WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

N.C. State team goes on first storm chase

Posted May 7, 2010 11:20 a.m. EDT

After many days of waiting for the atmosphere to get its act together, N.C. State meteorology students got to chase storms Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Casey Letkewicz)

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

After many days of waiting for the atmosphere to get its act together, VORTEX2 finally had its first deployment day yesterday! At the morning weather discussion, there were two possibilities for the armada, both of which had pros and cons: head towards northwest Kansas or towards central and northeast Kansas.

We ended up going with the former, which turned out to be a good decision because storms didn't form in central and northeast Kansas until after dark. (Operations cease after sunset.) However, we did have to wait a LONG time for the storms to form in northwest Kansas. In fact, the armada didn't have a target storm to deploy on until around 6:30 p.m. Central Time, and it took many teams almost an hour to get into position.

Getting into position is often complicated by the sparse road network out in the Plains, which contributed to my vehicle not getting to our desired location until nearly dark. But I still managed to get a few snapshots of the storm from my position just after we launched our balloon.

While the sampled storm didn't produce a tornado, it did show midlevel rotation. Additionally, the storm was scientifically interesting because it was elevated. This means that the air going into the storm (i.e. the inflow) was not rooted at the surface; rather, it was rooted at some level above the surface. So, despite a lack of tornadoes, VORTEX2 still gathered data that will prove fruitful for future research (potentially my own!).

The next couple of days are likely travel/down days for VORTEX2, but the models are indicating a potentially significant event early next week, so it's time for the armada to rest up, work out some bugs in the software and instruments, and prepare for the next chase!