VORTEX2 makes science history

The NSSL Field Command vehicle helped coordinate storm intercepts during VORTEX2VORTEX2 research teams made science history by deploying 70 instruments, including 10 mobile radars and at least 30 other vehicles, on a tornadic supercell for the first time.  Detailed data were collected from 20 minutes before the tornado formed until its demise.  The tornado, intercepted in LaGrange, Wyoming on June 5, 2009, is now the most intensely examined tornado in history.

VORTEX2 is also historic in its scope.  There were 150-200 people working in VORTEX2 at one time during five weeks of the 2009 operations.  Ten mobile radars, 13 mobile mesonets, 4 mobile ballooning systems, 4 particle probes, 24 sticknets, 14 tornado pods, and photogrammetry teams were choreographed to measure all parts of a supercell thunderstorm.  Data were collected on 11 supercells, including one tornadic supercell.  The V2 armada traveled over 10,000 miles through nine states during the experiment.

2009 was a historically low tornado year in the V2 domain.  The one tornado intercept was well below the VORTEX2 goal of five.  Researchers remained encouraged because they are also trying to understand why some supercells produce tornadoes, and others do not.  Three supercells very close to producing tornadoes were documented during operations and offer valuable “null” cases.

VORTEX2 researchers are convinced that learning more about how tornadoes form may significantly improve tornado forecasts and warning times.  VORTEX2 is a two year experiment and will operate for six weeks in 2010.

VORTEX2 is funded by the National Science Foundation ($10M) and NOAA NSSL ($3M).  Participants include researchers, students, forecasters, and staff from across the U.S. and around the world.  The unprecedented collaboration includes NOAA NSSL, Rasmussen Systems, and the Center for Severe Weather Research, Penn State University, University of Oklahoma, CIMMS, University of Colorado, North Carolina State University, Texas Tech University, NCAR, Lyndon State College, University of Massachusetts, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, University of Nebraska, Purdue University, SUNY Oswego, and NOAA NWS and WDTB.  Environment Canada, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute were also involved in the project.

VORTEX2 is a two-year project, with six weeks of operations planned for 2010.