Research project aims to understand tornadoes in the Southeast

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A research project in Huntsville is working to learn more about tornadic activity in the Southeast in order to better issue warnings and ultimately keep people safe.

Federal funding for that project was secured Monday and with the deadly tornadoes that came across Alabama, researchers say their work is far from over.

Dr. Tony Lyza with Vortex-SE says Alabama is vulnerable to tornadoes due to several things.

"The fact that many of them form at night the fact that there are many obstructions to block the view for people who are in the path, there are numerous people who live in rural areas," said Lyza.

The atmosphere behaves differently in the southeast than in the great plains where a majority of tornado research has been done for the past sixty years.

Vortex Southeast is a collaboration of universities, government agencies, and media who work to study tornadoes in our environment.

"We send vehicles out that measure temperatures, humidity, pressure, and wind both at the surface and higher up in the atmosphere to see these variables and how they change and how they are perhaps different from a lot of the environments in the great plain states," said Lyza.

Vortex Southeast is working to better understand spin up tornadoes like the ones that hit north Alabama on Monday. they often develop quickly. They are hard to predict and that makes lead time on warnings hard to come by.

"QLCS or 'Quasi-Linear Convective System'... radar can have a hard time seeing these circulations form without any advance notice," said Lyza.

The project was close to losing its funding in 2020 but U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt advocated to restore money to the project. Lyza says funding is crucial.

“This agreement provides for the continued collaboration between NOAA Research and the NSF on the Vortex-SE initiative with an important investment of up to $10,000,000 that I know will save lives in the future," said Rep. Aderholt. "While radar does a great job of detecting storms during their formation and after they have touched down, we still need to know more.   Specifically, we need to know why tornadoes form and why some areas seem to get hit over and over while other areas just miles away see little to no tornado activity.  I envision a future where this research will give us the opportunity to not just detect tornadoes, but know where they are likely to form minutes or hours ahead of time.”

"Funding that's supplied for vortex south east goes to being able to maintain vehicles, some of it has gone towards building instrumentation suitable to being able to study these environments. also goes towards being able to study all of this," said Lyza.

Vortex-Southeast is based in north Alabama at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.