Dr. Karen Kosiba, seen above in the Doppler on Wheels truck, will be at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater to introduce the film during a special FREE preview of Tornado Alley 3D on Thursday, September 29th at 7:00 pm. Seating is limited and available on a first-come basis. Donations will be accepted at this screening for the Chattanooga Red Cross to help our community be better prepared for future storms.
Kosiba and an army of scientists from VORTEX2 are featured in Tornado Alley 3D. The most ambitious scientific mission of its kind, VORTEX2 was comprised of more than 100 severe-weather researchers from around the world, a fleet of radar trucks, mobile weather stations and the most sophisticated weather-measuring instruments ever created. The mission: probe nature’s most violent storms to better understand how tornadoes form and develop. The Tennessee Aquarium (TA) had a chance to interview Dr. Kosiba before her visit. Here's a portion of that Q&A session:
TA: Was there an event that spiked your interest in severe weather?
Kosiba: I’m a physics nerd….as a kid I was always fascinated with lightning. It was always amazing that nature can cause so much damage, and the field of meteorology is filled with unknowns waiting to be discovered.
TA: For the non-scientist, people may question why researchers say something like, "This is going to be a 'good day' for storm chasing. Is there a strange mix of emotions: science versus excitement?
Kosiba: People are fascinated with extremes. When we are out in the Plains States, most tornadoes are not impacting anyone. They are over open land and they are spectacular. But when a tornado does impact someone, it’s important to be there documenting it. It's how we gain knowledge to improve the warning process. This past year was unusual because of the number of populated areas that were impacted.
TA: What was the main objective of VORTEX 2?
Kosiba: The over-arching goal was gaining a better understanding of how tornadoes form which will help improve tornado warnings. On average, people only get 10 minutes lead time before a tornado. That's for ALL tornadoes.
Potentially you will have more lead time with big tornadoes and long-track tornadoes. What we’re trying to do is warn BEFORE a storm produces a tornado. Currently, when a radar signature appears that indicates a tornado is forming, but 75% of those storms don’t produce tornadoes. So we need a better discriminator to more accurately issue those warnings.TA: Are there any preliminary results from VORTEX 2? Or any new insights from this project?
Kosiba: There was a huge amount of data gathered that will take literally years to fully analyze. We got some really good data on about 60 storms. This has produced some ideas about temperature fields and wind fields and how they interact. For example, how the downdraft wraps around and a potential discovery related to a radar signature that’s linked to the strengthening of one tornado that we observed. We'd like to examine more data to see if these signatures are present in non-tornadic storms.
TA: In addition to collecting indirect measurements from within the Doppler on Wheels, you also organize the placement of weather instruments for direct measurements. That must be challenging.
Kosiba: Getting instrumentation inside a tornado isn’t a new idea, but getting instruments inside a tornado is incredibly difficult. The TIV has the ability to keep adjusting, but placing stationary instruments is not. We have 16 tornado pods in an array. So we’re increasing our odds with numbers, but as you see in the film, it is quite a challenge to get a direct hit.
TA: What information can measurements inside a tornado provide?
Kosiba: The direct measurements on their own are not that useful, but when compiled with all of the data it is very helpful. We are able to link what we are seeing above ground level on radar and at the surface to understand how they are correlated.
Right now there's a real gap in the wind speed measurements correlated to the damage. We want to know what’s the difference between experiencing 100 to 120 mph for 3 or 4 seconds or 170 mph wind for one second? Is is duration or peak wind velocities causing the majority of the damage? That's important for designing structures, load bearing walls and tying walls to roofs.
TA: Have you ever been concerned for your own safety while inside the Doppler on Wheels?
Kosiba: My "yikes!" moment was in Hurricane Frances in 2004 during a nighttime landfall. We are really interested in how winds transition between the ocean and moving over land. We were perched near a cliff and the cliff started eroding during the night. We couldn't figure out why we were having trouble leveling the truck. We saw that one of the stabilizing legs was hanging over the edge the next morning.
TA: Could you be called out on hurricane duty with the Doppler on Wheels this year?
Kosiba: We are on standby for hurricane season, but we haven’t actually gone out since 2008. The last tropical storm I worked was Hurrane Ike on Galveston Island. It was actually strengthening as it made landfall. We got some great data in the eyewall and as the winds were transforming from the ocean to land. We documented eyewall meso-vorticies for the first time in IKE.
TA: What do you hope people learn from Tornado Alley 3D?
Kosiba: Appreciation and awareness. I hope people get a better understanding of the science by actually seeing people out there trying to find the answers to problems. And they are tough problems. We’re still learning and there’s a lot we still don’t know about how tornadoes form, and just as important, why some storms don’t produce tornadoes.
TA: Will there be a VORTEX 3?
Kosiba: I hope so. As we learn more, we formulate better questions. And the technology improves leading to new research opportunities.