HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Southeast is known for its unique weather patterns, which is why some of the country’s top researchers come here to study its trends.
Monday proved to be a valuable day for the researchers of the Severe Weather Institute Radar and Lighting Laboratories (SWIRLL).
While a tornado was forming over Russellville Monday evening, the SWIRLL Research Team was on the ground collecting radar data.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to determine when that rotation will tighten up and actually reach the surface and start developing a condensation funnel and start causing damage at the surface” said SWIRLL Team Member Brian Freitag.
Fifteen members of the group set out Monday morning continuing their long-term study on the trends of tornadoes in the Tennessee Valley. While the researchers are excited about how the data can help them to better understand severe weather, they know their research comes at a cost.
“When you’re a severe weather researcher you get mixed emotions,” said SWIRLL Team Member Tony Lyza. “You don’t want to see the damage. You don’t want to see the injuries, the loss of life, but it’s such an opportunity to get the data still. And you feel better knowing you’re going to be able to make a difference in the end, but it hurts getting there.”
In a median on Highway 24 just outside of Russellville, the team was able gather data on the formation of that tornado.
“What we did this time is we actually did storm intercepts with our mobile radar where we tried to get as close as possible,” said SWIRLL Team Member Ryan Wade. “And we were rewarded by getting tornado genesis or the formation of a tornado near Russellville, Alabama, and that eventually grew into the Athens, Alabama tornado.”
The group also examined how topography affects storms.
“One of the things that we looked at were some of the tornadoes that were coming off the higher terrain and hilly terrain and we feel like we got some really good data.”
The members also gathered information from Tuesday’s storms that did not produce tornadoes to see how the two days’ storms compare.
The researchers will then spend the next few months evaluating the data collected with the ultimate goal of protecting those in the Tennessee Valley.
“We want to try to get a better lead as to when we see a storm rotating what can we look for, what kind of clues can we find that actually will let us know that that storm will become tornadic,” said Freitag.
“It really does strengthen your resolve to get to the bottom of some of the research questions we have because you realize the answers may affect how people survive these storms,” said Lyza.