Image: Mobile radar for tornado hunters
NOAA
This mobile radar is among the tools expected to be deployed in May to study tornadoes.
updated 4/9/2009 10:24:35 AM ET 2009-04-09T14:24:35

For most people, tornadoes are something to flee. But next month a small army of scientists will be doing just the opposite, crisscrossing the nation's middle in search of twisters.

Organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, Operation Vortex2 will last from May 10 to June 13.

Fifty researchers will set out in research vehicles, including mobile radars, in an effort to get close to tornadoes and study how they work.

"New advances from Vortex2 will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm's wind, temperature and moisture environment, and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form — and how they can be more accurately predicted," Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology, said in a statement.

Twisters tend to form in the so-called super-cell thunderstorms that often form over more than 900 miles of the central Great Plains.

The study will focus on southern South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma.

The original Vortex program operated in the central Great Plains during 1994 and 1995 and documented the entire life cycle of a tornado for the first time.

In addition to NOAA and NSF, institutions taking part in the new study include Center for Severe Weather Research, Penn State University, University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University, Lyndon State College, University of Colorado, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, University of Massachusetts, University of Nebraska, Environment Canada and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

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