The Mystery of Tornados and the Search for Answers

May 22, 2013

Hokie Storm Chasers

Large killer tornados, like that which hit Moore Oklahoma on Monday, bring the awe inspiring weather phenomena to the fore of conversation.

The United States has about 12-hundred tornados a year, more than any other place on the planet, and scientists have defined conditions like “horizontal vortices”, “mesocyclones” and wall clouds. Yet, while the signs and symptoms of the storms are better understood, the exact cause remains elusive.

Robbie Harris reports on a team from Virginia Tech that is working to unveil some of the mysteries of tornados with technology and daring.

Only under certain conditions, will a super storm cell spawn tornadoes.  Signs point to the speed of rear flank downdraft but more data is needed.  A mobile storm-tracking unit left Blacksburg last week for a month of research in the plains states.

Dave Carroll: “Instead of having to wait for a storm to actually pass over a standard weather station that’s static somewhere, we’re able to take the weather stations to the storms themselves. "

Dave Carol teaches meteorology in the geography department at Virginia Tech.

He and his team of students have been working on the latest prototype of what they call Mobile Mezanet for 4 years. Mobile Mezanet records wind speeds, directions, air temperatures, dew points, relative humidity and it’s all GPS enabled. So they can go back to data after the storm and analyze it. Over the next month 28 students will rotate in and out of the road trip as the white mini drives in search of what are called quality storm intercepts. Graduate Student Paul Miller, will be one of the first drivers.

Paul Miller: “It’s going to be a great recourse for the department in a few years and, really just getting the undergrads out there so they can experience in the field, what the weather is and what the stuff they’re reading in their textbooks, looks like in real life, is where the real value is.  There’s definitely there’s that romantic aspect.  People stop you at gas stations and ask you what you’re doing.  It helps when you have one of these on the top of your roof.”

A white mini van is tricked out with measurement instruments in a special  frame designed to fit any roof rack, by B & K Truck Accessories in Christiansburg.  Again, Meteorology Professor Dave Carroll.

Dave Carroll: “I think a lot of your listeners probably can remember a time when they’ve gone outside and said, Wow, it just feels like it’s going to storm here. Well what does that mean? What we want to try to do is take those qualitative observations and put hard numbers with them.”