By Mary Duncan
Some of the nation’s leading tornado scientists and their high-tech tornado intercept vehicles plan to roll into Joplin on Thursday.
Don’t worry, they won’t be chasing a twister.
They are part of the Tornado Alley Outreach Tour, which will visit Joplin’s middle schools and make a presentation that evening at Missouri Southern State University and screen “Tornado Alley,” a documentary that follows storm chasers through the Midwest. The movie, created by Giant Screen Films, features Sean Casey, the Discovery Channel “Storm Chasers” star, and the VORTEX2 science team. It is narrated by actor Bill Paxton, whose credits include the movie “Twister.”
Casey is among those who will be in Joplin.
VORTEX2, the largest tornado research project to date, was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is an effort to learn how tornadoes form and dissipate. VORTEX2 (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment) builds on the earlier VORTEX program, which collected unprecedented data on tornadoes that occurred in the central Great Plains in 1994 and 1995.
Accompanying Casey will be weather researchers Joshua Wurman, Karen Kosiba and Don Burgess.
Wurman is the president and founder of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colo., and serves as chief scientist and coordinator of VORTEX2. He also developed some of the radar trucks used by storm chasers today.
They will discuss the latest knowledge of tornadoes and severe weather at 7 p.m. in Phelps Theater in Billingsly Student Center on the MSSU campus.
The event is free and open to the public.
The Tornado Chase Outreach Tour visit is being sponsored by Giant Screen Films, the Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition, the National Science Foundation and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The idea of having a science team come to Joplin came from a discussion between Deborah Raksany and myself at a national STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) conference this past summer in Dallas, Texas,” Brian Crouse, executive director of the Missouri Mathematics and Science Coalition, said in an email to the Globe.
Raksany is vice president of development and partnership with Giant Screen Films.
Crouse had visited Joplin a few weeks before the conference and while here he toured the efforts to rebuild from the 2011 tornado. He also visited the temporary Joplin High School inside Northpark Mall.
“I was able to meet with leaders from the city, school district, Joplin chamber and other key city rebuilders,” Crouse said.
“In Dallas, Deborah and I started brainstorming on how we could bring the science team to Missouri, specifically Joplin, to talk about the science behind tornadoes. After the conference we started working with the Joplin School District leadership on how this would take place. From there it continued to grow incorporating the Joplin chamber and MSSU.”
VORTEX2 is a field experiment that includes an armada of vehicles loaded with high-tech equipment, including Doppler on Wheels, SMART Radar and NO-XP radar. Each radar produces different data by looking at the storm from different angles. In addition, several minivans have been equipped with mobile weather instruments. Weather balloons and unmanned aircraft are also part of the mix, and other deployable instruments are positioned in the tornado’s path to gather even more data.