New radar sees tornadic details like never before

From a University of Oklahoma press release, a view of a hook echo like never before.

Norman, Okla.—At the University of Oklahoma, researchers captured unprecedented high-resolution radar data during the May 10, 2010, tornadoes using one of the most advanced weather radars in the world.

“This unique polarimetric data set is likely to reveal new discoveries about tornado genesis and severe storms for years to come,” said the Director of OU’s Atmospheric Radar Research Center, Robert D. Palmer.

Figure 1

Figure 1.  Data and image location just east of Thunderbird Lake, Norman, Oklahoma on May 10, 2010, at 5:44 pm.

Palmer’s team is currently processing the data using advanced techniques developed at OU and preparing it for distribution.

“The close proximity of the tornadoes to the OU radar has produced data with fine details of the storms never seen before with any radar.”

Located on the OU Research Campus within walking distance of the National Weather Center, the C-band, polarimetric, research weather radar known as OU-PRIME (Polarimetric Radar for Innovations in Meteorology and Engineering) was built to provide OU students and faculty with a platform for research and education in the field of radar meteorology.

OU PRIME

Figure 2.  OU-PRIME is an advanced Doppler weather radar on the University of Oklahoma Research Campus in Norman, Oklahoma.

The ARRC is an interdisciplinary center that brings together academia, government and private sector collaborators to solve challenging radar problems, prepare the next-generation of students and encourage economic growth and development in the field of weather radar.  The collaboration results in research and development projects, educational opportunities for OU students and economic growth in the state.

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For those of you that like to follow thunderstorms, don’t forget that there’s a dedicated appliance that will give you your own live radar channel on your TV on monitor. It may not be as cutting edge as the OU prime radar, but still pretty darn cool and useful.

Above: the StormPredator Radar Appliance automatically updates and loops the radar imagery. Click image to see larger image showing terrain and storm detail.

It uses a special version of our popular StormPredator desktop software designed for unattended continuous operation. If you just want to track storms (and calculate ETA to your location) on your laptop or desktop, you can do so easily and inexpensively with the StormPredator desktop software.

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35 thoughts on “New radar sees tornadic details like never before

  1. They cann’t improve this technoology fast enough. In the five years 4 tornados within 5 miles of my house. Sorry but I did cherry pick. it is the same number for the last 10 years as well

  2. I spent a year in Huntsville, Ala in 1974, arriving just before a major hit from a twister that did some pretty major damage to Redstone Arsenal and downtown Huntsville.
    I was assigned there for radar and computer training for Nike missle systems. The image above, though in color, is exactly what we would watch for gathered around our HIPAR radar system which would be fired up every time there were storms in the area.
    The formation of that “hook” cloud would be the final reason we would all be dismissed to get home and take care of our families. Lots of tales from that episode.

    JimB

  3. I have a crisp $10 bill that says this improved data gathering will be shown as proof of global warming (We’re experiencing more tornadoes than ever before!!!!)

    Any takers?

  4. That’s really cool! My area of research has concentrated on severe thunderstorms and tornado development in Canada. I have been involved with many of the scientists in Norman in one way or another. It would be so interesting to work with that radar and the output. We don’t have anything like that up here yet. In a lot of cases these new technologies bring out a lot more questions than they answer. There is much we don’t know.

  5. Makes more sense than fantasies in ice or rampant hurricances or pretty penguins beating off the unwanted advances of polar bears … or warnings of sea level rise in the face of Al Gore’s newest seafront land purchase.

  6. I love tornado’s! To me they are the ultimate planetary energy dispersal system and I would love to know exactly how they operate and understand just how much energy they use.

    Here’s hoping that perhaps a better understanding of their structure, using the new HD radar, will help produce some answers.

  7. Ref – MattN says:
    May 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm
    “I have a crisp $10 bill that says this improved data gathering will be shown as proof of global warming (We’re experiencing more tornadoes than ever before!!!!) Any takers?”
    ________________________
    No Take!
    And I won’t be suprised to hear that this will occure within days of the fielding of the first sets at LAX or JFK, and that the announcement will be made after long and thoughtful analysis of the second-by-second data by a PhD in the field of AnthroprogenicSocialogicalDimorphism or BotanicalAnthropromorphicCryptologicalStatistics, who is teaching at one of the Great Western Universities with humongous endowments and federal research grants, and would like to propose a $44 billion award to study this important finding in greater detail.

  8. Enneagram says:
    May 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm
    Does electricity is produced by tornadoes or the other way around?
    *
    *
    Chicken or the egg problem?

    Moving air masses generate electrical potentials, as much is known.

    One ~could~ effectively argue that differential charges may well produce moving air currents by dint of attraction and repulsion.

  9. Great! nice advance in tech. I however agree with Matt-“It’s Unprecedented!!!”

  10. I spent a month in Norman, OK (May-June) in 1978 working with the National Severe Storms Laboratory when their first Doppler radar was still experimental. I was still in Marine Corps at the time and responsible for maintenance and repair of air-transportable weather forecasting gear designed to be deployed on forward air bases. Among other things radio-teletypes to get weather information, weather satellite facsimile receivers, a 500kw weather radar, and (the unit deployed to Norman) radiosonde weather balloon launch equipment, tracking dish, and strip chart data recorders.

    It was great fun launching hydrogen-filled 12′ diameter (at ground level) weather balloons into incoming supercells. We set a record for how high one of the balloons made it – tracked it 40 miles downrange to a height of over 100,000 feet. One of the weather guys estimated the balloon must have been nearly 100 feet in diameter at that altitude. Usually the balloons popped at around 80,000 feet and/or the battery powering the radiosonde ran out of juice before getting any higher and we couldn’t track them any farther. We got a combination of an exceptional balloon and an exceptional battery on that one. The batteries were some kind of dry chemical in storage and you’d add water to activate them. They would last for about 45 minutes. this battery lasted almost 90 minutes.

    The good old days. My tracking dish was a 9′ metal parabolic reflector with electric motors driving it 0-90 degrees in elevation and 360 degrees in azimuth. The electronics were all vacuum tube technology. Cool stuff. One morning after a torrential downpour at night when we arrived at the field site and I was going about testing and calibrating things there was something amiss that was making my antenna act a little wonky. I went out to it, unscrewed the stays holding the electronics drawer in place, and when I pulled the drawer out water came gushing out. There was a leak somewhere and the whole compartment was filled with water. The amazing thing is 1) it was still working underwater, just a little jittery and 2) as soon as it was no longer underwater it worked fine without needing to dry out further.

    We were filling our balloons with hydrogen we generated at the site. We had a 55 gallon drum full of water and into we dumped the chemicals from a couple of olive green tin cans about the size of 5 pound coffee cans. The neck of the balloon was connected to an outlet on the top of the drum. I don’t recall what the chemical was but I will never forget those 55 drums getting hot as the hydrogen poured out and they shook like a washing machine with an unbalanced load while it was happening. OSHA would have a cow if it were in the loop on something like that.

  11. How many wind turbines does it take to extract enough energy to keep tornadoes from forming in Oklahoma? ;-)

  12. JimB says:
    May 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    “I spent a year in Huntsville, Ala in 1974, arriving just before a major hit from a twister that did some pretty major damage to Redstone Arsenal and downtown Huntsville….”
    _______________________________________________________________________
    I remember that one very very well. It almost killed me and a friend. We were ridge walking near Huntsville and a lightning strike between us knock both of us off our feet. The tornado ran down the valley on one side of that ridge.

  13. Dave Springer says:
    May 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    “…. I don’t recall what the chemical was but I will never forget those 55 drums getting hot as the hydrogen poured out and they shook like a washing machine with an unbalanced load while it was happening. OSHA would have a cow if it were in the loop on something like that.”
    _________________________________________________________________________
    Sounds like it could have been sodium. Did it look metallic? see: http://www2.uni-siegen.de/~pci/versuche/english/v44-1-1.html

  14. Events like that in this image are possibly less complex than tornados. Can aviation buffs venture opinions about the state of numerical modelling of the engine vortex and its prediction?

    Vortex

    (Image credits are shown. While it is possible that the image has been modified, it has not been by me, and if it is as seen, the photographer is to be commended for his observation of an unusual event).

  15. @MattN: May 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I live there, and to me, there have been a lot less major tornadoes since the late 90’s. Now there are a whole lot more reports of small ones, ones that never reaching the ground or are out in a farm field, etc. This is because between this type of radars, storm chasers, all of those pretending to be storm chasers, cell phones and electronic cameras a poor little tornado hasn’t got a chance anymore, it’s caught every time! In the past no one would have even noticed it, they were just thunderstorms with an occasional twister.
    But I don’t think Oklahoma has the most tornadoes any longer, I remember hearing the states with the most tornadoes had moved to the east and north with a long-term shift in the jet stream, like Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky but I could be wrong.

    @Tenuc: May 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    You wonder about how much power and energy? Look at that picture closely, the small light grey squares are one mile division roads and the hook on the southwest corner is where a tornado would be, commonly found on the back side of the cell. Just imagine how many square miles that one cloud occupies, some ten miles on a side or about 100 square miles. And that picture just shows one of the cell, there were many more that afternoon. You know, I don’t know off the hand how to calculate the total energy. To support baseball size hail that was inside that particular cloud you would need at least a 120 mph updraft internally I suppose. That might give you a start. One hundred square miles and 120 mph updraft. Remember for all of that updraft there is an equal downdraft outside the cell in clear air though milder due to the increased area. You could feel the outflow nearly ten miles away.

    I wish I knew the altitude that cell obtained, maybe 40-60,000 feet. I did see that one in the picture above from about ten miles to the west and the anvil head was huge and clearly in the jet stream, it occupied half of the sky! Largest I’ve seen in years, but as I said on another post, that’s quite normal for anyone in Oklahoma to have one or two of those big ones close by each year no matter where you live. However, we do appreciate that type of technology, with that you now know if you are immediately danger, usually within blocks.

    It’s also quite amazing that having spent my life here I have only seen one dinky tornado except on the tube. If you come here to see one, you better get ready for a chase! They generally won’t come to you.

  16. On a related theme, the fate of energy, it has just occurred to me as a slow learner that solar panels for heating and electricity do much the same as GHG are said to do; they trap incoming radiation and convert it into heat (eventually) which heat is available to warm the near-surface globe (however slightly). But solar installations prevent much of its re-radiation to space, because little IR energy is produced by heating water or from electrical use. So if you correctly shift your ideological focus from reduction of GHG to reduction of near-surface heat, the use of solar is worse than the GHG effect.

    I guess the apologists would say that if you are made sick with cowpox you don’t get the more severe smallpox.

    On this basis I have to question why taxpayer subsidies are given to solar energy hucksters.

  17. Gail Combs says:
    May 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Dave Springer says:
    May 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    “…. I don’t recall what the chemical was but I will never forget those 55 drums getting hot as the hydrogen poured out and they shook like a washing machine with an unbalanced load while it was happening. OSHA would have a cow if it were in the loop on something like that.”
    _________________________________________________________________________
    Sounds like it could have been sodium. Did it look metallic? see: http://www2.uni-siegen.de/~pci/versuche/english/v44-1-1.html

    Gail, the use of sodium is unlikely and is highly dangerous. Zn in HCl is a laboratory method. NaOH plus Al or Si is more plausible for balloon inflation.

    Army method in 1940 was addition of ferrosilicon to a drum of water to which sodium hydroxide had already been added. Sodium added to water will indeed produce hydrogen, but the result is usually burning or explosion of the hydrogen.

    Amateur scientists (those whose science is not yet settled) will please take safety precautions.

  18. Gail Combs says:
    May 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    No, sodium in that amount would be explosive.

    They probably used mossy zinc poured into sodium hydroxide. That’s how I used to do it.

  19. Chris said on May 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm:

    What if they moved the mobile homes every year in hope of confusing the tornados?

    Nah, wouldn’t work. Tornadoes are known for electrical activity as evidenced by visible lightning, and are drawn to the heavy steel base that forms the “trailer” part of trailer (mobile) homes by a yet-to-be-described-and-understood electrical/magnetic interaction thing.

    However preliminary studies may soon be conducted where “fake” mobile home parks will be set up to act as decoys to draw the tornadoes away from occupied homes. This research is now financially feasible thanks to the large volume of cheap surplus FEMA Katrina trailers available (VOC’s included), and that a tornado-mobile home relationship has been shown to exist by computer models which have already proven it is due to global warming climate change.

  20. Geoff Sherrington says:May 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm
    Events like that in this image are possibly less complex than tornados. Can aviation buffs venture opinions about the state of numerical modelling of the engine vortex and its prediction? . . . While it is possible that the image has been modified, it has not been by me, and if it is as seen, the photographer is to be commended for his observation of an unusual event).

    Fairly common, actually, when you run the engines up for takeoff. An extreme low pressure area with rotation over a flat surface. What more does a tornado need?

  21. re; hydrogen generation for radiosonde balloons

    We didn’t use hydrogen most of the time. The vast majority of the time the gear was located at a large permanant air station (MCAS El Toro, California) not far from the control tower. We used tanked helium there. As I recall those balloons seldom if ever popped and didn’t go much over 50,000 feet. We generally lost track of those either because the battery ran out or they were so far down range they went below the horizon. The radiosondes were tagged with return information should anyone find one on the ground but none ever got returned to us while I was there. We’d generally only launch one balloon a week at the air station just to keep in practice and make sure everything was ready for hasty deployment should the need arise. The radome and dish for the weather radar was the hardest thing to set up and break down. All the pieces pretty much filled up the van when it was broken down and secured for transport.

    The gig with the NSSL in Norman, OK was great. I got a tour and demonstration of the new-fangled doppler radar while I was there. Everyone was really excited about it. My pay just about doubled too with TDY adjustments and a generous per diem allowance. I also got introduced to “three-two” beer and some odd drinking laws where you had to be 21 (I was just barely 21 at the time) to purchase anything stronger than 3.2% alcohol beer. The law had just recently changed. A year or two earlier women could purchase 3.2 beer at age 18 but men had to be 21.

    There’s a good article here:

    http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/stories/radar3.html

    on the NSSL’s doppler radar history. The hot new thing I saw in Norman in 1978 was real-time color doppler. Turns out NSSL acquired a 10cm doppler radar from the US Air Force in 1969 and added their own improvements to it. They had just added color displays in 1978 when they gave us the dog & pony show.

  22. Great news for the entire midwest! Last year my house was hit by a “rogue” F1 at 3:00am. It didn’t do too much damage (tossed a large limb from my tree onto my neighbors house). But the sirens came on 5 minutes AFTER that. Even if we can manage to get 5 to 10 minutes more warning, it is well worth the price.

  23. There was a December tornado in Tulsa back in the mid- or late-1970s. It was not long before Christmas and, if I remember correctly, happened in the dark. I remember seeing a cartoon in the Tulsa paper not long afterwards that showed Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer hanging in a tree. Santa was chiding Rudolph by saying, “Let’s get an early start, you said! Let’s start in Tulsa, you said!”

  24. Speaking of the magnetic/electrical nature of tornadoes–I briefly saw a 3D radar representation of the tornadic storm we had last week. It reminded me of those magnetic loops on the sun. Is there a way they could use those same photographic techniques as they use to photograph magnetic loops on the sun, but use them to get an image of a tornadic storm?

  25. Now that we have better ways of seeing tornadoes that other wise went unobserved i expect a paper from the global warming hoaxers to claim that tornadoes are now more common due to climate change within a a couple years.

  26. I observed tornadoes during several of my Stateside tours with the Air Force – in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and South Carolina. I still have an 8mm film I took of the tornadoes that formed in Enid, Oklahoma, in 1966. There were dozens of little “pencils” dangling from the clouds, and three formed actual tornadoes. Only one stayed on the ground for very long, but it was enough.

    I would expect more tornadoes from a warmer climate than a cooler one, although IIRC it’s the differential between warm and cold that actually powers the storms. My military specialty was imagery analysis. I’ve seen several photos of clouds from tornadoes taken from altitude. There is usually a flat “deck” where the storm encounters the top of the troposphere, with a shaft of clouds protruding from it directly over the tornado.

  27. When a super cell’s updraft column ‘punches through’ the cap where the anvil top is, it is a sign of greater energy, and I suspect allows for more intense winds. A couple years ago I photographed the supercells of a tornado NW of Minneapolis and the one down by Iowa City at the same time, by shooting in both directions. Both supercells had the punch-throughs, but punch-throughs happen far more often than tornadoes do. I recommend more photography of supercells from a distance simultaneously with dopplar radar and observers close to the base. 3D plus time could be very interesting, and allow for better prediction, possibly.

    When I was a boy, we’d see weather balloons from time to time. Bright lights in the late afternoon, early evening sky. I’d get my telescope out to see the spheres. Those were cool to see.

  28. We still can’t get doppler in Wallowa Valley. Boise’s radar unit gets up the back (South facing) of the Wallowa’s. Pendleton’s unit gets up the West facing side of the Blues. Those are the only two close enough to reach the outskirts of this fairly large county. That means that spotters are used to continue to track the movement of cells past the reach of doppler. The Columbus day storm will strike again and we will be left to our own devices. No wonder the weather forecasts for the Wallowa Valley are nearly always wrong.

  29. MattN says:
    May 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I have a crisp $10 bill that says this improved data gathering will be shown as proof of global warming (We’re experiencing more tornadoes than ever before!!!!)

    Any takers?

    Not a £$%^&*g hope!

    I was thinking exactly the same thing.

    DaveE.

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