How do tornadoes form? This drone-based project seeks to unravel the secrets of spinning storms

How do tornadoes form? This drone-based project seeks to unravel the secrets of spinning storms

WALNUT, Iowa — A multiyear project in the Great Plains rolled out Monday with hopes of better understanding supercell thunderstorms and the tornadoes they spawn.

Led by officials at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the TORUS project — Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) of Supercells — is deployed until June 16, with a second deployment planned in 2020. Dozens of researchers from multiple academic institutions and the federal government are participating.

Researchers said they hope the project will help to improve forecasts for supercells, which are thunderstorms that spin, and the hazards they can produce.

“TORUS aims to use the data collected to improve the conceptual model of supercell thunderstorms (the parent storms of the most destructive tornadoes) by exposing how small-scale structures within these storms might lead to tornado formation,” according to the Earth Observing Laboratory at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Officials at the University of Colorado-Boulder, a partner in the project, said this is “one of the largest and most ambitious drone-based investigations of meteorological phenomena ever,” adding it is “the largest study of its kind based on the geographical area covered,” with nearly all of the Plains in the target region.

Projects studying thunderstorms with an armada of storm-chasing scientists are not new, with PECAN in 2015 and the ongoing VORTEX-SE in the Deep South, which was based on the original VORTEX projects in the Plains.

Still, the use of four flying drones to study a storm is a first at this scale. Past projects have used one, at most. With additional drones, multiple parts of the storm and its environment can be sampled at once, bringing new insights to researchers. Read more


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