This year, Hobart and William Smith Colleges are the only liberal arts institution to join the VORTEX2 project, the largest fully mobile experiment ever attempted. The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a collaborative meteorological research study that combines the findings of a team of dozens of universities, colleges and government labs in the U.S. and around the world – all of whom are chasing thunderstorms and tornados in order to gain a better understanding of them. Among some of the leading scientists in the field, the fully mobile meteorological study – which began May 10 and will conclude June 13 – includes Assistant Professor of Geoscience Jeffrey Frame and student-researcher Bryan McCorkle ’11.
Traveling from the Dakotas to Texas and from Eastern Colorado to Iowa, Frame and McCorkle – along with more than 100 scientists – are chasing answers by chasing storms. To gather data for their research, Frame navigates one of the Doppler on Wheels radar vehicles, which range in purpose and equipment.
While traveling across the Great Plains, VORTEX2 will attempt to understand why some supercell storms produce tornados while others do not. This information will help improve tornado warnings by increasing the lead time of the warning while reducing the false alarm rate.
To help answer these questions, Frame and McCorkle have spent five weeks chasing storms across the Great Plains. The Doppler on Wheels radar that Frame is navigating scans the storms for rotation and precipitation intensity. McCorkle is spending some of his time in a “probe vehicle,” equipped with scientific instrumentation to measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed and direction. This vehicle is also equipped with three “tornado pods,” which are small deployable devices also equipped with this instrumentation that can be dropped in the path of a tornado to gain data on the internal structure of tornadoes.
With the major inquiries of VORTEX2 in mind, Frame noted the potential that the project has to save lives. “If the lead time for tornado warnings could be increased to 30-60 minutes, people would have much more time to get out of the way of the storm, or to seek shelter,” he said. “In addition, if this false alarm rate could be reduced, the public would likely take the warnings more seriously.”
Along with these scientific and humanitarian benefits of VORTEX2, the project will also provide McCorkle with the experience of a lifetime as a science student. “The best way to learn about meteorological phenomena is by seeing it,” Frame noted. “Bryan will be able to actually experience and see these storms and tornados, allowing them to come out of the textbook and the classroom.”
McCorkle earned the opportunity to join Frame and other renowned scientists because of his well-rounded excellence. “Bryan is not only well-qualified as a science student, but he was also the most enthusiastic candidate with genuine ambitions in the field,” Frame said. “He knows that this is not just a storm-chasing trip; there are distinct scientific goals.”
When McCorkle and Frame return to campus, they will spend the remaining four weeks of their Summer Science Research in the lab at HWS analyzing National Weather Service radar data from across the Appalachian Mountains.
Frame joined the faculty in 2008. He earned his Ph.D. and M.S. from Penn State University and his B.S. from the University of Michigan. A member of the HWS Geoscience Department, Frame routinely teaches Severe Weather, Weather & Climate and Meteorology. His current scholarly interests include mesoscale and synoptic meteorology with a focus on severe convective storms. Prior to teaching at the Colleges, Frame taught in the Department of Meteorology at Penn State University. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society.
For more information on VORTEX2, click here to visit the official Web site.