Sean Waugh is building two mobile mesonets from scratch In the Research Vehicle Equipment Bay of the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla. These mobile weather stations measure temperature, pressure, humidity and wind in any conditions. But old vehicles with low floors make it difficult to chase tornados and other severe storms across dirt roads and uneven terrain.
So, NSSL rented two pickup trucks from the federal government. NSSL is the weather research lab under the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).
Waugh builds a metal frame around each rental car, one red and one black. The frames hold the instruments to track the intensity of tornadoes and other severe weather. They also shield the cars from hail by adding wire meshing to the tops of the frames.
Spring is a busy time for meteorologists – chasing tornadoes and taking atmospheric measurements to study and analyze during the rest of the year. The season has been quiet so far, this year and for a few years now in the Oklahoma area. Single tornadoes touch down in a day but not the multiples that are so dangerous for communities but offer ideal conditions to study storms. Storm chasers are watching beyond Oklahoma, of course, and Canton, Texas, was hard hit in April. But NSSL did not have an active watch there. So, until the storms show up, lab meteorologists are busy preparing for when it does.
Another team is developing an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle systems to take temperature and relative humidity measurements in the lowest part of the atmosphere where weather systems break. It is a quadcopter, the size of a small drone with four rotating blades on it.
Elsewhere in the building, multiple teams are working on perfecting the existing weather forecast systems. Weather is fickle and can change at a moment’s notice. It is the source of both frustration and exhilaration for meteorologists. For now, at NSSL in Norman, it is the quiet before the storm.
Photo at top: Three groups of forecasters from different parts of the country tested a new software for severe weather monitoring that will provide earlier warning times. They pursued the test at the Hazardous Weather Testbed in Norman, Okla. (Puja Bhattacharjee/MEDILL)