By Niki Morock, Meteorologist
Over the last two decades, researchers have spent time, energy, and a great deal of effort trying to understand how tornadoes form and why some storms spawn tornadoes and some do not. Much of the research falls under a coordinated program called The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment, or VORTEX.
VORTEX was the name of the first round of data collection in the years 1994 and 1995. The results were studied and lead to some advances in our understanding of tornadoes, but many questions remained.
In 2009 and 2010, VORTEX2 continued the effort. The students, professors and other researchers involved — some of which were from North Carolina State University — did their best to place data collection instruments in and around storms that had the potential for producing tornadoes with some success. You might be picturing scenes from the movie "Twister," but I can assure you that it was a much larger and more strategic effort than a handful of researchers trying to place a single instrument pack directly in front of the storm.
Last year a follow-up project began, and it continues this spring. VORTEX-SE is focused on understanding how and why tornadoes form in the Southeast in particular. The geography, population concentrations, and attitudes toward tornadoes are different in this region than they are in the plains states and the Midwest. In addition to studying why some storms produce tornadoes and others don't, researchers are also looking at the sociology of storm warnings — how the public receives them and reacts to them.
While social science is a new addition to this particular program, it has become an important part of meteorological research and practice in the last few years. As I have said before in this blog, meteorologists can make weather forecasts and information available, but how people find it, understand it, and act on it is something altogether different, and it changes as technology changes. In recent years, we have been studying, debating, and tweaking how we word warnings, what icons and colors we use in maps and graphics, and how information is consumed and shared across social media.
Meteorologists involved in communicating weather information want to understand you. We research, we survey, we test, we hypothesize, we test some more... we use the scientific method in a whole new-to-us way to do our best to learn what works to protect and save lives and property when severe weather threatens. Our hope is that we can use the information gleaned from projects like VORTEX-SE to improve our ability to serve you.
With this fact in mind, I would like to know what you think works and doesn't work regarding severe weather warnings. What do you like? What makes you pay attention? Which words or colors trigger an immediate response to seek shelter, if any? Each person is different, so I expect some very different answers. My request is that you share your opinions in the comments on the Facebook post associated with this link, and share the link so that we hear from more people. The more I can learn from you, the better. All I ask is that you keep it respectful.
Thank you in advance for your insights!