MAY 20

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by Hummer Storm Chaser

The Flattest Plains in The Plains

H3T Northeast Colorado May 19
Sean Casey's TIV2 in N Colorado

Some people call Kansas flat, but the panhandle of Nebraska is so flat that if Columbus had landed here, he would have promptly turned back to Portugal and pronounced the earth a giant billiard table, not a sphere. This terrain, however, is perfect for studying storms. And so at the first sign of a line of convection, the VORTEX2 teams convoyed up to Ogallala to set up to follow the giant high-base cumulus towers that appeared around 3 p.m. and rose to the troposphere both to the north and to the south of Interstate 80.

The smooth sandy dirt roads that separate endless fields of wispy green alfalfa, with no trees in sight, no hills, no landmarks that could influence the wind over the ground, are perfectly straight for dozens of miles and the only indication of whether you’re in Colorado or Nebraska is a slight change of width of the sandy shoulder. The Doppler-On-Wheels radar trucks of the Center for Severe Weather Research only need to plant their leveling struts several inches on the road, and the radio transmissions carry on far enough that none of the “Probe” vehicles are out of range.

These roads are perfect for transecting the front of the cloud range with the Probe trucks on the smooth surfaces, and for downloading data that shows how the temperature and speed of the air changes, and how the rain dropping from the thick clouds is absorbed by the dry air. No other field study has made such detailed measurements of the simple, textbook shape of the cumulus tower and its predictable behavior for producing rain and wind. The VORTEX2 teams also got to practice the complex process of filling and downloading data loggers, checking sensor wiring, double-checking data accuracy against separate GPS readouts and computer clocks, all to refine the science and spot subtle changes in humidity and temperature for the first time.

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