Vortex Observations and Research Techniques Investigating Convective Instability and Turbulence dYnamics
Our proposed debut is set for late June of 2026. VORTICITY will target primarily late season severe weather events where high amounts of 0-3 KM MLCAPE and surface vorticity are present. We suspect contrary to popular belief, direct observation and data collection of tornadoes may not be required. Our reasoning for this thought process lies in the many ways a vortex can form.
We believe the commonly accepted approach to collecting data on tornadoes has reached a point of diminishing returns. That being the utilization of a wide range of instruments recording the near tornado environment. The point of interest here being supercellular tornadogenesis. Questions among our group have arisen regarding the adequacy of data collected and it’s contribution to the prediction of tornadoes. There is no doubt the data collected is of highest quality, most likely the best in the world. However, whether the data actually provide any meaning to the bigger picture is yet to be know.
Furthermore, using the term “tornado” while describing a convectively sustained vortex may cause unnecessary confusion when referencing the phenomena. Supercellular, landspout, waterspout, etc. are all virtually the same. VORTICITY will primarily focus on deconstructing the minute complexities of typical field research and focus on the big picture.
We hypothesize there is certain ambient layer depth of environmental vorticity that is paramount to vortex generation. This layer depth determines whether or not a convective updraft can form and sustain a vortex – regardless of other conventional parameters. The term “vorticity depth” coined by Ty Stevens and Liam Dobson describes the relationship between the amount of vorticity and Lifting Condensation Level (LCL) in any given environment.
During each Intensive Operation Period (IOP), mobile mesonet and Sparv Embedded Windsond observations will be made to record surface and atmospheric profiles throughout the duration of an event.
Mobile mesonets will make standard atmospheric observations including wind, temperature, dew point, and barometric pressure for the duration of each IOP. Sparv Embedded Windsonds will be launched in rapid succession strategically timed throughout the period of convective initiation. Both methods of data collection will allow us to observe the temporal evolution of the environment.
Observations are completely contingent upon where the best parameter space is. No geographic boundaries are set allowing for a diverse portfolio of data from around the contiguous United States and Canada. While plans are set for operations to begin in 2026, our project will most likely span several years.
Full operation is anticipated June 2026, however, experimental data collection cannot be ruled out before then. Expect updates following our progress on social media in the very near future.
— Stay tuned.
Measuring the atmosphere accurately while simultaneously in motion is incredibly challenging. This requires the use of special sensor suites called mobile mesonets. These racks augment what would otherwise be stationary weather observations onto that of a moving vehicle (Straka et al. 1996). And all the while mitigating as much of the vehicle modified environment as possible.
Because mobile surface observations are an integral part of our project, ensuring utmost accuracy is largely crucial for its success. Extensive work and research have been done prior to observation periods in the field to assure complete certainty in data integrity. With this said, in doing so a true representation of the environment sampled can be procured.
Each rack will be built with significant influence from a widely accepted flagship design. It originates from the first VORTEX project conducted by the National Severe Storms Laboratory and associated cooperative institutions. This design was conceived 20+ years ago and updated by the NSSL to accommodate refined techniques in data collection. We’ve modified their modernized platform to better adhere to our observation requirements.
While mobile mesonets will be utilized for surface observations, Sparv Embedded Windsonds will be used to profile the atmosphere. These small form factor radiosondes require only a standard sized party balloon and 8 oz. styrofoam cup. Employing this technology cuts operation costs significantly and nearly eliminates deployment time.
Windsonds will be deployed throughout the span of convective initiation. Before visual signs of instability in the atmosphere. During initiation, launches in rapid succession. And after initiation, as updrafts become rooted within the environment. Doing so will hopefully allow us to observe how 0-3 KM MLCAPE and surface based vorticity depth influence tornadogenesis.