Saturday, May 29, 2010

All quiet on the western front...

Except at 2, 4, and 6 PM (not AM, of course).

After a lovely day of touring, we woke up to a disappointing weather forecast: convection was unlikely in our target region (SD/ND/MT) because the atmosphere was too capped. "Capping" is almost a literal description...a cap means that there is a layer of (relatively) warm air above the surface that inhibits convection (like a lid on a pot). The warmer the air, the stronger the cap. Some capping is good because it keeps storms from going early (when conditions are not necessarily conducive to supercells) and it also precludes a gazillion (wow-no red spelling underline!) storms from forming at once. Usually (well, on a good supercell day!) as the day progresses, the cap erodes allowing for storms to form where there is strong forcing. The alternate scenario is that you get a bad sunburn (hence, you should were a cap. Ha? Ha?). Well, the latter scenario transpired. Fortunately, we never left the hotel so we took the opportunity to look over our data from the previous missions (and nap). It looked good--except the lack of the meganado (spell check caught this one).

Back to Nebraska!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Mashed Potato Tower

Greeting from Devils Tower, WY.

Today we visited Devils Tower. Wow! Afterward, we went to dinner in Deadwood, SD. It was great. Wish you were here!

Ooops--sorry, thought I was writing a postcard to my parents....!

After meetings (and more meetings), the Vortex2 armada departed Colorado for South Dakota (in anticipation of "Day 2" in SD/ND--we do not use dates. For us, it only is Day 1 or Day 2. Much easier!). Teams left at their leisure for the 350 mile journey.

What to do...what to do...

(Admittedly, I only have seen Close Encounters once. All I remember is the mashed potato tower and the keyboard music/light show when the aliens arrived.)

Picture 1: Communicating with the aliens.

Picture 2: Dr. Chris Weiss (recently tenured at Texas Tech! Yeah Chris!) arrived on scene. Time to be serious (well, just Josh).

Picture 3: Is a W-band mobile radar always parked next to the tower? Weird...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The storm remains the same...

or does it?

Since I last left you...(when was that?!)

I think in Ogallala (Nebraska geography check)...

We headed to Kansas, then to Colorado, then to Kansas, then to Colorado.

We left I-80 and headed south to I-70 and west into CO.
Initial target town: Sheridan Lake, CO (couldn't see a lake...)
We did our parking lot thing (napping, eating, napping) and I quickly was getting convinced I would not be turning on the radar that day (that would be a first!). Obviously, just by thinking such a thought (I think I uttered it out loud, as well), this Vortex2 "milestone" was not reached. A storm became interesting in western KS (Tribune, in fact). The interesting storm became interesting stormS. These storms produced numerous landspouts (5, I believe). Landspouts are nice, but not super nice (is there a synonym for nicest?). They are weak, short-lived rotations that last for ~ 1 minute. Storms moved north and west and then did not move...which makes targeting "projected" storm paths tricky. Overall, though, we collected some good data documenting storm interaction (this seems like a Miss America answer...but with non-nonsensical storms, it feels appropriate).

The CSWR crew returned to our Boulder home base (the DOWs needed some love) and the rest of the Vortex2 armada stayed about ~1 hour north in Loveland, CO in anticipation of a trip to Canada...(Montana, actually).

5/26/10--The gentleman's chase (almost)
The DOWs received their tender loving care starting at 600 AM. As tea time rolled around, the weather perked up just west and north of Boulder/Loveland. Our tea and biscuits were abandoned and the chase was on. We targeted a storm near Hudson, CO. We targeted it very well (A+ for Vortex2). Additionally, we were in a region where the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) could fly around the storm, getting thermodynamic and wind data above ground level. The storm did not produce a tornado (C for the atmosphere--presentation was good, but failed to produce).

27 May was looking good for NE Montana...but we decided it was not looking good enough...(and passports were still in safety deposit boxes).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

East by Eastwest...

The Good Life...
Home of Arbor day...

And the state of choice is...?

Today was tough. We got arrived in Colby, KS around 930 PM last night, had dinner (watched House), and went to bed. We woke up to a SPC (Storm Prediction Center) forecast (based on a late night model run--we get model data a few times a day. this data is part of what we use to make our forecast) of a moderate risk for severe weather in South Dakota. Of course, we are all sensitive to South Dakota...!

We have a pretty good schedule in the morning--the "head" (i.e., funded) scientists meet first for a forecast discussion and then the rest of the Vortex2 meets. Usually we depart soon after the "all-hands-on" meeting. Remember there is 100+ people--so this is a very effective way for us to make decisions and communicate information. Most of the "heads" consult with their crew (bodies?) before the first meeting, so everyone usually is in the loop.

I give you this background only to say, in order for us to be in central South Dakota today (hey, that rhymes!), we would have needed to have 140 people leaving Colby by 630 AM. That's tricky. Especially when we positioned ourselves for a very reasonable (and meteorologically favorable) target in NE/KS. We decided to stick with our first choice (not the northern morning "surprise"--which I believe came with real Vermont maple syrup).

The armada got up to I-80, and storms fired fast and, well fast. Storms were moving at 40 knts. Storms moved north off of the dry line--one after another. We kept intercepting. Sutherland to Ogallala. Ogallala to Sutherland. Sutherland to Ogallala. Ogallala to Gothenburg (Have you consulted your Rand McNally, yet?). Radars set up. Disdrometers, WOWs, and Sticknets deployed.

The storms grew upscale quickly--Old Navy to Barneys (what "upscale" really means is that instead of discrete, isolated storms, storms congealed into lines. This is not so good because this "mode" does not favor long-lived tornadoes). There was some quality hail--which is good for the disdrometers--and some short-lived circulations (marginatoes or DOWnadoes, as they are affectionately dubbed).

Chase another day.

Picture 1: Rear view window.

Picture 2: DOW7 postcard. Admittedly lame.

Monday, May 24, 2010

There is something wrong with the atmosphere...

not us!

Just trying to make myself feel better...

I am watching the nightly news and they are showing tornado video from South Dakota...yesterday (something about spilled milk...I think there still are a few more days of mourning).

Today we drove from North Platte, NE to Garden City, KS to Scott City, KS to Leoti, KS to Colby, KS (time to brush up on your Kansas geography). There was minor blood shed this morning in the forecast discussion...Wyoming or Kansas?

Kansas. We targeted near the triple point. In this case the "triple point" is where the dry line and the warm front intersect. The dry line (usually N/S oriented) and the warm front are each different boundaries that separates different types of air masses (warm and dry--behind the dry line and warm and moist--behind the warm front). Also boundaries can provide directional shear (good for rotation).

Storms formed in southern Kansas and moved quickly north. We briefly deployed near Healy, KS (geography check), but the storms were immature. Storms began to fire along the dry line in southeast Colorado. We scrambled west to Leoti, KS to intercept storms moving north from the dryline. These storms just could not get themselves together (I am totally blaming the storms!)--they barely rotated and they never right-turned (the sign of a good, mature supercell).

I think House is coming on...Chase another day.


Picture 1: Hi, Kansas.

Picture 2: The masses departing the morning weather briefing.

Picture 3: Lunch. Probe 12 had an unfortunate incident with a bird that went well with cranberry sauce...and made a nice sandwich the next day.

Picture 4: DOW7 postcard from Scott City, KS.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Welcome Kansas. Welcome to Nebraska. Welcome to South Dakota?


(that was not as painful to write as I thought...after an extended period of mourning...).

After a long ferry from Edmond, OK to Colby, KS on Thursday (?), late (tornado-less) operations near Scottsbluff, NE on Friday (most groups did not make it to the hotel until 130 AM or so), Vortex2 decided that Saturday was a down day.

By all accounts, the weather set-up yesterday had its deficiencies...there was not a definitive region where good shear (wind profiles that favor rotating thunderstorms) and good CAPE (Convective Available Potential Energy; the energy needed to fuel vigorous thunderstorms) overlapped. Convective initiation was questionable...

In meteorological lingo, it would take a "mesoscale accident" for conditions to be favorable for supercells.

As we all know, accidents (frequently) happen...and we did cry over our spilled milk....(I am colloquialism-ed out or is it aphorism-ed?)

Picture 1: Another postcard from the back of DOW7 (a coffee table book is in the works). "Greetings from Scottsbluff, NE!"

We did get a chance to review our data...(the silver lining--one more!)
The left side of these images show precipitation (reflectivity; pinker colors = more precipitation) and the right side shows Doppler velocity (cool colors indicate motion towards the radar and warm colors indicate motion away from the radar)

Picture 2: This is data from DOW(?) on 12 May 2010 showing a weak tornado near Clinton, OK.

Picture 3: More data from DOW(?) showing a BWER (bound weak echo region, of course!) on 12 May 2010. The BWER is a precipitation-free hole, indicating a strong updraft.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The day off and still...twisters!

(20 May 2010)

Ferried from Edmond, OK to Colby, KS.

What do meteorologists while on their Tour of the Great Plains?

a. Visit the Twister Museum in Wakita, OK

b. Visit Twisters Bar and Grill in Colby, KS

c. All of the above

d. None of the above

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Boundaries are meant to be crossed...

(19 May 2010, Karen Kosiba)

As in real life, in the atmosphere, boundaries are potentially useful. In the atmosphere, boundaries can increase convergence (of moisture), provide a source of lift (get things going), and can locally alter the wind profile (making it more favorable for rotating thunderstorms)--more on how boundaries are potentially useful in real life later. A big mess of organized thunderstorms ("What is an MCS?" Alex: Yes. Although I like the SNL version better...) moved through OK the previous night leaving an an outflow boundary in its wake (we call this a mesoscale boundary, which just means that they are smaller and shorter lived than a cold or warm front). This outflow boundary was our target region for storm initiation today.

We left Amarillo early (well, early for us...), because initiation (storm formation) was forecast to be early (well, early for us...). We paused for lunch in Clinton, OK and, in addition to the Vortex2 armada, we were joined by the city of Tokyo. Maybe I am exaggerating...I stopped counting at 11 million. Let's just say there were a lot of chasers and very few roads. Traffic rivaled rush hour in Chicago...(my only point of rush hour reference).

The V2 armada targeted a storm north of Clinton, which made a brief, weak tornado. Once again, these storms move quickly...but rush hour did not. The DOWs were able to get east quickly enough to stay ahead of the storm, but the CSWR probe teams were stuck at the Irving Park exit. Although we were unable to deploy pods, the DOWs collected some good radar data on a couple brief, weak tornadoes. Unfortunately, the NOXP radar was stuck at the Ohio Street exit.

We chased the storm to Pops (Sodas, for the East Coasters), a super fancy gas station, near Edmond, OK, which provided us with hour(s?) of shopping and entertainment before enjoying a lovely steak (salad) dinner.


Picture 1: A view of a part of the Vortex2 armada. Only New York city sized.

Picture 2: The DOW by a pop (soda) sculpture at Super Fancy Gas Station.

Picture 3: Mareike Schuster (left; also known as the Germanator) and Carrie Cunningham (right) shopping at Super Fancy Gas Station.

Picture 4: Eric Robinson (left) and Rachel Humphrey (right) admiring the pop (Eric, he is from Indiana) and soda (Rachel, she is from New York) sculpture.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Atmosphere, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

(18 May 2010, Karen Kosiba)

(the CliffsNotes version...Did I just date myself?)

Morning forecast...the environment looked favorable for supercells from Midland, TX northward to SE CO.

Brief joust...moved from hotel location in Clovis, TX to Vega, TX. Inched (kilometered) up the 385 to a picturesque vista (artistic liberties).

Enjoying the 385, making dinner plans at the Big Texan...a storm quickly forms to our west and south. Storm intensity increases and increases and increases...we have our target storm.

Target storm...The armada moves north towards Dumas, TX. We do the supercell samba (that is such a lame analogy, I know! I just wanted to illustrate that we do a complicated deployment choreography--is the samba choreographed?!--where we have all of our instruments surrounding the supercell in some organized fashion and continually adjust as the storm evolves).

Road options were few, so we sambaed where we could. Radar data indicated good rotation (when not taking tornado-scale measurements, the DOWs are about 20 km away, so we do not see very near the surface) and numerous teams reported funnels.

We kept jockeying to the east, following the storm, until The Ultimate Road Hole was encountered by Stinnett, TX. It was late and the next north/south road was about 3o minutes to our east. We either could say" Goodbye" to the storm for the night or say "See you in 30."

"See you in 30"....The CSWR teams (DOWs and tornado pod teams) move east to Pampa, TX and north on 70 to make our last stand...

The circulation was organized, then unorganized, then organized...The pod people deployed their pods...then picked up their pods...then deployed their pods. They got wet. No tornado crossed the road...even to get to the other side.

Keeping score is getting complicated (especially with partial points), so let's just say Vortex2 wins!!

Picture 1: The view from the back of DOW7. I really need to out of the DOW Cave.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Deja Vu...You can say that again!

See previous post. Until tomorrow....

That was easy!!

That's cheating, isn't it?!

On Sunday, we traveled from Midland to Lubbock Texas (home of the Red Raiders AND Chris Weiss, Sticknet and TTU-Ka radar coordinator--I am pretty sure that is what the Welcome to Lubbock sign says...). It was a travel/down day, which means that we did laundry (the lucky ones--the others, well, stink), repaired radars, and backed up data. As a data backer upper (my official title), I am quite pleased with the data collected on 12 May--tornadogensis of a weak tornado (I will post some images soon)!

Today (Monday, 17 May), we revisited the Land of Enchantment, home of Peppy the Pistachio (I still have yet to meet the elusive Peppy--I am starting to doubt his existence). Amazingly, we traveled the same roads as we did on Saturday and intercepted the same storm! OK--same roads, yes, same storm, no. We collected data on a prolific hail producing storm west of Artesia, NM. Windshields were lost (3, I believe...) and Italian food was consumed.

Tomorrow weather conditions look more favorable for tornadoes (really!)...and Lock Ness Monsters (not really).

Picture 1: The pod people maintain their pods. I think they are starting to it abnormal that the pod people tuck their pods in at night?

Picture 2: Alright, we don't REALLY derive equations ALL day...we also see-saw.

Picture 3: A glamour shot of the WOWs and a Smart-Radar. The WOWs aren't so shy when the lighting is right.

Picture 4: Yes! We finally made it to Roswell! The alien street lights and the UFO museum make it so!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The truth is out there...somewhere.

Today we traveled to the Land of Enchantment, home of Peppy the Pistachio (you truly are missing out in life if you don't pick up travel brochures at gas stations...!).

After a noncommittal morning forecast, we departed Midland, TX around 100 PM CDT. There were two regions of not much interest (but we are optimists!) today--one in TX near interstate 10 (passports, please) and one in southeastern NM. The previous evening yielded a MCS (mesoscale convective system--a fancy name for a big mess of "organized" storms, BMOS. I think I will write my next post entirely in acronyms) that produced copious amounts of rain and clouds (R&Cs) . R&Cs can be bad for severe weather the next day because the R cools the air and the Cs prevent heating, both of which suppress vigorous thunderstorm development. Since only 6 Vortex2 crew members had their passports, we targeted New Mexico (it also emerged as the meteorological winner).

As roadrunners and yuccas began to dominate the landscape (artistic liberties), we drove farther west than...eastern Denver. Storms formed over the high terrain in NM, but dissipated as soon as they moved east (this is relatively common--the terrain provides a source of lift, which can get air moving vertically. If air rises to a height that renders it unstable, storms can form. But, if the terrain is the only thing that a storm has in its favor, storms will quickly die once they lose this lifting mechanism). Around 500 MDT, a storm finally showed signs of moving east off of the Sacramento Mountains. And east it moved. Since it was the only show in town, we bought a ticket. We collected dual-Doppler data with 4 radars (DOW6, DOW7, NOXP, and UMASS-X). The Ka-band radars, DOW5, and a SMART-R collected single Doppler data. The WOWs, Sticknets, and disdrometers deployed. Overall, it was a very good deployment...on a non-tornadic storm (but, we still have a lot to learn on these types of storms, as well!).

Picture 1 (Left): Welcome to the Land of Enchantment! If we were to go any farther west we would be abducted by aliens. Wait...!

Picture 2 (Right): When waiting for storms, we like to sharpen our calculus skills. Matt Ryzdik (formerly a Nittany Lion soon to be a Badger), Mallie Toth (Boilermaker) and Evan Bookbinder (from the Kansas City NWS) quiz each other on the equations of motion. This is common practice (we do not play Frisbee, football or swing on swings, we do math) . Tomorrow, Maxwell's equations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The long and winding road...


from Wichita Falls to Midland Texas.

No operations today--just a ferry from Wichita Falls to Midland in order to get in position for potential operations on Friday. As a fully mobile project, we spend a lot of time in our vehicles... A LOT!

Of course we maximize this time, backing up data, writing papers...

The DOW Prince tried to out navigate all of the Vortex2 teams to Midland. Of course this was all done within the confines of the law... But, we were not exactly sure if Texas had a 75 mph or a 80 mph speed limit, so a Google search commenced. Which led to another Google search on states rights... WHACK! The DOW King hit a bird. A big (but not yellow) bird. What type of bird? Google search.

We stopped at a truck stop for some gas and shopping...cup holders, maps, speakers, sombreros.

Back in the DOW, cup holders were installed and a glass case was (duct) taped to the wall. I told the DOW Deity that taping a glass case to the wall was nerdy. Somehow this led into a "Who's nerdier?" conversation... (After a Google search) I was treated to a rendition Weird Al's "White and Nerdy". Somehow this was meant to illustrate that I was the nerdier one. When pressed, the DOW deity said he could not possibly be the white nerdier one. Why you may ask? Because he only knows pi out to 236 digits (I know it pi out to 5 digits). And also, just for my information, Weird Al could not have gone to M.I.T. because M.I.T. does not have class rankings.

3 more hours to Midland...

Update: Probe 3 beat DOW7 to Midland

Picture 1: I don't think any annotation is necessary.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A nice day.

After a restful night of sleep (we stayed at one of those hotels that provide you with a pillow menu), the weather discussion commenced around 1000 AM. After some discussion (and 1 sword fight), it was agreed upon that we would target a region located ever so slightly to our south and west (we were in Weatherford, OK and decided to target south of Elk City, OK). Although the region we picked had an environment supportive of supercells, it was questionable whether storms would form before dark. The other choice was near Wichita, where there likely would be storms, but in an environment that was forecast to be slightly less favorable for supercells. Dilemmas of this sort actually are quite common--this is why we bring swords.

Since the region of interest was not too far away, we had time for a nice picnic lunch at Lake Foss. We spread out our little red and white checkered blankets, unpacked our wicker lunch baskets, and served the brie and crusty baguettes (artistic liberties).

After our picnic, we adjourned to a concrete park in Elk City, OK. As far as concrete parks go, this one was particularly nice. We played football (well, not me), ate ice cream (also, not me), and took naps (me).

Around 400, we moved south and attempted to collect data on the southern flank of a line of storms. It immediately became apparent that we were too far south and the more interesting storm was farther up the line, to our north. Near sunset, we successfully scrambled north (near Cordell, OK) and redeployed on a storm that was associated with a tornado report near Clinton, OK. It was a "storm-scale" deployment so no low-level data were collected. Our radar data indicated rotation aloft, so it is possible there was rotation at the surface (is that enough of an equivocal statement?! I should have been a lawyer, I know.).

By all accounts, the deployment went well. Dual-Doppler lobes were set up with DOW6, DOW7, Umass-X and NOXP. The WOWs (ha! ha! I think this name just might if I could only come up with one for the disdrometers...), sticknets, and disdrometers were in the dual-Doppler coverage area, which means we obtained a good, integrated (thermodynamic, surface, and radar observations at the same location) data set (bonus, since this is an objective of Vortex2).

It was a nice day.

Weather = 1
Vortex2 = 1.5


Picture 1 (Top Left): Our picnic lunch. I forgot to take a picture at Lake Foss, so I am taking artistic liberties and using a photo from another day (the checkered blankets were at the dry cleaners that day).

Picture 2 (Top Right): Justin Walker explains the intricacies of interpreting Rho-HV in to an aspiring meteorologist.

Picture 3 (Bottom Left): This is my idea of a storm picture.

Picture 4 (Bottom Right): A sleepy DOW north of Cordell, OK.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pick a storm...any storm: Part 2

So after some sleep and post morteming (apparently my grammar has yet to improve) with the other Vortex2 research groups, it is time for me to present the conclusion of this saga...

(according to my Google search on "story arcs" I should be about 75% through my story...)

Radar teams found "good" deployment sites.
Instruments were tested (and, in some cases, fixed. funny story about
The field coordinators of Vortex2 became one with their computers.

Teams converged in Stroud, OK around 330.
Storms had formed to the west of I-35.
There were no shortage of storms.
A target storm was picked.
The radars set up their network.
Now all we needed was for a tornadic storm to pass through the radar network...
No problem...except for the tornado part.
Some of the radars, disdrometers, mesonets, etc. were too far north.
Others were able to get south and east of Seminole, OK.
Some good data were collected near Seminole by the NOXP and the UMASS-X radars (Go Team X!). Ultimately, though, the storms were too fast and too numerous to collect the type of integrated data set that Vortex2 aspires to obtain (more on the holy grail data set later...). But we are optimists (and James Bond fans), so we will Chase Another Day.

If you are the type of person who likes to keep score (i.e., competitive):

Weather = 1
Vortex2 = 0.5


Picture 1 (Left): The storm reports for 10 May 2010.

Picture 2 (Right): Some of the damage that the DOWs drove through en route to the hotel.

Pick a storm…any storm: Part 1

(posted by a very sleepy and grammatically challenged Karen Kosiba)

Before picking a storm, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to everyone impacted by today’s severe weather outbreak. At best it is scary, at worst it is absolutely devastating.

As tornado scientists, we cannot alter the meteorological conditions that produce tornadoes. We only can collect the data. We collect this data in order to improve our understanding of tornado dynamics. If we can better understand how tornadoes form, how they are maintained, and what the winds are like at building height, we can make better forecasts AND can provide engineers with the information necessary to design better buildings (this sentence contains a lot is a lot of “betters”—I know! I could have used “gooder”, but, for some reason, Word chose to reject this “Word”).

Today was tricky.

Let’s talk about the forecast:

1. Today's severe weather event was well forecast (which means that the more predictable ingredients for severe weather had been evident in the model runs for several days).

2. Conditions were favorable for severe weather over a broad region (500 miles may not seem like a lot, but that is a solid 7 hour drive, and with 40+ vehicles—Oi!). Since conditions were favorable over a broad region, many storms would form. But which of these would be tornadic?

3. Given the meteorological conditions, storms were forecast to move FAST (fast is bad, because that means we cannot “chase” the storms. Instead, we need to pick a location to sit, wait and let the storm(s) overrun our instruments. This is limiting because it is difficult to adjust once we are deployed).

4. The region that was most favorable (meteorologically) for long-lived tornadoes is full of trees and hills (which is bad for collecting radar data because the trees and the hills block low-level radar scans).

That was the forecast. Let’s talk about the deployment (i.e., strategy):

Given that the storms were forecast to (a) move fast and (b) occur in a regions characterized by less than desirable terrain, it was decided that the radar teams would survey an area that roughly comprised most of northeast Oklahoma in order to find locations suitable for radar deployments. The task was divided among 3 teams. This meant that each team spent 3+ hours (on the day of the severe weather outbreak) driving up and down roads looking for sights that were relatively flat and unblocked (very few trees) so that a radar could collect relatively unobstructed data. Ultimately, we needed 6 sites (for 6 different radars), but because there were no storms yet (this was about 1100, storms were not forecast to form until ~400), we needed to find a bunch of sites (roughly 10 billion--or maybe it was just 70??--one loses track after 3 hours) that would accommodate a multitude of storm scenarios (what if the storm forms here and moves this way…? what if the storm forms there and moves that way…?).

How does the rest of the day unfold for Vortex2?

Stay tuned... (I will say this much--we were/are in Oklahoma)

A “better” blog to come (Part 2)—I literally am in the dark tonight. Our hotel has no electricity, so I am in the DOW running the generator. I imagine most of the hotel patrons do not equate the sweet hum of the generator with a sweet lullaby at 200 AM...

Picture 1: 700 A.M. on 10 May in Perry, OK. The calm before the storm (hmmm…i get it!).

Picture 2: A picture of my computer screen (who takes pictures of their computer screen?!). It is the Storm Prediction Center's outlook for the probability of severe weather today. Severe weather is probable today (yes. I concur).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Prima DOWna (DOW5)

Since today was not a mission day...Meet DOW5!

DOW5...the square (literally) little sister of DOW6 and DOW7. She's quick, she's quirky, she's special.

As tornado scientists, we are interested in documenting the rapid evolution of a tornado's wind structure. We also are interested in the wind distribution very close to the ground, because these are the winds that cause damage to houses, office building, etc. Linking wind speed, direction, and duration with damage incurred is one of our primary objectives.

In about 7 seconds, DOW5 is able to scan 6 elevations (heights) simultaneously (this is accomplished through electronic elevation steering and mechanical azimuth scanning). Most radars can scan only 1 height at a time--which means it can take up to 40 seconds to scan 6 different heights (50 m then 150 m then 250 m...550 m...and then...40 seconds later...50 m). "So what?" you may ask... Tornadoes evolve quickly--and, actually, 40 seconds is quite a long time for an update in tornado structure (it is also an incredibly long time for a 50 m freestyle!). For example, if you observed me as a 5 year old and then observed me again as a 25 year old--I bet you would have a lot of questions! But, if you observed me every couple of years until I was 25, you would have a lot less questions about how I became the person I am (maybe!). See the advantage?

As DOW5 is a tornado-scale radar, she tries to get close to the tornado (as is safe!). By getting close to the tornado, she is able to observe features of a tornado that are barely discernible to other radars. If Grandma was 100 yards away from you, she probably would be pretty indistinguishable from Grandpa. But, if Grandma was 10 yards away, you would be able to tell it was Grandma--not Grandpa (I hope!!). Similarly, although DOW5 cannot see the entire football field (that is 100 yards...right?), she can tell the difference between Grandma and Grandpa (and tell you what Grandma looks like).

DOW5 also scans lower than other radars, providing low-level wind information. This year DOW5 and the TTU Ka-band radars will attempt tornado-scale dual-Doppler...for the first time ever!

So who better to crew the Prima DOWna than Travis Lutz, Paul Robinson, and Jon Lutz? Who is the quick one? Who is the quirky one? Who is the special one?

Picture 1 (Left): Travis (left) and Jon (right) Lutz. The father and son team of DOW5. When not napping in the back of DOW5, Jon, a "retired" radar engineer spends his free time working on DOW6 and DOW7. He also operates DOW5. Travis drives DOW5 and in his free time fixes broken pods and mesonets. Travis would rather eat an orange than a cookie.

Picture 2 (right): Paul Robinson, a scientist at CSWR, navigates DOW5. Tornadoes like Paul. Paul likes tornadoes. Jon and Travis also like Paul. In Paul's free time he analyzes radar data.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 1: A picture is worth 1000 words...

I do not happen to have that picture, so 1000 words it is...(don't count)!

Good morning! This is the first day of Vortex2 operations. We lost 2 of the mobile mesonet vehicles to a muddy road...if anyone is just south of the Nebraska border, the mesonets might appreciate pizza (2 pepperoni, 1 mushroom, and 1 cheese will do)...and a tow.

Let's start from the beginning...

In order to forecast the weather, meteorologists use models--not the kind that you draw in art class (after you have mastered the fruit platter)--but the kind that combine physics (how things work) and mathematics (solving for how things work). Meteorologists spend a lot of time looking at models prior to a mission. Meteorologists also look to see if a model is verifying... In other words if a model predicted it was suppose to be 75 degrees by 200 p.m. in Wichita--is it? If it isn't, why isn't it? We adjust our forecasts are based on the evolving weather scenario...

Today unfolded as follows:

Phase 1: Status Quo
630: Woke up.
730: Rolled out of bed.
830: Dragged a comb across my head (showered and dressed first).
945: Attended the weather briefing. The models indicated there were 2 regions in Kansas that had environments which "might" be favor supercells (but probably not tornadoes) later today (meteorologists really are lawyers at heart): northwest Kansas, which was pretty close to our current location, and southeast Kansas, which was about 5 hours away. Eeeny, meeny, miney, moe...

Phase 2: Watch and Wait (and Work!)
1100: Parking lot.
1200: Parking lot. Based on evolving weather, the decision was made to target NW Kansas.
100: Parking lot. Applied sunblock.
200: Parking lot.
300: Parking lot. Applied sunblock.
400: Parking lot.

Phase 3: Intercept
500: Drive west. NOW.
600: This storm has potential! Deploy!
700: What storm?
730: New storm! Let's move north! This storm looks good...!
830: What storm?
900: Fuel stop.

Phase 4: Food
1100: Dinner.

In summary, today was a great practice day for Vortex2! We realized early on that the storms would not be tornadic, so we practiced setting up the radars, tornado pods, disdrometers, mobile mesontes, etc. We gathered data to make sure it looked reasonable (some teams learned that it was necessary to turn on their instruments in order to get data...good to know, right?). So now we are ready...

Picture 1 (Left): A gathering of the masses...The Vortex2 public weather briefing.
Picture 2 (Right): The famed parking lot.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

This is how DOW7 rolls...

When we don't have any missions, I thought I would introduce you to our crew members and their vehicles.
Today I will cheat...

Welcome to DOW7!

During Vortex2, DOW7 functions as a mesoscale radar (there also are storm-scale and tornado-scale radars). As a mesoscale radar, DOW7 primarily takes data in the rear flank of storms. Although tornadoes do occur in this region of the storm, we are focused on obtaining data at a scale that is a bit larger than the tornado-scale (very generally, this is known as the "mesoscale"). We sacrifice temporal and spatial resolution in order to get data over a larger area, thereby capturing processes that contribute to tornadogenesis, maintenance and demise.

In conjunction with DOW6, we collect something called dual-Doppler data. All this means is that DOW6 and DOW7 collect data in the same area of the storm at the same time. We then combine this data to get a 3 dimensional representation of the winds in a storm.

The DOW7 crew is composed of 4 people: Herb Stein (DOW7 King), Jeff Frame (DOW7 Prince), Josh Wurman (DOW Deity), and me (Karen Kosiba).

Picture 1 (Top, Left): Jeff navigates DOW7. He routes us, directs Herb where to turn, keeps track of other teams, and eats Jalapeno Cheetos.

Picture 2 (Top, Right): Herb drives DOW7. But "drives" barely describes what Herb does. He drives long hours in bad weather, levels the truck, fixes anything that breaks, and eats peanuts.

Picture 3 (Bottom, Left): Josh is the radar coordinator for all of Vortex2. He has to get all (10+) of the Vortex2 radars in positions to take coordinated data throughout the duration of the mission. He also gives other (non-radar) teams storm information. All of this is done while drinking Perrier.

Picture 4 (Bottom, Right): That's the far back of DOW7. I operate DOW7 and coordinate tornado pod deployments.

These pictures do not exactly solidify our position as the "cool DOW"...
(don't worry, I am in the process of obtaining "cool" pictures of DOW6)

Standby for potential operations tomorrow...!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They are mobile, they are mesonets...they ARE the Mobile Mesonets!

(posted by Karen Kosiba)

Meet the mobile mesonets!

(they were all so shy--I could only get 3 of them to pose for pictures)

Led by Yvette Richardson and Paul Markowski (of Penn State), the mobile mesonets are weather stations on wheels (WOWs? Maybe...?). The WOWs (just trying it out...) provide critical surface thermodynamic (e.g., temperature, pressure, relative humidity) and wind information in/near the rear flank of supercell thunderstorms.

During operations, these distinct-looking (they have weather instruments are mounted on their roofs--that's distinct, no?) mini-vans drive in a very coordinated fashion (thanks to Yvette and Paul!) around/through the hook echo of a supercell.

While radars are able to provide wind and precipitation information above the surface, they cannot directly provide thermodynamic or wind information at the surface. The mobile mesonets provide this missing piece of the puzzle. For example, scientists are interested in how the rear flank downdraft (RFD) aids in tornadogenesis and maintenance. This requires knowing the thermodynamic properties of the RFD and how these properties change in time. Who ya gonna call...? MESONETS. (umm...this Ghostbuster reference did not work as well as I had hoped--or at all!)

BTW, no missions today and none planned for tomorrow.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunflowers, Sooners, and Sunny Skies.

(posted by Karen Kosiba)

Since leaving Boulder, we have spent 2 nights in Kansas, 2 nights in Oklahoma and 13 hours in our vehicles . Cup holders were installed, fried okra was consumed, and ping pong tournaments were taken quite seriously.

While reuniting with the marvelous mallow was indeed rewarding, the real highlight of today was converging with the rest of the Vortex2 armada. What was once a party of 29, has now become a party of 100+ (I tried to count everyone as they walked into the hotel, but my abacus gave me a memory allocation error--someone please laugh. Anyone...).

No severe weather is forecast for tomorrow, so work on instruments, meetings about safety, meetings about strategy, and meetings about meetings will be tomorrow's course of action. We actually have a fair amount of work, that the lack of severe weather is not troublesome...yet.

Picture 1: Looking out the front window of DOW7 at blue skies (nothing but blue skies...).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Meet DOW6 and DOW7...

(posted by Karen Kosiba)

Since the Vortex2 armada is still waiting for weather within the Vortex2 domain, I thought I would introduce you to 2 or our radars.

Hi -- I am DOW6, a dual-polarization, dual frequency X-band radar. I am blue.

Hi -- I am DOW7, a dual-polarization, dual-frequency X-band radar. I also am blue and MUCH cooler than DOW6.

Yes, it is true--CSWR operates 2 dual-pol, dual frequency radars.

What exactly is a dual-polarization, dual frequency radar you may ask (I hope!)...

Most radars are single polarization--which means that they send out energy in one direction (vertical or horizontal). These radars give you information about how much (and the size) precipitation is occurring. Obviously this is very useful information (will our town flood?)! But, what if you want to know if the precipitation is hail or rain or graupel? In thunderstorms, this information actually tells you something about the processes occurring within the storm that may affect tornadogenesis.

Now, in order to get information about precipitation type (dual-pol), these radars have to scan slowly ("slowly" is relative--tornado processes evolve over seconds...). When looking at supercell thunderstorms, we like to scan fast (also relative)! In order to scan "fast", two frequencies (dual-frequency) are used and we then use the combined information to get "fast" dual-polarization data.

So, in summary (if you only read 1 sentence read this one!) DOW6 and DOW7 are able to scan quickly (good for getting information on fast evolving phenomena like tornadoes) and obtain information about the precipitation type within a storm (useful for understanding thermodynamic and microphysical processes that are critical to tornadogenesis).