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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid