News / Science & Technology

Doppler on Wheels Rolls Into Tornados

Doppler on Wheels Rolls Into Tornadosi
X
August 02, 2013 2:06 PM
Forecasters now are able to predict bad weather better than ever with a modern set of tools, including satellite data, high altitude balloons, radar stations and computer models. But for tornados, the false alarm rate has hovered about 75 percent for decades. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a team of scientists at the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado is working to improve forecasts by studying how monster storms form.
Doppler on Wheels Rolls Into Tornados
Rosanne Skirble
A team of scientists in Boulder, Colorado, is working to improve forecasts by studying how monster storms form up close.
 
Doppler radar reads the weather based on reflections from items moving through the air. Joshua Wurman was the first to put the technology on wheels and drive it directly into the path of a tornado.

“I invented Doppler on Wheels in the 1990s because I was frustrated that I couldn’t see enough detail inside tornados and hurricanes," Wurman said. "We had blurry images of all these things and in order to really understand the physics, the math of what is going on inside a tornado, how exactly are they forming, how strong are the winds right at the surface are, we need to get up very, very, close."

Storm Chaser

Wurman, who directs the Center for Severe Weather Research, deploys Doppler on Wheels to chase storms. His fleet consists of large panel trucks with rotating antenna dishes mounted on the back.
Dopplar on Wheels Rolls Into Tornados
Doppler on Wheels Rolls Into Tornadosi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Those high-powered antennas send out radio waves that reflect objects in the air from raindrops to birds. Wurman and his team watch the weather patterns in real time from inside the truck.
Dr. Karen Kosiba monitors the status of the radar in preparation for the day's scientific mission. (Photo by Jim Reed)Dr. Karen Kosiba monitors the status of the radar in preparation for the day's scientific mission. (Photo by Jim Reed)
x
Dr. Karen Kosiba monitors the status of the radar in preparation for the day's scientific mission. (Photo by Jim Reed)
Dr. Karen Kosiba monitors the status of the radar in preparation for the day's scientific mission. (Photo by Jim Reed)
“I’m seeing it through computers and through the radar screens, which are making three dimensional images of the wind and the debris and the hail, flowing around the storm,” Wurman said.

Weather forecasts, based on data from satellites, fixed radar networks and computer models, help guide the trucks to the precise location of a storm that could spawn a tornado. Doppler on Wheels has driven into more than 200 tornados so far.

“When we get up close to a storm while it’s in the process of making a tornado, we can look at the evolution of the winds near the surface, how that relates to the winds aloft, how the precipitation, the rain and the hail, influences whether the air is going up or down, whether it’s cold or warm, and how that is causing or not causing a tornado to form,” Wurman said.

Lifecycle of tornados

The analysis combines the Doppler images and 3D maps with data from steel weather pods, large heavy metal discs with measuring instruments. The pods are placed in the path of a storm to collect data from the ground, below the range of the radar.

A Nebraska field with lightning in the background. (Photo by Gino DeGrandis)A Nebraska field with lightning in the background. (Photo by Gino DeGrandis)
“That’s where we live. We live right near the ground," Wurman said. "Buildings are built right on the ground and we need to understand more about how the winds do damage, how the debris field interacts with the winds and does damage.”  

That data could lead to better building design in storm prone areas.  

As they observe the life cycle of tornados, scientists are getting a better understanding of which storms develop into tornados and which die away.  One factor revealed by the radar is a secondary wind surge that Wurman says could trigger the tornado.  

“The scientific process is that we need to now observe that and repeat that observation in maybe a dozen or more other thunderstorms, and in maybe a dozen or more thunderstorms that aren’t making tornados, to really see if that surge causes tornados and if there is no surge, whether there is no tornado,” he said.

Mobile scientific laboratory

Doppler on Wheels is an advanced mobile scientific laboratory. Along with hundreds of twisters, it has also chased several hurricanes, expanding what we know about those storms.

Positioned on the Louisiana coast for Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the fleet captured high resolution measurements as the hurricane came ashore. The images show winds in surprising corkscrew rolls.
Doppler on Wheels 7 samples a severe thunderstorm in western Nebraska. (Photo by Tim Marshall, 2010)Doppler on Wheels 7 samples a severe thunderstorm in western Nebraska. (Photo by Tim Marshall, 2010)
“And that corkscrewing motion does two things," Wurman said. "One, it brings strong winds down to the surface and those stronger winds have a much greater potential to cause damage. But in addition, on the way back up, those winds are carrying heat and moisture from the ocean, which is basically the food, the fuel for a hurricane.”

For tornados, the false alarm forecast rate has hovered around 75 percent for decades. Looking at those winds could give forecasters a better idea of the intensity of the storm, which could translate into more accurate forecasts.  And that, Wurman says, can save lives.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs