WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

VORTEX2 team sees calm between storms

Posted May 14, 2010

Casey Letkewicz is a doctoral student in meteorology at NC State University in Raleigh. She is one of a half-dozen students and faculty from NC State participating in VORTEX2, a research project designed to learn more about how and why tornadoes form.

Despite an outbreak of tornadic storms on Monday, the atmosphere has continued to deal VORTEX2 a favorable hand by giving us multiple operations days in a row. Storms were firing today as well, but the set-up was not as good for supercells, so the armada decided to have a little bit of down time before the next round of active days. I should note that this is in stark contrast to last year, where at one point we were chasing almost anything that produced thunder! At any rate, I’m thankful to have a few hours to myself to rest and catch up on everything.

After a late night on Monday, the VORTEX2 armada woke up on Tuesday and headed toward western Oklahoma. The drive was humbling, as the scars from the previous day’s storms were fresh along the highway just east of Oklahoma City. Twisted limbs and demolished structures reminded us all of the great need to better understand this destructive phenomena. With renewed perspective, we traveled onward to our next destination.

The set-up for storms was quite good on Tuesday, but was conditional on their formation. As a result, the armada spent several hours waiting around for initiation. The NC State team launched several weather balloons to track the evolution of the environment and to see if conditions improved. Eventually a few storms began to fire, though they often teased us and dissipated despite the odds being in favor of their maintenance. Finally near sunset, a long-lived storm formed that was suitable for VORTEX2′s interests. Unfortunately, since it was almost dark, the visibility wasn’t very good and I only managed to snap one good shot of the storm. Despite the less than favorable viewing conditions, the armada still managed to collect some very useful data on the storm, which also reportedly produced a brief funnel cloud.

On Wednesday, storm formation was expected in the eastern panhandle of Texas/western Oklahoma, but there was some worry that there would not be a discrete isolated cell that the armada could target. Patience was the name of the game, and our waiting eventually paid off, as the isolated storm which became our target turned out to be the best deployment yet for VORTEX2 this year! All of the teams were in the right place at the right time and fulfilling their missions to a T.
This deployment was also more fun for me, since my mission placed me a bit closer to the action, making it much more exciting :). However, it was also a bit more stressful because there were times I knew I needed to launch a balloon ASAP and get the heck out of there before the hail core engulfed me or I was struck by lightning. The stress was magnified when locals spotted us and started asking questions, further delaying a launch or departure. This happened when we were sitting in a hotel parking lot in Clinton, OK. We were in the middle of launch preparations when this guy walked up and started asking us questions and was telling us how much he loved storms. We managed to press upon him relatively quickly our need to get our launch done and leave (I could see the hail core quickly approaching!), which turned out to be a good decision because a tornado came through that town just a short while later! There was no way we could have seen it (too much rain and too late at night), but the armada collected a really great dataset on this storm. I’m looking forward to more successful deployments like this in the coming days!


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