Dr. Josh Wurman is a world renowned severe storm scientist. In his latest endeavor he spearheaded VORTEX2, the largest tornado study ever with over 120 scientists. He has also been seen on Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers and in the IMAX movie Forces of Nature.
Dr. Wurman stopped by Channel 2 this week with his DOW (Doppler on Wheels) to talk with Severe Weather Team 2 chief meteorologist Glenn Burns. The DOW is a truck equipped with weather radars and has observed over 140 tornadoes.
Did you have any surprising results from Vortex 2?
"With Vortex 2 we surrounded these storms with more instruments than we ever did before. We were looking for subtle differences between the storms that make tornadoes and the ones that didn't. No, we didn't see any huge differences. We think it's going to take years of pouring through our terabytes of data to peel back some of the subtle differences between the storms that do and don't make tornadoes."
Any advances in technology that help improve forecasting/tracking storms?
"1 new advance in weather radars is dual polarization technology. We can tell the differences between rain and hail and small rain drops and big rain drops. The Doppler on Wheels is the same as your television station radar. It sends out dual polarization.
Ours is very special - it sends out 2 frequencies of dual polarization, so it can scan very, very fast through tornadoes and watch those changes as minute by minute they change in a developing tornado."
What was it like when you recorded the 301 mph wind!?
"The Doppler on Wheels recorded the wind of 301 mph in a strong F5 tornado in the Oklahoma City area, which unfortunately killed about three dozen people. That type of damage is incredible, it's shocking to see.
What we're trying to do is understand exactly how strong these storms can get and how quickly they can change in the strongest of tornadoes."
How are you able to focus during storms?
"When I'm doing my science missions, particularly VORTEX 2, when we had 50 vehicles, 120 people out there, I'm focused on just getting people ambitiously deployed and then quickly out of the way- out of the way when we need to. So we need people close, but safe and it's very busy, it's very, very intense during these intercepts."
Any advice to kids/people interested in chasing?
"I think storm chasers are great. They're out there appreciating nature. Storm scientists are a different breed. We're in there focusing on particular problems trying to make forecasts better so we can get the warning time up.
Science is terrific! The discovery that we have in science is what gets me up in the morning and wanting to do more - to chase the storms and then analyze the data that we get afterwards.
People who want to do that, especially young people, should stay as exposed as they can, through school mostly and to science and math. So they can be prepared if they want to become scientists."
Do you believe in climate change and if it has a link to increase in severe weather.
"The formation of a tornado is a very delicate process- it doesn't just take heat. So we don't know what's going to happen. If the climate warms in the mid-west, we don't know if we'll get more tornadoes or fewer tornadoes. WE don't know if it will change the distribution or when they happen. We really don't understand enough about how tornadoes form to answer the question of whether they'll change with climate change."
Looking forward do you see any tech advances that will help us detect storms?
"Technology is increasing our ability to detect storms that rotate and the Doppler radars we have out in the high plains are terrific now for seeing these storms. The dual polarization of those radars is going to advance our ability to tell the difference between rain and hail areas in those storms and I think let us understand which storms are more severe than others.
But the biggest increases we need in the near term for tornado forecasting is an increase in knowledge. We need to understand exactly how the tornadoes form. We hope that the data we collected in VORTEX 2 is going to be able to push that knowledge forward within the next few years."
Related Stories: March 31, 2011: WSB-TV Installs World's Most Advanced Radar