VORTEX Southeast

The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) brings together meteorologists, researchers and social scientists to collaborate on a research program looking at the storms and conditions that produce tornadoes in the U.S. Southeast. This research experiment, taking place in 2016 and 2017, will not only take a comprehensive look at tornadic conditions, but will also study the way NOAA National Weather Service forecasters anticipate, detect, and warn for the tornadoes, and how end users receive and respond to forecast information.

“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

VORTEX-SE is an effort to understand how environmental factors characteristic of the southeastern United States affect the formation, intensity, structure, and path of tornadoes in this region. The experiment will also determine the best methods for communicating the 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 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.

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’s Role

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 focus on the most important and urgent areas of research.

VORTEX-SE began in the fall of 2015, when NSSL helped organize a workshop in Huntsville, Alabama, 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 participated in the first field observing campaign in the southeast U.S. focused on understanding how the atmosphere can become locally favorable for tornadoes and how these changes can be better anticipated in the tornado forecast process. In fall 2016, researchers met again to discuss progress and determine priorities for a second field observing campaign to take place in spring 2017 around Huntsville, Alabama.

Bite-Sized Science: VORTEX Southeast

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