concerned because I have grades to submit this week. Looks like tomorrow is a travel day with potential for marginal operations on Thursday.

    It would also be remiss of me to not mention that Monday was the 11th anniversary of the 5/3/99 Moore, Oklahoma F5 tornado, and Tuesday was the 3rd anniversary of the 5/4/07 Greensburg, KS EF5 tornado. These events are significant together: the Greensburg storm was the first tornado since the Moore event to be given the (E)F5 ranking, an eight year time span. Almost a year later the Parkersburg, IA storm was the next and most recent storm (in the United States) to be classified EF5. The Manitoba tornado in Canada also received an EF5 ranking in 2007. It is important to realize these events, without "direct" measurements like those obtained by mobile radars/tornado pods/the TIV, are classified based on damage surveys conducted after the event and may not necessarily be representative of the true maximum low-level wind speed of the tornado. More on this later... ;)

    Sunday, May 2, 2010

    Down Days

    Prepping for departure from Boulder.

    Not much to report the past couple days. We finally left Boulder on Friday and headed into Kansas. Yesterday was the first official day of VORTEX2 2010 (yay!) but prospects looked poor for at least a couple days. We moved again yesterday and spent the afternoon working in the parking lot. First we went to Applebee's, which required more unconventional seating methods.... After helping outside (see picture) we got cleaned up and went to a casino for dinner and some slot machines. Nobody walked out ahead.

    Helping in the parking lot. (Photo: Tim Marshall)

    Today we're ferrying again to hopefully meet up with the rest of V2 (finally!). The probes are leaving before the DOWs so we plan on stopping at a lake on the way to get a little sun. Hopefully more fun updates soon!