Storm spotting from 30+ miles in Colorado

The past few days have been busy and challenging for teh VORTEX2 "armada" chasing tornadoes in the Colorado high country.

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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.

The past few days have been busy and challenging for operations.

On Monday, the VORTEX2 armada was deployed along I-80 in Nebraska, where wind speeds were sustained around 45 mph and gusting above 50! These fast winds also meant that the storms were moving quickly as well, making it very difficult for the armada to keep up with a single storm.

As a result of these conditions, the sounding team deployed in a “picket-fence,” meaning that teams were set up along the interstate launching balloons and hoping the storms wouldl fall through our network. The gusty surface winds made it extremely difficult to have a successful launch, and we ended up pairing up the trucks so that many hands were available to steady the balloon.

We also had to get pretty creative with our set-up. For example, in my truck we filled the balloon in the back of the truck bed and then guided the balloon out of the truck, where it was quickly pushed away by the winds. Working in together in teams was the only way we were able to be successful on this day!

The next day the winds were much calmer, but operations were still a bit of a challenge because of the lack of a good road network in southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas.

The storm we were on had a history of producing tornadoes, and my team was lucky enough to be able to see one of them from 38 miles away (hooray for high plains visibility)!

The pictures I have are not that good because it was so far away, but it was still great to see a tornado, especially from so far away.

The challenges on this day weren’t over, however. We had a *five hour* drive to our hotel once operations were over (around 9 p.m.). When we originally picked our hotel for the night, we figured we would be operating a bit farther north and west than we actually did.

Of course, Mother Nature had different plans. It was a rough drive, but seeing a tornado and some gorgeous views along the way, along with successful data collection made it worth it.

Finally, yesterday’s operations, while successful were not ideal either due to the logistics of being near the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Front Range is full of busy urban areas, and just to the east of it there are very few roads. Despite these challenges, VORTEX2 successfully deployed on a slow-moving supercell that had a history of producing a tornado. The plus side of working just east of the foothills of the Rockies is really flat terrain where you can see for miles and miles! I was able to get some great shots of our target storm and enjoy a great Colorado sunset.

Today’s a travel day for the VORTEX2 armada, meaning that we’re getting into position for possible operations this weekend. Northern Plains, here we come!

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