Storm chasers, get your cameras: Tornado season is here. From April to June, more tornadoes spin up across the U.S. than during any other period. And although they've been the topic of both scientific and cinematic fascination for decades, researchers still have a lot to learn about how these deadly storms form.
So starting next month, a nationwide project—known, appropriately, as VORTEX2 (aka the Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2)—will begin collecting tornado and storm data from more than 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers) in seven states (Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas). With a team of more than 50 scientists, it's the largest organized twister investigation ever.
"Data collected from V2 [VORTEX2] will help researchers understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado formation," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research meteorologist Louis Wicker said in a statement. Tornadoes, which often stem from massive supercell thunderstorms, are born from a specific blend of warm moist air and cool dry air.
The VORTEX2 project comes 15 years after the original VORTEX, which tracked tornado life cycles on the Great Plains in 1994 and 1995; monitoring technology has improved dramatically since then.
"Advances will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm's wind, temperature and moisture," National Science Foundation (NSF) program director for physical and dynamic meteorology Stephan Nelson said in a statement. The results (set to be presented in the fall) will, according to Nelson, provide "a better understanding of why tornadoes form – and how they can be more accurately predicted."
The $10.5-million project is being funded by NOAA, NSF, 10 universities and a handful of nonprofits.
Image of a 2004 Illinois tornado courtesy of tilndenbaum via Flickr