VORTEX2 data collection wraps up

The data collection phase for the biggest tornado research project in history, the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment – 2009/2010 (VORTEX2) wrapped up on June 15 in New Mexico. Researchers hope this data will help them better understand tornadoes and lead to further improvements in tornado warning skill.

Preliminary numbers show VORTEX2 intercepted about 30 supercells, and 20 weak or short-lived tornadoes.  Several of the tornadoes with a greater than EF2 ratings were observed by a few teams.  Operations occurred in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.  The fleet of 10 mobile radars and dozens of other instrumented vehicles were driven over 15,000 miles each.  Up to 75 hotel rooms were booked each night, housing up to 150 people at times.

Several intercepts included the operation of the Unmanned Aerial System, an instrumented remote control airplane that was flown through different parts of the storm.

Researchers feel VORTEX2 was successful, but the number of tornadoes during both years of the project were below average.  “We certainly sampled the most typical type of tornadic events, rather than the big tornados.  In the long run, this could turn out to be even more useful data,” reflects Lou Wicker, NSSL researcher and VORTEX2 steering committee member.

Analysis of the vast amounts of data now begins.  “Data from the original VORTEX experiment was still being discussed and published for 5-7 years after it ended.  I expect that to be the same here, at the very least,” says Wicker.

Researchers hope they will be able to have a VORTEX3 in another decade, but anticipate smaller efforts in the meantime.

VORTEX2 was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and NOAA.