for National Geographic News
The perfect data set involves positioning the radar trucks at nearly right angles to each other and aiming at the tornadic region of the storm. We wanted to document the entire life cycle from the birth of the tornado, through its mature stage and demise.
This is actually very hard to do. Many times you deploy the trucks in perfect position only to have the storm move away before producing the tornado.
Or you wait a little too long and then the tornado forms before you are in position and you miss its birth.
We have about 40 mature tornado data sets, but up till now obtaining an entire life cycle with both our mobile radar systems, the Dopplers on Wheels (DOWs), has eluded us.
We knew that the 2001 season was about over. Our student staff and leader had other pressing projects to attend to so we were taking our last road trip.
So far this season, the DOWs had already logged around 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) and documented five tornadoes in their mature stages. We had high hopes on this, our last chase day of the year.
The day started with several storms, but we were able to weed out the best storm, which was in south-central Kansas. We placed our radar trucks in perfect position and started collecting data.
The supercell storm had all of the textbook structure indicative of tornado formation. We held our breath as we watched and waited for a tornado to form.
Finally, the storm seemed to be getting its act together when a small rain cell formed to its southeast and dumped rain-cooled air into the supercell's inflow. This choked off the supercell's updraft energy and our hopes for an immediate tornado.
We would have to re-deploy farther east in hopes that the storm could reform.
On our second perfect deployment farther east, the storm was organized again and rotating and our chances for a good tornado data set were increasing.
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