Follow the Tornado Chasers Online

Feedloader (Clickability)

Yesterday, the Verification Of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2 (VORTEX2) got underway—it’s the largest attempt in history to study the deadly storms, involving more than 50 scientists and 40 research vehicles. VORTEX1 in 1994 and 1995 documented the life cycle of a tornado for the first time (and partly inspired the movie Twister). VORTEX2 will build on that and seek answers to the following questions:

- How, when, and why do tornadoes form? Why some are violent and long lasting while others are weak and short lived?

- What is the structure of tornadoes? How strong are the winds near the ground? How exactly do they do damage?

- How can we learn to forecast tornadoes better? Current warnings have an only 13 minute average lead time and a 70% false alarm rate. Can we make warnings more accurate? Can we warn 30, 45, 60 minutes ahead?

One of the scientists, Josh Wurman, is blogging the project. You may recognize him from Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel. He’s the guy watching the screens on the DOW radar truck. (That’s not a boring job; it’s the most important one. He’s the one who tells everyone in his crew where to go to catch a storm and when to leave so they won’t die.) This year, he’s got two new DOW radars, in addition to his old one, and hopes to deploy 12 tornado pods.

And it looks like the IMAX guys are back, too. They’ve spent the last two seasons of Storm Chasers trying to film the inside of a twister. I really hope that they’re successful this year—that movie is bound to be amazing.

Get the latest Science stories in your inbox.