TTU team using new equipment to help increase tornado warning - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

4/28/10

TTU team using new equipment to help increase tornado warning times

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LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) -

By Brittany Pieper  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - For almost 2 months the Texas Tech Vortex 2 Team will live out of hotel rooms, eat fast food on the go, and hope for the perfect tornado producing storm.

"We don't certainly wish for tornados to form and cause property damage or life threatening events and things like this, but it's all about the research," said Jerry Guynes, a Senior Research Faculty member at TTU. 

They hope the research they do will help save lives in the future. The 2 year, $12-million project includes Universities and labs across the country, but the most involved group comes from right here in West Texas.

"Texas Tech has the largest man power," said Professor Christopher Weiss. 

They hope to figure out what causes tornadoes and why some storms produce them while others don't. On May 1st the team from TTU will fill up trailers with equipment called StickNet that they designed and created.  The equipment includes 24 durable tripod observation stations.  They team puts each tripod out before a storm they think might produce a tornado to measure the temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind speed.

They went on a 5 week storm chasing trip last year.  After traveling 11,000 miles they deployed the units 17 times, but only 1 storm actually produced a tornado.  They hope to find more twisters this time around. 

"It was a slow season, which is good for the public, but it made the science a bit difficult."  They say last year's trip wasn't a total loss though, because they'll use that data to figure out what kind of storms do not produce tornados.

The group will also bring two TTUKa mobile Doppler radars on the trip.  These will make remote measurements of the horizontal and vertical structure of tornados.  Guynes, who created the structures, said if previous equipment was like an x-ray, these devices could be compared to an MRI.  

A recent tornado in Mississippi killed 10 people. If they had more warning, maybe some of them would have been saved. Right now the average tornado warning time is about 10 minutes. The team hopes their research can increase that to 20 minutes.

"When we can provide better warnings, of course, people have more time to take shelter," said Weiss. 

Tanya Brown's team starts putting out their instruments about an hour before the storm hits. "My mom hates that I'm out in the field so much and that I'm in danger," she said. 

They finish with only 20 to 30 minutes to get away from the path of the storm, but Brown says it doesn't worry her. They know what they're doing, and do it well.

"We have an operations plan and we stick to the plan, so we know we have enough time to escape," said Brown.  She's ready to hit the road, and hopes for some troubling storms along the way.

When the team gets back in Mid-June they'll start the data analysis part of the project.

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