TORUS: Targeted Observations by Radars and UAS of Supercells

More than 50 researchers and students are deploying a wide-ranging suite of instruments to collect data on supercell thunderstorms across the Great Plains during 2019 and 2020. The TORUS project, or Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells, aims at understanding the relationships between severe thunderstorms and tornado formation.


Multiple research teams will follow severe thunderstorms to study how factors like wind speed, temperature, humidity and pressure may reveal the small-scale structures in a supercell storm and how it contributes to tornado formation. The goal is to use the data collected to improve conceptual models of supercell thunderstorms. Aims of the project include measuring and observing the frequency of changes in the atmosphere and relationships between the different atmospheric boundary layers.

Roughly a dozen radar, ballooning, unmanned aerial vehicle, and ground-based observations teams will travel into the storm, along with a team in the NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter flying just outside the storm, to provide a data-driven, multi-dimensional view of each storm system.

Among the tools used in the project are swarms of radiosondes that take measurements of the atmosphere. The radiosondes are attached to balloons that are much smaller than traditional weather balloons. As many as 100 can be tracked within the storm at once.

The project covers 367,000 square miles — including North Dakota to Texas and Iowa to Wyoming and Colorado.

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The TORUS project has numerous partners with $2.4 million from the National Science Foundation and funding support from NOAA. The TORUS project is led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Partner institutions include: NOAA NSSL, NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, Texas Tech University, and the University of Colorado Boulder.

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