The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) is a research program to understand how environmental factors characteristic of the southeastern United States affect the formation, intensity, structure, and path of tornadoes in this region. VORTEX-SE will also determine the best methods for communicating forecast uncertainty related to these events to the public, and evaluate public response. In many ways, VORTEX-SE represents a new approach to tornado research in general.
“The southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the Midwest where conditions for tornado research have historically been focused. Within funds provided for Weather and Air Chemistry Research Programs, OAR shall collaborate with the National Science Foundation's VORTEX-SE to better understand how environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeast United States affect the formation, intensity, and storm path of tornadoes for this region.”
— United States Senate, 2014
The number of killer tornadoes in the southeastern U.S. is disproportionately large when compared to the overall number of tornadoes throughout the country. Researchers believe this is caused by a series of physical and sociological factors, including tornadoes at night, in rugged terrain, as well as tornadoes occurring before the perceived peak of “tornado season,” during a time of year when storms typically move quickly. Other variables include the lack of visibility, inadequate shelter, and larger population density that increases the vulnerability of residents in this area.
This is the first VORTEX experiment to have a focus on all of the processes ranging from the conditions and storms that produce the tornadoes and the way NOAA National Weather Service forecasters anticipate, detect, and warn for the tornadoes, to the way the end users receive and respond to that information. As such, it integrates meteorology, NWS operations, and a broad range of social sciences.
Because of the rate at which technology and scientific knowledge evolve, VORTEX-SE aims to be an experiment that is flexible and can adapt quickly to new ways of making observations, and to new ideas in the atmospheric and social sciences.
This is an exciting opportunity to learn more about tornadoes—still poorly understood in any region—and how people become aware of their threat and respond in ways that can protect their lives and property.
NSSL is the executing partner and lead organization in developing the research program to meet the VORTEX-SE objectives because of our experience during the past 20 years in the previous VORTEX experiments. We have brought together a number of tornado researchers and social scientists, including many from the southeastern U.S., to identify the most important and urgent areas of research.
In the fall of 2015, NSSL will help organize a workshop to be held in Huntsville, Alabama, to continue to organize the VORTEX-SE research with an eye toward identifying ways to most effectively build on findings from one year to the next. In spring 2016, NSSL will participate in the first field observing campaign in the southeast U.S. to begin to understand how the atmosphere can become locally favorable for tornadoes and how these changes can be better anticipated in the tornado forecast process.