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Expensive Tornado Project Only Finds 1 Twister

June 30, 2009

An $11.9 million tornado research project resulted in only one tornado being studied during a 35-day period.

The first phase of the Verification of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2, also known as Vortex2, ran from May 10 to June 13.

Next year, a second phase of the project will run from May 1 to June 15.

Nearly 120 researchers from universities and government agencies traveled over 11,000 miles during the first phase of Vortex2.  Despite all their searching, the group was only able to find one tornado; an EF-3 twister in Wyoming that lasted roughly half an hour.

“It was the least number (of tornadoes) in that time period since the early 1990s, and only twice since World War II,” Don Burgess, a research scientist at the University of Oklahoma, told the AP.

“Mother Nature likes to play tricks on us. … That’s why we planned for Vortex2 to be a two-spring experiment, because any one spring can be a bad year,” he added.

According to Burgess, the first phase of the Vortex2 project was still very beneficial. 

Researchers were able to gather information from three tornadic storms that did not produce a complete twister, he said.

The project, which is based out of the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, used 40 vehicles, 11 mobile radar units, and 80 other instruments.

The first Vortex project occurred in 1994 and 1995 and had just one radar unit.

“We had so much more of everything, we had to figure out how to make it all work together,” Burgess said.

According to Burgess, the researchers plan to analyze the data from the first phase of Vortex2.

“The data we collect will feed back into warning decision-making systems and hopefully help us make better warnings,” said Robin Tanamachi, a participant in the experiment, and a graduate research assistant at the OU School of Meteorology.

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