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January-February 2010

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From the Editor

In the spring of 1994, a group of scientists launched the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, or VORTEX. The project, which was essentially a massive, multiweek storm chase in the central and southern Plains, was designed to address research questions relating to tornadogenesis and tornado dynamics. The data that were collected that spring and during the following tornado season provided valuable insight into how quickly and over how large an area tornadoes form and helped scientists improve tornado warnings. Building on that success, in the spring of 2009 scientists launched VORTEX2, with the goal of learning more about how tornadoes form using the largest collection of cutting-edge equipment ever assembled. Although 2009 proved to be an unusually quiet season for tornadoes, the researchers did document a few funnels and were able to obtain valuable data from one in particular, creating the most intensive study of a single tornado ever completed.

For those of us who have a fascination with the weather, storm chasing can seem like the ultimate meteorological rush, providing excitement, drama, beauty, and educational opportunities all in one fell swoop. In “VORTEX2: Inside the Biggest Tornado Chase in History,” NOAA's Susan Cobb reveals what it is really like on a massive storm chase—from the tedium of waiting for a storm to hit, to the rush of realizing that you are about to intercept a spectacular funnel, to the excitement of gathering unprecedented amounts of data on a particular storm. I'm thrilled that we can give you this insider's look at VORTEX2; no doubt you'll be seeing some of the results of the experiment on the pages of Weatherwise in the near future!

Tornadoes are just one of the many severe weather threats that scientists are studying in an effort to improve public safety. Each year, communities across the United States face the dangers of flash floods, hurricanes, fires, and other severe weather phenomena. But once officials know that danger is imminent, how do they warn communities of the threat? One of the oldest warning methods is sirens. In “The Controversy over Warning Sirens,” UCAR's Emily Laidlaw explores the past, present, and future of warning sirens and examines their efficacy in warning people of impending weather threats. It might be one of the older technologies in officials' battalions today, but it does save lives.

These are just two of the topics covered in this issue of Weatherwise. Other highlights include a 200-year-old climate crime, the dangers of volcanic ash, a 1-year retrospective on the crash of USAir Flight 1549 into the Hudson, and planetary cloud cover. As usual, there's something for everyone in this issue of Weatherwise. I hope you enjoy it!

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