UNL storm chasing field research resumes after pandemic pause

The 17 from UNL rolled out on Monday and will spend the next month covering hundreds of miles, and they hope for handfuls of storms.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 8:30 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - As Lincoln sees the potential for severe weather Tuesday night, a group made up in part of UNL graduate students is hitting the road on a research effort that’s been on pause for the last three years.

It’s known as the TORUS project or Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells. They’re essentially storm chasing to give forecasters a better data.

The group makes up a larger network that spans a few universities. They work to gather data, specifically supercell thunderstorms that have the potential to create tornadoes.

The 17 from UNL rolled out on Monday and will spend the next month covering hundreds of miles, and they hope for handfuls of storms.

“We are covering different parts of the storm at the same time, some are above the ground, some are at the ground, some are ahead of the storm some are actually in the storm,” said Adam Houston an atmospheric scientist with UNL and a leader on the project.

The group looks to study storms from all angles. With trucks, balloons and other instruments that monitor different facets of a storm. They’ve used drones in the past and are looking to bring them back further along in the process. All in hopes of compiling data to improve storm and tornado forecasting.

“That’s the key for almost everything we do,” Houston said. “By actually targeting the storms and not just relying on surveillance weather data we can actually get much better resolution.”

Much of the talk around weather this spring and summer has stemmed from ongoing drought conditions. Houston said it’s unclear yet what that might do to severe weather season.

“The amount of moisture available to the storms but to a large extent most of the moisture that these storms feed on comes from over the Gulf of Mexico and not so much the local land here,” Houston said.

The pandemic put a pause on the program. They last went out in 2019 so Houston said this summer’s research will be compared with what they collected three years ago.

“We need more data - because to do some of that analysis that’s required to understand supercells we need more than just the handful of cases we got in 2019,” Houston said.

The whole goal of the project is to give the National Weather Service better data so they can more accurately project watches and warnings, even figuring out when they’re not needed.

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