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Researchers across the United States are teaming up for a new project that will examine the relationship between supercell thunderstorms (storms that contain rotating updrafts) and tornado development. TORUS – or Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells – will focus its research on the Great Plains, but this research will benefit anyone in a tornado-prone region. The knowledge and data that scientists will gain from this research could help form better models specifically for supercell thunderstorms, and will benefit future research on tornadoes.

To start collecting data, teams will follow storms and deploy a wide variety of tools. TORUS researchers will have mobile radars, special weather balloons and radiosondes, unmanned aircraft systems, and the NOAA P-3 aircraft which is typical used for hurricane hunting.

(MORE: How hurricane hunters are contributing to tornado research)

The teams will collect data on any changes occurring in atmospheric conditions such as wind speed, temperature, humidity, and pressure. By collecting data on the small-scale structures of a storm, researchers hope to improve models that can guide forecasts for severe storms and tornadoes.

The TORUS project will be the largest scale tornado research project to date, at least in terms of geographical size. Fieldwork will cover parts of North and South Dakota, Texas, Iowa, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado. It will also include more than 50 scientists and students from four different universities, including the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the University of Colorado – Boulder, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas Tech University.