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Toys Science

Largest High-Tech Tornado Chase Set To Begin 112

Posted by kdawson
from the just-a-big-blowhard dept.
coondoggie writes "Next month, with the help of a variety of high-tech gear, researchers will begin a wide-ranging project to better understand the origin, structure and evolution of tornadoes. The National Science Foundation has given $9.1 million to the project called Vortex2 (of course it has a convoluted backronym), which will take place from May 10-June 13. Researchers say Vortex2 is the largest attempt in history to study tornadoes, and will involve more than 50 scientists, 40 research vehicles, and 10 mobile radars, and will cover 900 square miles in southern South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle, and western Oklahoma."
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Largest High-Tech Tornado Chase Set To Begin

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  • Dorthy? (Score:4, Funny)

    by flipper9 (109877) * on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:02PM (#27493785)

    Will this be the Dorthy I or the Dorthy II?

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      It's "Dorothy", dammit! Aside from the obligatory Wizard of Oz reference, what the hell are you talking about?
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        old movie reference, "Twister", to a device used to study a tornado.

      • Re:Dorthy? (Score:5, Informative)

        by snowraver1 (1052510) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:18PM (#27494039)
        Dorthy was the name of the contraption that they wanted to get up into the tornato in the movie "Twister". It looked like the cylinder shaped Coke Ice-coolers that you can find near the cash register, except it was all silver colored, and filled with many small cubes (or spheres, can't recall) that would transmit data when the whole thing got picked up and started swirling around...
        • Re:Dorthy? (Score:4, Funny)

          by SnarfQuest (469614) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:31PM (#27494199)

          They should have made it cow shaped. In the movie, the cows had no problem getting picked up by tornados.

          • by polymeris (902231)
            Consider a spherical isotropic homogeneous cow... it would have quite low drag coefficient.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Sonri (900181)
          Actually, the real thing was called TOTO, TOtable Tornado Observatory. They apparently didn't work (they couldn't position it properly, the best try just blew it over instead of picking it up) and were retired in 1987, according to Wikipedia. It was, however, named after the little dog.
        • Dorothy was a bunch of spheres whereas Dr miller's team had the cubes in their version of dorothy....but I digress.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Thelasko (1196535)
      More importantly, does this mean Van Halen [wikipedia.org] is getting back together?
    • by clam666 (1178429)

      I appreciate any waste of time and money to study and find out about things like this.

      I'm not a jacked-up-storm-chasin'-girl gettin'-scientist, but I'd think when it comes to tornados, a few things would be relevant to the average person, and the rest not very relevant. Among the relevant:

      1. Stay away from them because...
      2. ...You can't do anything about them.
      3. Everyone who lives in tornado alley has known for a long time what to do when a twister is-a-comin'

      Among the not so relevant things

      1. Mean, median, standa
      • You're a new luddite? Don't you know how dangerous those are?
      • Re:Dorthy? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rock Chalk Jayhawk (1443729) * on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:16PM (#27495883)

        Right now, tornado (and severe thunderstorm) warnings are issued when one of two things happens:

        1) A tornado or a funnel cloud is spotted
        2) Doppler radar indicates strong rotation and the forecaster believes a tornado is possible or likely

        It's always better to detect the tornado vortex signature on radar before a tornado actually develops. There is some lead time, should a tornado actually develop, and people have time to take cover. But the bottom line is that we still warn based on observations, not on a forecast.

        A fundamental reason for conducting VORTEX2 is to investigate tornado formation to understand why some supercell thunderstorms are tornadic while others are not. One reason that has been suggested is that warmer rear flank downdrafts are more favorable than colder rear flank downdrafts for tornadogenesis. Physical reasons for this have been proposed, but at this time it still remains untested.

        It is hoped that by investigating the storm environment, there will be a better understanding of why some supercell thunderstorms are tornadic while others are not. If the properties of the rear flank downdraft influence the tornado potential, those observations of wind speed, temperature, moisture, and pressure are important. The purpose of understanding why some supercells are tornadic while others are not isn't just for meteorologists to publish papers in journals and get NSF funding. The purpose is to better understand tornado formation in hopes that in the future, tornado warnings are based on forecast tornado potential instead of observing the rotation. If forecasters can predict when tornadic rotation will develop in storms, it will increase the lead time on warnings. It will give people valuable time to alert others of approaching dangerous weather and to take cover.

        • Considering that you get a good 1- or 2-A current in tornados, through several million volts, they should also add in that mix that they announce a tornado when they see a large magnetic change near the storm.

          Where lightning is an AC speaker system (resulting in thunder -- the cloud surface bouncing up and down), the tornado is a large DC motor.

          That also has an effect, because you *can* do something about tornados. At least the smaller ones, you can discharge them.

          10kV power lines do a pretty good job of i

      • I'm not a jacked-up-storm-chasin'-girl gettin'-scientist, but I'd think when it comes to tornados, a few things would be relevant to the average person,

        You must be one of those overweight, poorly socialized, lives in his parents' basement type scientists. Then again, it's highly unlike you're a scientist, as you're also posting on slashdot.

  • If I wasn't a webdev I think I really would have enjoyed being a storm chaser. Here's hoping they get the interceptions they are after and safe travels all season.
  • by quangdog (1002624) <quangdog@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:03PM (#27493805)
    The flying cows!
  • We've got two cows!
  • What do they evolve into? You can just rock me to sleep tonight!

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:08PM (#27493893) Homepage Journal
    yelling guy [youtube.com] isn't involved, I'll be happy.
  • by sureshot007 (1406703) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:09PM (#27493913)
    that tornadoes are attracted to mobile homes?
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I think it's more to do with if you're dumb enough to live in tornado alley, you're probably too dumb to get a good enough job to afford more than a mobile home.
      • by yodleboy (982200) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:50PM (#27494501)
        "if you're dumb enough to live in tornado alley"

        so what you're implying is we should just depopulate large areas of the country because of the risk of a natural/weather disaster? while we're at it let's get everyone off the west coast (earthquakes), hawaii (volcanic eruption), the east coast and gulf (hurricanes), the north and north east (blizzards). looks like the entire country is filled with idiots...

        at that point we're either mexican or canadian, pick one.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by geobeck (924637)

          looks like the entire country is filled with idiots...

          I didn't bother reading the rest of your comment, but that should be modded either +1 Insightful or -1 Obvious. ;)

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by ChefInnocent (667809)
        I do not live in Tornado Alley, but I'd like to know where in the world one can live without fear of some natural disaster. In my area it is range fires, earthquakes, and blizzards. Others have hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and landslides. Just curious where the people who aren't "too dumb" live that doesn't have some malady.
        • Lets see...

          Fires (Rare and nothing too serious)
          Earthquakes (No)
          Blizzards (Never)
          Hurricanes (No)
          Volcanoes (No)
          Tsunamis (No)
          Landslides (Not often, and rare in poulated areas)
          Drought (yeah, but good management can deal with that)
          Floods (Nothing serious)

          Does this count? [wikipedia.org]
          If not, welcome to paradise...

    •   Or perhaps that fragile structures are more vulnerable to tornadoes?

      SB

    • by Carewolf (581105)

      $9.1M to teach us.. that tornadoes are attracted to mobile homes?

      No idiots are attracted to tornadoes. Not sure what that says about these "scientists", but it can't be good, and will be fun to watch.

  • by Fastball (91927) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:11PM (#27493929) Journal

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN2_czSBSD0&NR=1

    Watch it all the way through. From 2:10 to the end is breathtaking.

  • TIV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:12PM (#27493951)

    Unless the Tornado Intercept Vehicle is part of the team, it's just a bunch of pansies chasing wind.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado_Intercept_Vehicle [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      Wow, what a big pile of shit. The second edition is extra-retarded, they actually convered a 4x4 to a 6x6 instead of just buying one of the many 6x6s available all over the country. The idea is cool, the implementation is stupid.

      • It's a platform designed to drive an Imax camera into a tornado. That alone assigns it much awesome. If you saw the series, the TIV1 was tougher than it looks. Agree about TIV2, though. It was a disaster.
  • by oldhack (1037484)
    Incoming!! Scientists, incoming!!
  • This is just scientists trying to figure out how to get to the land of Oz.

  • to report that it doesn't think it's in Kansas any more?
  • ... who read that as a "high-tech tomato chase"?!

  • Over that many states? Not much coverage considering that area is a square only thirty miles on edge. That's smaller than most counties.
  • Tornado Evolution (Score:4, Informative)

    by Rock Chalk Jayhawk (1443729) * on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:30PM (#27494163)
    The purpose of VORTEX2, as some comments have questioned, is to test some theories about the evolution of tornadoes in thunderstorms and why some supercells produce tornadoes while others do not. In a very simplistic explanation of what's going on, vorticity about a horizontal axis is tilted to where vortex lines intersect the ground, thus tilting the rotation into the vertical and transferring the rotation to the surface. Part of the tilting is done by the rear flank downdraft, and part of the tilting is done by the updraft. However, if the rear flank downdraft is too cold, the updraft cannot lift the air in the downdraft too much, and the rotation isn't tilted into the vertical. Present theories suggest that warmer rear flank downdrafts favor tornadogenesis. Here's a link [psu.edu] to a presentation by Dr. Markowski of Penn State about the current theory regarding tornadogenesis. VORTEX2 is an attempt to gather high resolution data sets for many supercells to test the current theory. Obviously there's much more to VORTEX2, including the testing of unmanned aircraft in storm environments. But one major objective is to test the current theory regarding tornadogenesis.
  • I just hope they don't use it near any pools.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqzlDj0N47g [youtube.com]

  • Use a tank (Score:4, Funny)

    by hedleyroos (817147) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:30PM (#27494177)

    Why don't they just study tornados by driving straight into one with an Abrams or Challenger tank? All the armor research has already been done for the storm chasers. Plus you'll probably get thermal imaging as a freebie.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tha_toadman (1266560)
      They do have a vehicle for that. It's called the TIV or Tornado Intercept Vehicle. I live in the Midwest (one of the states mentioned above) and we heard (and saw) that the TIV was passing by last May when a F2 tornado tore through city. If your curious, the vehicle is featured on a show called Storm Chasers on Discovery. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado_Intercept_Vehicle [wikipedia.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Samschnooks (1415697)

        They do have a vehicle for that. It's called the TIV or Tornado Intercept Vehicle. I live in the Midwest (one of the states mentioned above) and we heard (and saw) that the TIV was passing by last May when a F2 tornado tore through city. If your curious, the vehicle is featured on a show called Storm Chasers on Discovery. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado_Intercept_Vehicle [wikipedia.org]

        Yeah, but, can you SHOOT the tornado? I don't think so!

        • Wow...you obviously haven't seen Storm Chasers then. They shot footage in our city with an IMAX camera. Go watch the show.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      As another comment has pointed out, the TIV is exactly such a vehicle. The purpose of the vehicle is to attempt to get good observations of near-surface winds in a tornadic vortex. Mobile radars have done a good job of measuring winds at heights of 75 or 100 meters above the surface. But the question is how strong are the winds near the surface where they actually have the potential to do damage.

      In addition to the TIV and the DOW (Doppler On Wheels), pods with instruments are also deployed to take observati

    • by legirons (809082)

      Why don't they just study tornados by driving straight into one with an Abrams or Challenger tank?

      because that would be 80% of their budget spent on a single vehicle?

  • Seismometers? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre (752124) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:31PM (#27494195)
    Seismometers just seems a cool way of detecting and confirming tornadoes. http://www.columbusdispatch.com/live/contentbe/dispatch/2006/03/28/20060328-C4-00.html [columbusdispatch.com]

    BTW, the Blue Ash tornado they mention actually woke me up. I remember hearing a train-like sound and thinking "I hope that's not a tornado. I don't want to sleep in the bathtub." Turns out the sucker must have been descending as it went over me. Touched down about a mile away, but the path points right back to where I lived.
  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:34PM (#27494239)
    why they need high-tech to study tomatoes when anyone can make a passable BLT. Then I read it again. I do need new glasses.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      "...n anyone can make a passable BLT"

      no, most people can't. Usually the toast is toasted to the consistence of a cracker, the bacon shatters when you try to bit t, and the tomatoes a slimy.

      I've pretty much given up on ordering one.

  • by saudadelinux (574392) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:39PM (#27494327)
    I'm all for subtle instruments delicately probing the deepest tornadic secrets; there is much to be learned. But dammit, I want hardcore tornado pr0n! I want the money shots from INSIDE a big, nasty, mile-wide wedge twister! I want on good video, what Will Keller described when he was caught in one. Thermodynamic and microphysical data are great, but GIVE US THE PR0N!!! :D
  • I think the movie twister had a larger budget than this.
  • by onyxruby (118189) <.onyxruby. .at. .comcast.net.> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:43PM (#27494417)

    Tornado 101 for those who are curious, since this always comes up if I travel overseas.

    1. Are tornadoes really that dangerous?
    Yes that can be very dangerous, capable of rendering concrete building to rubble in seconds. They can rip interstate freeways out of the ground and have been recorded of 1.5 km in size (the small fast moving ones are arguably more dangerous). However they tend to very erratic, they can destroy one house, leave the next door house intact and destroy the one after that. By and large they don't kill huge numbers of people, but they do a lot of damage.

    2. Why don't people live away from where tornadoes exist?
    Because tornado alley is quite large, much bigger in size than the UK, arguably around Germany in size or larger (depending on how you measure tornado alley). Since your chance of encountering a tornado at your home in any given year is pretty small, people tend to view them about like they do the chances of being struck by lightning. Why abandon the midsection of the country on an oddball chance?

    3. Are tornadoes all that dangerous?
    Nope, most are small in size and many never even touch down. It's a rare tornado that destroys entire towns.

    4. Can they occur at night?
    Yup, they definitely can occur at night, (I've encountered one at night and it was pretty freaky).

    I'm not a meteorologist or anything, I've just lived through a few and know these questions seem to pop up...

    • One correction about #3... The circulation must be present both at the base of the cloud and at the surface. In other words, if it doesn't touch down, it's just a funnel cloud. In order to be a tornado, it must actually touch down. And regarding #2... The population in the Great Plains tends to be relatively sparse compared to other regions of the country. So, people do tend to live in areas where tornadoes are less frequent.
    • Yes you can live away from tornadoes - even in tornado alley. Just don't live in a trailer park. You know that's where the tornado is headed.
    • by icebrain (944107)

      Adding to #2, tornadoes happen everywhere. They're most common in "tornado alley", but happen quite often in the southeast, too, and also happen up the east coast and in other areas. They're also often spawned by hurricanes when they come ashore...

    • by kimvette (919543)

      re: 2. Why don't people live away from where tornadoes exist?

      Tornadoes can occur anywhere on the globe. They occur in NY, PA, and New England every year.The ones we get are usually much smaller and do not cause as much damage but have caused significant property damage. My parents' property has been hit a couple of times. One tornado just tore off the tops of a couple of trees, and the other just ripped the foliage off of a swath of trees in the woods, crossed the river next door and caused over a quarter o

    • by scorp1us (235526)

      5. Do tornadoes have an affinity to certain landscape features?
      Yes. They are attracted to trailer parks.

      Seriously though, I cannot think of a worse structure to put in tornado alley! They are shee metal and/or vinyl and offer no protection. (That being said, 2x4s can be forced through a refrigerator and cinderblock walls, but theya re still better protection because cinderblocks won't collapse.

      The best structure is a geodesic dome. There are no walls for the wind to force upon. You see, the first part of bu

      • by icebrain (944107)

        Bah. I'll take a bunker, thankyouverymuch. Now if only I could convince the wife to let me build one...

        Think about it: protection from storms and high wind, won't burn down, harder to break into, better insulated, and less disruptive to the local landscape after construction. What's not to like, besides the fact that you can't build one close to sea level?

      • by turing_m (1030530)

        Whereas with a dome, the wind cannot exert as much force because it flows around the structure, not into it.

        On the lee side of a dome there will still be a big vacuum. You need a teardrop shape to get rid of that vacuum, which is why every type of bird, fish (and man-made counterparts, airplanes and submarines) are basically composed of tear drop cross sections - to minimize drag. You could make a really flat dome such that it was sufficiently teardropped in all directions, but it's not really what we thin

        • by scorp1us (235526)

          Actually, since you can't choose the direction of the wind, and the wind constantly changes direction, the teardrop is out of the question.

          The weather probes that they lay in the path are dome shaped and require no additional securing. The winds actually create downforce which holds the probes in place.

          And I already mentioned one problem with a bunker. Another is that crap can land on top and you're trapped forever.

    • by chaim79 (898507)

      5. During what season do they show up?
      They happen any season, though the highest frequency is during the summer months they have been known to happen even in wintertime, and in those cases are even more dangerous (trying to find a grayish-white funnel with grayish-white clouds and white snow covered ground while snowing is extremely difficult). Basically any combining of cold dry air with warm humid air has a potential for creating tornados and funnel-clouds. In winter, such combinations are often what bri

      • They happen any season, though the highest frequency is during the summer months they have been known to happen even in wintertime, and in those cases are even more dangerous (trying to find a grayish-white funnel with grayish-white clouds and white snow covered ground while snowing is extremely difficult). Basically any combining of cold dry air with warm humid air has a potential for creating tornados and funnel-clouds. In winter, such combinations are often what bring on your basic snow storms.

        In the south, winter is the most dangerous time when it comes to tornadoes. For example, just from February, 2008, there were 12 killer tornadoes with 59 fatalities. Snow had nothing to do with it, there were your average supercell thunderstorms combined with warm, humid air from the Gulf mixing to create a dangerous situation.

    • A few additional comments from someone who has lived in both Tornado Alley and Hurricane Central (aka the Gulf Coast):

      1. Are tornadoes really that dangerous? Yes that can be very dangerous, capable of rendering concrete building to rubble in seconds.

      Even an EF0 tornado (which is viewed as incredibly weak) can do substantial damage to small buildings, mobile homes, and vehicles.

      However they tend to very erratic, they can destroy one house, leave the next door house intact and destroy the one after that.

      Part of that is due to the tornado having multiple vortices, where you can have a weak vortex and inside is a much stronger vortex. See Xenia, Ohio, 1974 for an explanation.

      2. Why don't people live away from where tornadoes exist?

      The United States just happens to have the exact sort of geographic and weather patterns t

  • . . . I hate to disappoint them. This demonstrates geekdom at its best: doing something dangerous just to get at the bottom of natural phenomena amd understand it. It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin's kite in the thunderstorm.

    Welp, these youngen's with their high tech gadgets may chase down a Texas-sized tornado, but they won't be lassoing it up and hauling it back to the ranch.

  • Kansas Storm Chasing (Score:3, Informative)

    by CompMD (522020) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:50PM (#27494497)

    I certainly hope to run into these fine people on the highway. Too bad they probably are going to stay really far west. I'm equipped with 40 mile radar, satellite weather imagery, and a very fast station wagon it all goes in.

  • Researchers say Vortex2 is the largest attempt in history to study tornadoes, and will involve more than 50 scientists, 40 research vehicles....

    ...all of which are Dodge Ram pickup trucks, I presume?

  • May set to see the lowest number of weather phenomena in 100 years. Researchers aren't scared.

  • is arriving late after all the puns have been said.

    • by laejoh (648921)

      Naaa, not true, one pun they missed, it's aboot a 1000 [xkcd.com] miles north from Tornado Alley!

  • until they know enough to make tornados into thrill rides, it's of no interest to me, IMHO.
    • Oh, it's a thrill ride. Get on a big storm, and it is hours of adrenalin high. It's also like dancing with electricity. If you don't do things right, it can really hammer your ass. In the early '80s I was able to go out with people from the Severe Storms Lab, and I know of one incident where an individual, who thought all you needed was a fast car, was killed trying to chase the same storm we were on.
  • Design your instrument packages to look like mobile homes and let the tornadoes come to you.

  • Gotta watch out for the bad guy tornado chasers in the black SUVs.
  • Here's a better link [noaa.gov] to what's going on and what instruments are being used. A media day will be held May 8th at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla. Interested media will have the opportunity to tour VORTEX2 research vehicles and interview VORTEX2 researchers and teams. I worked for about two years at NSSL. I was never a storm chaser, I just help design and build the instrumentation. It was a real hoot - one of the best jobs I've ever had!
  • by PingXao (153057)

    I thought it meant vxWorks had joined the stimulus software giveaway. Their development environment and cross-compiler suite is called, "Tornado". Too bad.

  • As long as this funding gives me a more interesting Storm Chasers [discovery.com] Season, then I'm sold.

    Although I wish the show would focus a little more on the science rather than which team member this week is pissed off at Dr. Wurman. [discovery.com]

  • It's going to be interesting when one of my classes is canceled because my teacher has to go storm chasing for VORTEX2. So will people in my class. I'll hopefully be taking in the storm reports.
  • and all this 'research' will again be lovingly recorded and televised on Discovery HD as porn correctly classified as 'it's interesting when people die'. As a native Western Kansan, I would love to see everyone who makes a tired, flippant Dorothy or Toto remark be bound, gagged, and buried alive with the corpse of L. Frank Baum - another non-Kansan.
  • The name "VORTEX2" stands for "Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2".

    Now, I may be mistaken, but I am fairly certain that it has been quite solidly verified that tornadoes do, in fact rotate.

    ... and this is the second time they've spend ~$10 million to figure that out. ;-)

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