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 Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid