Research Tools: Field Observing Facilities Support

A significant part of NSSL’s specialized field instrumentation is built, managed and maintained by an experienced group of problem-solvers on the Field Observing Facilities Support team who work hard to come up with innovative ways to support NSSL scientist’s storm research efforts.


  • Erik Rasmussen, FOFS Chief
  • Doug Kennedy, Team Leader
  • Zach Barney, Electronics Engineer
  • Sean Waugh, Ph.D., Research Meteorologist

NSSL Research Vehicle Fleet

Mobile Mesonet

NSSL's Mobile Mesonet vehicles, currently designated Probes 1 and 2, began as standard 2014 pickup trucks (a Ford F-150 and a Dodge Ram 1500). The FOFS team modified these trucks to incorporate a suite of weather instruments attached to a custom-designed rack mounted above the hood to go along with a cargo of computer equipment inside. Scientists drive them through all kinds of conditions, ranging from benign, pre-storm conditions to actual severe storm environments, even hurricanes. Measurements are made of temperature, humidity, pressure, wind and solar radiation; storing data on board while simultaneously telemetering it back to scientists at central facilities. The probe design is based on an original concept produced for the first VORTEX project in 1994–1995. NSSL/FOFS continues to modify and upgrade the MM design to stay with current technology, including the recent (2009) invention of the U-Tube; an improved, aspirated temperature solar radiation shield for mobile platforms and high wind conditions.

Mobile Laboratories

NSSL6 is the 6th mobile laboratory operated at NSSL since the mobile laboratory idea was first implemented. It consists of a 2002 Ford F450 chassis on which is mounted a custom designed, science laboratory module. NSSL also has NSSL7, a 2006 Ford F450 chassis on which is mounted a slightly different science laboratory module. Both NSSL6 and NSSL7 contain computer and telecommunication hardware, balloon launching equipment and specialized weather instruments, and can be driven virtually anywhere to collect data or coordinate field operations. These vehicles are modifiable to suit the needs of any project.

Mobile Doppler radar

NSSL’s NOAA X-POL (NOXP) mobile radar mobile radar has dual-polarization technology and is heavily used across the United States to study tornadoes, hurricanes, dust storms, winter storms, mountain rainfall, and even swarms of bats.

More about mobile radars →

Other NSSL vehicles

NSSL leases a 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe that is primarily used for servicing the Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) network. It is also used to transport equipment and personnel to very remote, special projects, as well as local trips for project parts.

NSSL3 is an eight foot by 16 foot Wells Cargo utility trailer custom modified with extra wall insulation, roof top heat and air conditioning, A/C power outlets, wall mounted cabinets and reinforced floor. It is used in field projects where research equipment (desktop computers, test, repair, data collection hardware, etc.) would normally require office-like environments.

Field Instruments

2-Dimensional Video Distrometer (2DVD)

The 2DVD is used in polarimetric radar studies. It records two-dimensional images of any particles falling through its imaging area. It measures rain drop size distribution, rain rate and other parameters useful in refining precipitation identification algorithms.

Portable In situ Precipitation Station (PIPS)

The Portable In situ Precipitation Stations are small portable weather platforms built by NSSL in collaboration with The University of Oklahoma and Purdue University. Each PIPS has sensors that measure temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction. In addition, the PIPS determines the distribution of particle sizes by using an instrument called a Parsivel (PARticle, SIze, VELocity) disdrometer to measure the number and size of any object that falls through it (similar to the 2DVD). These can be deployed quickly in the field in any condition, and have even been used in hurricanes!

Weather balloons

NSSL researchers launch weather balloons into thunderstorms. Measurements from the small packages of weather instruments attached to the balloons provide actual weather data from inside the storm where it is too dangerous for research aircraft to fly.

Particle Size Image and Velocity Probe (PASIV)

NSSL/FOFS has built a one-of-a-kind, balloon-borne instrument called the Particle Size Image and Velocity probe, designed to capture high-definition images of water and ice particles as it is launched into, and rises up through, a thunderstorm. The instrument is flown as part of a “train” of other instruments connected one after another to a large balloon. These other instruments measure electrical field strength and direction, and other important atmospheric variables such as temperature, dew point, pressure and winds. Data from these systems helps researchers understand the relationships between the many macro and microphysical properties in thunderstorms.

Electric Field Meters (EFM)

NSSL/FOFS has a collection of Electric Field Meters that are attached to balloons and launched into storms to help learn more about the electrical structure of storms. Read more about it

Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array (OKLMA)

NSSL/FOFS installed and maintains the OKLMA and provides three-dimensional mapping of lightning channel segments over west central Oklahoma and two-dimensional mapping of all lightning over most of Oklahoma. Up to thousands of points can be mapped for an individual lightning flash, to reveal its location and the development of its structure.

The VHF antenna receives signals in the channel three television band. This signal is processed by electronics in a small plastic building to determine the time the signal is received to within less than a millionth of a second. This time and information about the signal is then sent back to a central processor in Norman via the communication antenna beside the plastic building. The central processor records the information from all stations and, in real time, uses the times from several antennas to determine the three-dimensional location from which a lightning channel segment radiated the signal. These data are being used with radar and other storm measurements in scientific studies to help understand how thunderstorms produce lightning and to develop ways of using lightning mapping data to warn and forecast of weather hazards.

Read more about OKLMA :: Real-time OKLMA data

Boundary Layer Profilers

Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI)

NSSL uses special instruments mounted on the top of the National Weather Center that can measure the thermodynamic properties of the lowest 1-2 kilometers of the atmosphere, known as the boundary layer. These instruments include:

  • Microwave Radiometer (MWR, model MP-3000A) is provided by Radiometrics, Inc. in an agreement with the University of Oklahoma.
  • Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer (AERI) is provided by by the U.S. Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program.
  • Total Sky Imager (TSI)

Researchers study the data to learn more about the structure of the boundary layer, shallow convective cloud processes, the interaction between clouds, aerosols, radiation, precipitation and the thermodynamic environment, mixed phase clouds, and more. Numerical models, such as those used for climate and weather prediction, have large uncertainties in all of these areas. Researchers also use these observations to improve our understanding and representation of these processes.


Vehicle High Bay

The National Weather Center Vehicle High Bay is divided into an east and west section with a cinder block wall and high shelving dividing the two areas. Work on University of Oklahoma radar vehicles typically is done on the east half of the bay. The west side is primarily used by NSSL for building, modifying and staging Mobile Laboratory vehicles, Mobile Mesonet vehicles and storm ballooning project systems and equipment.

Machine Shop

The NSSL Machine Shop is a 35 by 30 foot, high ceiling area that houses all of NSSL's machine equipment, tools and project assembly work benches. Equipment consists of:

  • drill presses
  • pedestal mounted grinder
  • chop saws
  • band saw
  • radial arm saw
  • belt and disk sanding machine
  • jig saw
  • small capacity milling machine
  • a computer controlled x, y and z router
  • arc welder
  • plasma cutter
  • miscellaneous hand tools

Safety is always an important consideration in any machine shop for both the work environment and operator habits. To be an authorized user of the NSSL machine shop, an applicant must view a series of online machine safety videos and be approved by FOFS with a demonstration of skill. Machine shop users' techniques are also frequently monitored by FOFS personnel.

Support Equipment

Industrial forklift, Raymond Walkie Straddle Model RAS20

This is a walk-behind, battery operated forklift with a 2000 lb weight lift capacity and 13.5 ft height lift capacity. It is essential for lifting equipment to be stored on the NWC vehicle high bay shelves and invaluable for use as a liftable work platform for installing equipment in high, tight spaces where ladders are inadequate.

Scissor Lift, Genie Model GS2046

This is a battery operated scissor lift with 1200 lb weight lift capacity and a 26 ft working height capacity.