Monday, May 31, 2010


Tough day today. We chose to pass on the Southeastern Colorado target for better day 2 positioning. As it turned out, the southern target did produce a few tornadoes, though we have no idea how targettable they were (i.e., how well they would have satisfied the low-level wind field objective of VORTEX2, the only area of our core objectives that has remained largely unsatisfied thus far in the project). Though frustrating, the day well underscores how much we have yet to learn about tornado forecasting - why we have this project in the first place!

Further, today illustrates the myriad of choices that the investigators on this project have to face on a daily basis. As a coordinator of two observational platforms and ~20 participants, I face a number of choices over the course of a typical day. Some of these are relatively straightforward, stopping for gas or lunch, for instance. Others are more involved.

One of the more difficult choices I face is the decision to deploy StickNet probes. Though we have on occasion had multiple deployments of the same StickNet probes in a given day, we usually cannot count on that luxury. Therefore, the decision to start a deployment is not taken lightly at all. Many factors have to be considered, including the number of probes remaining, the available road network, the current quality of the target, the anticipated future of the target, the development of later targets, the amount of daylight left, the time available to make a quality deployment, hail distribution, lightning frequency, and so on. The spacing, orientation and width of deployments has to be decided on the fly.

Occasionally it is necessary to abort StickNet deployments due to safety concerns. We had such a situation back on 10 May in Central Oklahoma. A dangerous tornadic supercell thunderstorm was bearing down on the lead deployment team. [Owing to various factors, we got a late start on the lead array]. The decision had to be made to bail on the deployment. We never sacrifice safety at the cost of a dataset, no matter how good it might potentially be.

Other choices revolve around staffing, both in deployment and lodging assignments. Crew members get sick or injured, family emergencies arise, students need to get experience in new tasks, personalities conflict (on rare occasion). All of these things have to be addressed to ensure an efficient (and happy!) team. Thankfully, the TTU team works together pretty smoothly, which makes life much easier.

Back to the forecast choices made today - we will see if the decision to prioritize day 2 was the proper one. Even in the best of seasons, mistakes will be made that are only clear in hindcast. The frustrating aspects of these misses are also motivating though - we still have plenty to learn!

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