Thursday, March 27, 2014

Student Tornado Tour

We live with the threat of tornadoes. Keith Bell took a class on a tour to learn more recently. Here is his report:

My physical geography class took a tour of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Old Hickory recently.  We took this field trip as part of the course curriculum that focuses on weather and climate.  Tom Johnstone,  Warning Coordination Meteorologist, led the tour.  We learned about the mission of the NWS, and the do’s and don’ts of extreme weather.  We saw their computer programs and modeling approaches and saw a brief video of a weather balloon launch.  (Weather balloons are launched from this site twice daily, around 6 am and 6pm.)  Tom even spoke about the trend for increasingly deadly tornadoes in our region.  We have more deaths than “Tornado Alley” (on the Great Plains) because we have: 

1)  more people,
2.)  more mobile homes,
3.)  more nocturnal tornadoes, and
4.)  more difficulty seeing the tornadoes due to the undulating landscape.  (The flat plains make it very easy to see when a tornado is coming.)

Service Hydrologist James LaRosa led us outside and described some of the older rain and temperature gauges that they still use to generate data for the site.  He also detailed the structure and function of the Doppler radar, where all the forecast data for local news stations originates.  He told us about the dual-polarization radar upgrade.  This upgrade allows meteorologists to know what type of precipitation is in the air: rain, snow, sleet, or hail.  It can even give an accurate rendering when debris is in the air, signaling a tornado has touched down.  This office is just one of only two offices that take ozone readings daily.

Keith M. Bell
Associate Professor of Geography

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