The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 7, 2013

Vortex 2 tornado-chasing team visits East and North middle schools

By Wally Kennedy

JOPLIN, Mo. — Dozens of students at East and North middle schools in Joplin got a first-hand look today at two vehicles that were used in the Vortex 2 storm-chasing project.

They also got a chance to hear from two weather experts about careers that involve weather.    

When Don Burgess with the Vortex 2 storm-chasing team told students that the kind of tornado that struck Joplin is so rare that it represents only 1 percent of all tornadoes, Arin Camp, 13, said, “I was kind of relieved to hear that. It didn’t happen to me, but it could happen to any of us. My brother went through it.’’

Would she still pay attention to tornado warnings knowing that it’s highly unlikely  she will ever experience in her lifetime a tornado like the one that struck Joplin?

“Oh, yeah,’’ she said. “Yes, yes, yes! I would not take that chance.’’

To underscore his comment, Burgess said that across an entire century in Missouri there would be only 20 days of EF-2 tornado activity within 25 miles of you. For EF-4 tornadic activity, it would only be two days in a century.

Said Burden: “I knew he was right when he said the chances of that ever happening again were not that high. But global warming, I think, is changing things. It could be making it happen (more).’’

Burgess is retired from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory at Norman, Okla. Students also heard from Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research at Boulder, Colo., and Sean Casey, a filmmaker who chases storms in a steel-reinforced vehicle that he calls TIV.

Students got to view that vehicle and another that carried a mobile-radar unit.

Burgess and Kosiba used the Vortex 2 research as examples of careers in science for both men and women. Burgess noted that when he went to meteorology school, only men were enrolled. Now, 50 percent of the students are women.

Burgess said it is likely that “your generation, with the Internet and smart phones, will have a better chance of being warned’’ of an approaching tornado that any previous generation. He said when a tornado struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., in April 2011, research showed that half the people got their warnings from social media.  

Burgess said the Vortex 2 research examined tornado genesis, near-ground wind fields, the relationship of supercell storms to their environment and creating numerical models of the process that leads to tornado formation.