Friday, June 11, 2010

A classic, isolated supercell....finally

Hello out there! If you've been keeping up with us on Facebook and Twitter, you've seen that we've been pretty busy the last week or so. We've covered every mile of I-80, two or three times for some stretches. Last night we finally found ourselves operating back in Colorado. Storms were initiating just off the mountains, and found themselves in favorable environments, so we spent the afternoon scooting down there from northwest Nebraska, where we had stayed the previous night.

Yesterday actually brought two targets, and therefore two deployments for us. The first supercell had a rather impressive wall cloud for quite a while. StickNet team 3 managed to get a few probes down before it became apparent that a storm coming up from behind was going to overtake the target storm. We therefore shifted our attention to the southern storm, which turned out the be the right decision!

My team was the eastern most team of all StickNet teams, so we had a great view of the storm as it approached from the west. We saw the first tornado touch down from 35 miles away! I would say it was on the ground for about 5 minutes before it either dissipated, or became to rain-wrapped for me to see. So I'm sure you're asking, "where's the tornado picture?" Well, I was driving, trying to get to our deployment road, so no picture-taking while driving for me. The mobile mesonet and radar teams reported a second tornado not long afterward, but our view was too obscured by rain to see anything.
My team made deployments on two roads, US 36 east of Last Chance, CO, and Colorado Highway 63 north of Anton. We placed four probes on the first road, then took off to the east to make the northward turn out of Anton. I had Chris Weiss on the phone with me for the last two deployments, as he was trying to position us exactly so that the mesocyclone of the storm would pass right over those last two probes. Its not often that he says, "well, where I'm going to place you depends on how soon you make the north turn." This is more what you would expect for the fine-scale array teams (i.e. non-trailer teams). But on this particular day, because of the huge gap in roads, and the spread between our StickNet teams, my team actually was working on a fine-scale array, needing more precision than our typical course array.

After making the last two probe drops, we headed south for safety near Anton, and watched the storm for a while. The picture I'm including was taken at this point, after we'd finished the deployments and were waiting for the storm to pass Highway 63. This storm was, by far, the most photogenic storm I've seen this year. All the features were very clear and well-defined. Storms like this make our jobs much easier, as we know exactly what we're looking at, and can adjust our positions and the arrays accordingly.

Well, I guess that storm decided it did NOT want to be sampled, because it made a huge looping turn to the north and then northwest as it approached those last two probes. It never crossed them, as the storm began cycling just before Highway 63. What a disappointment! Oh well, there's nothing we could do about it. We made the best deployments possible given the road network, and the previous motion of the storm. The storm did pass over our array on US 36, and through the arrays laid out by the other three StickNet teams. And the other V2 teams were hard at work collecting data as well. From what I saw during operations last night, it looks like the radar teams did a good job of covering every phase of the storm.

So far, we are unsure of any damage reported with this storm. It mostly passed over open land. It did pass near the town of Last Chance, and one of the other StickNet teams reported that they saw some mobile homes that may have had some roof damage, but were unsure if this was caused by the storm, because of the lack of damage to nearby trees and power lines. I will be driving through there in the next hour, so I'll have a look myself. It may have been caused by last night's storm, or could be pre-existing damage. I hope I am able to tell the difference. If the damage was caused by last night's storm, knowing the wind speeds in the area would certainly be valuable.

Well, back to the driving for me.....

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rolling with the Punches

Good morning loyal followers! I know it has been quite some time since I have blogged but an early departure has allowed me to get a jump start to my day, affording me plenty of time to fill all of you in with what has transpired lately.

After much debate a major change to operations has taken place. The leaders of VORTEX2 have decided that earlier departures and briefings on the road would grant the project more time to reach distant targets that would otherwise be unreachable based on prior departure times. Basically, we are transitioning into a pseudo desperation mode with two weeks left to go! We have yet to accomplish some of our project goals including intercepting a vigorous tornado and we need to pursue every opportunity that Mother Natures serves up to us.

Intercepting tornadoes is no easy task as we still do not have a complete understanding of the environment that they form in. A perfect example is the Memorial Day tornado of this year that occurred in southeast Colorado. The setup was marginal and ultimately the final decision to position for the next day's weather event was made. An eventual tornado formed out of the marginal conditions and another missed opportunity was at our hands. Attention had been given to the Colorado target area in the morning briefings but the conditions were not favorable enough to justify heading south to Colorado. This just goes to show how rigorous our science is and how challenging point forecasting can be.

This transition that we are making now will indefinitely put more stress on all teams as the days will get longer and the nights shorter, especially when we start deploying our instruments. The nights will get even shorter as instruments will need repairs (hopefully not)!

Despite the increased level of stress, our team is remaining focused on collecting as much data as we can and representing Texas Tech University proudly. These are times where we all have to put pride and short tempers to the side and remain patient. It is very easy to let loose and lose your cool, but I must say our team has done a fine job keeping our composure. We pride ourselves on utilizing our resources efficiently in the field and know that by exercising patience, Mother Nature will surely reward us with some adequate data sets.

Stay tuned for more exciting news from VORTEX2 Land!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

No one ever said this was easy.....

Hello out there in blogger land! The last week or so has been weird for the V2 team. And has proved just how much we still need to learn. And has shown just how difficult this project can be.

The federal government (and you as taxpayers!) have charged us with finding out everything we can about tornadoes, how and why they form. The problem is in the logistics. These days, with so many chasers, and the abundance of media, and cell phones, and cell internet, seeing a tornado is not as hard as it used to be. But making meaningful deployments of instruments to collect valuable data to understand tornadoes is incredibly difficult. Because V2 is so huge, we need a long lead time (~1 hour), and a good road network (we're trying to get 50 vehicles to sample a single storm) in order to carry out our objectives. And in the Plains, where the weather is volatile, this is a daunting task.

We've been at this for 31 days, and have collected a few great datasets. But we've also collected a bunch of mediocre ones as well, where storms were dissipating as they crossed the instruments, or made an unexpected turn, or didn't make the turn we thought they would, and just skirted the edge of the arrays. There's also the cases where the storms were really good (when I say good, a non-meteorologist would say bad), but moving so quickly and were so violent that we could not get a full array of instruments in position without sacrificing our own safety.

And at some point, we all reach a breaking point, just physically and mentally exhausted. 31 days of sharing hotels, driving late at night, staying up to fix instruments, eating fast food or missing lunch or dinner altogether, visiting the laundromat in our "free" time. On a few rare occasions, the project leaders have decided to give us a down day, to let us all regroup, and remedy any instrument issues. We have missed a few events because of this, but I think they were keeping our well-being in mind. We can't always drive 5 hours to operate, operate for 5 hours, then drive another 6 to get back in position for the next day. We can do it occasionally, but not multiple days in a row, we just run out of awake and alert people to drive. Missing events leads to some frustrated people. But then again, 4 hours of sleep 4 days in a row also leads to some grumpy people, so there's always a trade-off! After no real operations for the last several days, I am hopeful that we're all rested and prepared for these last 2 weeks. With only 2 weeks left, I think the crews are ready to just push through til the end.

Here's hoping that yesterday's decision to forego operations to give us a better chance (position) for today will work out for one ever said this was easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it.