Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tornado hunting and early tropical weather

Since there is no weather of particular interest here in the Mid-South (how much can you say about beautiful conditions under broad high pressure?), I decided to devote some ink (or pixels) to a couple of other interesting topics in the weather world: VORTEX2 and the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The National Hurricane Center continues to monitor two areas of low pressure near Florida.  One, an investigative system until this morning, is weakening over the Bahamas and southern Florida, while the other could still have some potential over central Florida.  That system is expected to emerge off the west coast of FL and into the Gulf of Mexico later this week.  Models are still having a little trouble with it's eventual track, but indications are it could move north into the northern Gulf of Mexico by late in the week and could bring afternoon showers and thunderstorms to the Mid-South beginning this weekend.  Though it's very unlikely to become a "named" system, it is generating some interest, especially in FL where it could prove to be a drought-buster.  It is still a couple of weeks prior to the official start of hurricane season (June 1), though I've not heard of Mother Nature waiting on a calendar date for anything!  Stay tuned to the MemphisWeather.net forecast to see how this affects Mid-South weather.

On the other extreme, scientists from multiple institutions and universities have banded together this spring to try and learn more about tornadoes.  This operation, dubbed VORTEX2, is "the largest and most ambitious effort ever made to understand tornadoes."  It involves over 100 personnel and as many as 40 vehicles loaded with the latest in high-tech gadgetry and instrumentation, including 10 mobile Doppler radars, unmanned aircraft, and weather balloon launchers.  The goal is to get a better handle on the formation and evolution of tornadoes and the storms that cause them.  Questions they hope to answer are:

- How, when, and why do tornadoes form? Why some are violent and long lasting while others are weak and short lived? 

- What is the structure of tornadoes? How strong are the winds near the ground? How exactly do they do damage?

- How can we learn to forecast tornadoes better? Current warnings have an only 13 minute average lead time and a 70% false alarm rate. Can we make warnings more accurate? Can we warn 30, 45, 60 minutes ahead?

The experiments began May 10 and run through mid-June and will be conducted again in 2010.  For more information on this vast project, see Vortex2.org or this page from the National Severe Storms Lab.

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