VORTEX-SE: Topics & Impacts

The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) is a research program to understand how environmental factors characteristic of the Southeastern U.S. affect the formation, intensity, structure, and path of tornadoes in this region. VORTEX-SE will also determine the best methods for communicating forecast uncertainty of these events to the public, and evaluate public response. Scientists will address the following research topics as part of the VORTEX-SE program.

Meteorological Topics

  • Studies using historical data sets
  • Studies of phenomena at scales larger than individual storms, including how terrain can modify the storm environment
  • Studies of internal processes of storms occurring in environments supportive of tornadoes

VORTEX-SE will include three efforts in Numerical Weather Prediction at NOAA Laboratories. At NSSL, researchers will conduct Warn-on-Forecast experiments to test if the current NSSL system can provide useful one-hour guidance in the VORTEX-SE area, especially for the hard-to-forecast tornadic storms that happen in the cool season. The NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory will work with an experimental version of the High Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model to form high-resolution information from a storm-scale ensemble-hybrid data assimilation system. At the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, scientists will use an experimental model to explore ways to forecast the likelihood of tornadoes occurring with landfalling tropical cyclones.

Societal Impacts

One of the primary goals of VORTEX-SE is to gain new knowledge that will help the National Weather Service, emergency managers, broadcasters, and others to communicate information about the tornado threat. It is hoped more reliable and specific forecasts and warnings will enable all users to make more informed decisions, and reduce the level of deaths and injuries from tornadoes in the Southeast.

  • Improved knowledge of tornadic storms in the Southeast, especially the non-supercell storms, should lead to improved anticipation of tornadoes and more lead time in warnings.
  • Likewise, being able to discern which storms have less likelihood of becoming tornadic should reduce the number of false alarms.
  • Learning how individuals and organizations receive tornado forecast and warning information, and how and why they may be overly complacent about that information, will improve the way information is communicated.
  • Learning better ways of communicating hazard information for nighttime events, and events in the cooler part of the year (when tornadoes are not generally perceived to be a threat) will reduce tornado impacts from those events.

Broader impacts

In addition to the specific meteorological and societal impacts, VORTEX-SE will have the following benefits:

  • Establish longer-term research needs and build the foundation to target future observations in an increasingly efficient manner
  • Begin to apply state-of-the-art computer models to forecast tornadoes in rugged terrain
  • Improve damage assessment and the understanding of how tornado debris and tree fall produces and increases damage.
  • Establish utility of gap-filling radar systems
  • Establish the utility of routine boundary layer profiling
  • Improve the capability of Unmanned Aerial Systems in mesoscale and boundary layer research

Initiated by Congress

The VORTEX-SE project was initiated by Congress with the following descriptions:

NOAA and its Federal government and academic research partners conducted two severe weather studies in the Great Plains region, VORTEX I and VORTEX II. NOAA is encouraged to conduct a similar research program in the Southeastern United States in cooperation with other government agencies and private sector and academic partners as appropriate. This research could in part establish why tornadic activity in the southeast region results in more deaths per capita than any other region of the country.
The southeastern United States commonly experiences devastating tornadoes under variables and conditions that differ considerably from the Midwest where conditions for tornado research have historically been focused. Within funds provided for Weather and Air Chemistry Research Programs, OAR shall collaborate with the National Science Foundation's VORTEX-SE to better understand how environmental factors that are characteristic of the southeast United States affect the formation, intensity, and storm path of tornadoes for this region. Source: NOAA - Senate Report, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research section