VORTEX Southeast

The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) brings together brings together meteorologists, researchers and social scientists to collaborate on a research program looking at the storms and conditions that produce tornadoes in the Southeast United States. This research experiment began in 2016 and continues through 2018. Researchers are beginning to share results from the project.

VORTEX-SE is an effort to understand how environmental factors characteristic of the southeastern U.S. 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.

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, like tornadoes in rugged terrain at night, 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 a lack of visibility of tornadoes, inadequate shelter, and larger population density increasing 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 opportunity to learn more about tornadoes—still poorly understood in any region—and learn 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 NSSL’s experience during the past 20 years in the previous VORTEX experiments. The lab has brought together a number of tornado researchers and social scientists 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 begin work on the VORTEX-SE research with an eye toward identifying ways to most effectively expando 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 that took place in spring 2017 around Huntsville, Alabama. In November 2017, researchers met for the third VORTEX-SE Workshop to review preliminary research results, review the project’s mission and focus on future research efforts.

Bite-Sized Science: VORTEX Southeast

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