The SUNY Oswego Storm Forecasting and Observation program's participation with VORTEX-2

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Monday, 18 January 2010
Scott M. Steiger, SUNY, Oswego, NY

The Storm Forecasting and Observation Program at the State University of New York at Oswego is designed to teach students how to observe weather patterns and predict changes in the weather by applying their classroom learning to the forecasting and observation of actual storms. The program coincides with the climatological peak for tornado occurrence in the United States (late May into early June). The true laboratory for a meteorologist is not inside a building but outside in the free air of the atmosphere. Fundamentals can be taught in the classroom, but to truly understand the atmosphere and attempt to predict its changes requires that students directly observe the weather. Program participants were driven to the Central Plains States for the first two weeks of this 3-week program. Each morning, students analyzed real-time data, produced and discussed their forecasts, and departed to the target area (where it was believed that severe thunderstorms would develop). At the end of each chase day, participants compared what was observed to their forecasts. This was when the real learning occurred!

During the 2009 chase season the program participated in the VORTEX-2 (Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2) field campaign, launching radiosondes to better understand the environment in and around tornadic thunderstorms. Experiences and data collected during two events will be discussed. A radiosonde was successfully launched at 00 UTC 27 May 2009 into the rear flank downdraft of a supercell thunderstorm as it split into a left and right mover. Significant differences were found between this sounding and the one launched from the nearby operational station at Dallas-Ft. Worth. The wind directions backed with height between 0-2.5 km AGL well above the cool pool put out by the downdraft according to the Oswego data, which supported the development of an unusually strong left-moving supercell thunderstorm. This backing of the winds was absent in the DFW sounding so a strong left moving supercell would not be expected based on this observation. The students launched a pre-storm sounding that showed a strong capping inversion during the early afternoon on 5 June 2009 in northeast Colorado. This assisted VORTEX-2 scientists in targeting a better area for tornadic storms in eastern Wyoming. The Oswego sounding was very helpful as a tornadic storm formed in Wyoming and became the most observed tornado in human history by researchers and was quite the highlight for the program's participants.

The "learning by observing" pedagogy to teaching meteorology at SUNY Oswego has excited high school students from nearby districts to study meteorology and has encouraged current meteorology majors at SUNY Oswego to get more involved with research. The meteorology faculty have plans to take advantage of their location to the lee of the Great Lakes and teach a similar program observing lake-effect storms.