Tornado Research

Our group will be conducting tornado research with a proposed debut set for Spring of 2026. We’ve completely shifted gears and decided rather than studying the most complex process in which a vortex generates, we pump the breaks and study the basic components that make up a tornado-prone environment. As such, we have come to the conclusion after careful consideration and review that studying tornadoes directly is not actually required. We’ve decided rather than making measurements directly (or within direct vicinity) of tornadoes, we need to consider the environment in which they form. Our work will primarily focus on the effects of 0-3 km MLCAPE and vorticity depth at ground level. We hypothesize the vorticity layer is paramount in vortex generation and maintenance where layer depth would then determine if an updraft were able to support a vortex.

Conventional field research targets supercellular tornadoes and collects data on the evolution of their birth, maintenance, and death using methods including but not limited to mobile surface observations and radar. We believe this close proximity data of tornadoes and their environments is not necessarily useful. While it is data, it does not necessarily mean it provides any meaningful context for the specific study and prediction of tornadoes. Research of today takes a highly detail-oriented approach narrowing in on the specifics where we believe the big picture must be diagnosed.

Methodology

0-3 km MLCAPE and Vorticity multiparameter from SPC Mesoanalysis

Our group will accomplish data collection using mobile mesonets and Sparv Embedded Windsonds. During observation periods, we will perform boundary transections and atmospheric profiling to capture the evolution of changes in 0-3 km MLCAPE and vorticity. Transections will commence independently of profiling. Atmospheric profiling will be done simultaneously at four different locations. This will be done before, during, and after convection to produce a complete picture of how each parameter influences tornadogenesis. Where we make observations is completely contingent upon where the best parameters are. No geographic boundaries are set allowing for a diverse portfolio of data from around the contiguous United States.


Mobile Mesonets

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 heavy inspiration from a widely accepted flagship design originating from the first VORTEX project conducted by the National Severe Storms Laboratory and associated cooperative institutions. The design was conceived 20+ years ago and updated by the NSSL to accommodate refined techniques in data collection. We’ve changed their modernized platform slightly to better adhere to our observation requirements.


VORTEX 1995-era NSSL Mobile Mesonets
Liam Llewellyn atop modern NSSL Mobile Mesonet while deployed on TORUS 2022

Instrumentation

For each mesonet, we’ve enlisted each particular sensor due to their high accuracy, calibration capabilities, and otherwise undeniable reputability while taking surface measurements. Additionally, Campbell Scientific data loggers will be used because of their quality and reliability.

Supplementary mobile mesonet information here.

Wind Speed / Direction

We will be using an R. M. Young 05103 wind monitor and KVH Industries C100 electronic compass when the vehicle is stationary. For while the vehicle is in motion, a GPS16-HVS receiver will be used for vehicle speed and course. Then from there we can deduce estimated stationary wind speed and direction through simple vector math.

Temperature / Relative Humidity / Dew Point

Temperature, relative humidity, and dew point will be measured using two Apogee Instruments ST-110 thermistor temperature sensors and Vaisala HMP35C temperature and relative humidity probe. Temperature measurements will be made using the ST-110s. Dew point will be derived using the HMP35C. Relative humidity will be recalculated with the ST-110 temperature and HMP35C dew point measurements.

Barometric Pressure

Barometric pressure will be measured using an R. M. Young 61402V barometric pressure sensor. Mean sea-level pressure will be calculated using the hypsometric equation with elevation data from the GPS16-HVS and temperature measurement from the ST-110. We will also be employing a static pressure port to mitigate wind induced error from pressure perturbation.

Unlike other organizations who employ the Vaisala SPH10, R. M. Young 61002, or inhouse designs like the NSSL, we’ve chosen the Randal T Nishiyama and Alfred J Bedard Jr. Quad Plate Pressure Port. While this port is most accurate in comparison to other commercially available options, it is very susceptible to hail. Since replacing the whole apparatus every time it breaks becomes costly, we have found we can 3D print the pressure port in its entirety. In doing so we cut operation expenses significantly and minimize downtime for our mesonets.

Data logging and Acquisition

Both mesonets will be using Campbell Scientific CR23X data loggers. Real time calculations including but not limited to equivalent potential temperature, mixing-ratio, and wind data correction will be computed. The parameters measured will be recorded at one second intervals for fine-scale observations of meteorological phenomena we encounter.


Windsonds

While mobile mesonets will be utilized for surface observations, Sparv Embedded Windsonds will be used for atmospheric profiling. These small form factor radiosondes will allow for rapid profiling and maintained mobility. These devices require only a standard sized party balloon and 8 oz. styrofoam cup. Employing this technology cuts cost significantly and nearly eliminates deployment time.



A big thank you goes out to Sean Waugh, NSSL for always being a willing and helpful mentor in our efforts. We would not be where we are without you!