The sheer force and might of nature can be both daunting and beautiful at the same time. And while putting any positive adjectives with something as destructive as a deadly tornado is a sure way to be declared as a psychopath, the latest supercomputer simulations beg you to view these decimating powerhouses in a different light.
One just awes at the grandeur and complexity of the tornado as the simulations reveal a glimpse of the chaotic conditions inside it which led to a supercell thunderstorm. Supercomputers were used by the researchers to recreate the supercell that gave birth to the deadly ‘El Reno’ tornado in 2011, which was a record-breaking monster storm that was in the strongest tornado category and wrecked havoc for nearly two hours.
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The computer animation reveals how several ‘mini-tornados’ joined forced to emerge as the main funnel along with systems of rain-cooled air that zoomed up and around the system. This made the clouds stronger and increased the wind speeds, while the formation of new structures, that includes a ‘streamwise vorticity current,’ showed an unexpected behavior.
The El Reno tornado was one of a number of tornadoes that hit the central Great Plains in May 2011, and on May 24 it emerged as an EF-5, which is the strongest category on the Enhanced Fujita scale used to rank the severity of tornadoes. The storm left a humungous 63-mile path of destruction along with massive damages to life and structures.
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The simulation created by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison recreated the conditions that led to the birth of the catastrophic tornado by using real-world observational data. The archived data was used for the atmospheric sounding which revealed the vertical profile of factors like temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and moisture inside the tornado.
The simulation provides a high-resolution sneak peek into the event and helps us understand and predict such catastrophes better.
Leigh Orf, a scientist, working at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) spoke about the simulation,
‘The SVC is made up of rain-cooled air that is sucked into the updraft that drives the whole system. It’s believed that this is a crucial part in maintaining the usually strong storm, but interestingly, the SVC never makes contact with the tornado. Rather, it flows up and around it.’
‘There are a number of factors said to be ‘non-negotiable’ in the formation of a tornado. This includes abundant moisture, instability and wind shear in the atmosphere, and a trigger that moves the air upwards, like temperature or moisture difference. But, this doesn’t always mean a storm will happen. In nature, it’s not uncommon for storms to have what we understand to be all the right ingredients for tornadogenesis and then nothing happens. Storm chasers who track tornados are familiar with nature’s unpredictability, and our models have shown to behave similarly.’
The creation of the simulation is a massive feat as it allows the scientist to do achieve in three days what otherwise would have taken them decades using conventional methods. They now look to make the model even more precise and predict the factors with even greater details and accuracy.
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‘We’ve completed the EF-5 simulation, but we don’t plan to stop there. We are going to keep refining the model and continue to analyze the results to better understand these dangerous and powerful systems.’
Watch the mesmerizing simulation in the video below!