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News Release 09-061

Largest Attempt in History to Understand Tornadoes Slated to Begin

Nationwide tornado experiment underway in May

Photo of a tornado.

Atmospheric scientists soon will conduct the most ambitious tornado field project in history.
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April 7, 2009

An ambitious project to explore the origin, structure and evolution of tornadoes will take place from May 10-June 13, 2009, across the central United States.

The project, VORTEX2 (V2), is the largest attempt in history to study tornadoes, and will involve more than 50 scientists and 40 research vehicles, including 10 mobile radars.

Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes (VORTEX2) is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and involves scientists from NOAA, 10 universities and three non-profit organization

Researchers will sample the super-cell thunderstorms that often form over more than 900 miles of the central Great Plains.

Areas of focus include southern South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma.

"An important finding from the original VORTEX experiment was that tornadoes happen on smaller time and space scales than scientists had thought," said Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology.

"New advances from VORTEX2 will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm's wind, temperature and moisture environment, and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form--and how they can be more accurately predicted."

NSF has contributed $9.1 million to VORTEX2.

The original VORTEX program, operated in the central Great Plains during 1994 and 1995, documented the entire life cycle of a tornado for the first time in history.

Recent improvements in severe weather warning statistics may be partly due to the application of VORTEX findings.

V2 will build on the progress made during VORTEX and further improve tornado warning skills and short-term severe weather forecasts.

Data collected from VORTEX2 will help researchers understand how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado formation, according to Louis Wicker, meteorologist at NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory and a V2 co-principal investigator.

Participating scientists and students are from organizations throughout the United States and three countries, including the Center for Severe Weather Research, Rasmussen Systems, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, OU/NOAA Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, NSF-sponsored National Centers for Atmospheric Research, Penn State University, University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University, Lyndon State College, University of Colorado, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, University of Massachusetts, University of Nebraska, and Environment Canada and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

For more VORTEX2 news coverage, see


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734,
Keli Tarp, NOAA, (405) 325-6933,

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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Genesis and evolution of a rain-wrapped tornado observed by VORTEX2 teams in southeastern Wyoming.
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Genesis and evolution of a rain-wrapped tornado observed by VORTEX2 teams in southeastern Wyoming.
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Photo of the 1973 Union City, Okla., tornado, first tornado captured by Doppler radar.
The 1973 Union City, Okla., tornado was the first captured by Doppler radar and chase personnel.
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Photo of Doppler-on-Wheels, which is used to study tornadoes.
Today scientists use such instruments as the Doppler-on-Wheels to study tornadoes.
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