Purdue University meteorology students study severe weather in the Southeast

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. --Purdue University meteorology students have been busy this spring researching severe thunderstorms. Their group is one of nine out of roughly 40 schools and other entities chosen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study weather in the Southeast.

They have been working with VORTEX, or Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment. It's a project that has been around since the 90s whose focal point has been studying severe weather in the Plains. However this year, their focus is severe weather in the Southeast.

The purpose of the project is to increase the physical understanding of storm processes and also study societal impacts. They hope to figure out whether tornadoes are physically different down in the Southeast or whether it's just societal factors contributing to a high fatality rate in that region of the country.

Radars, instruments and weather balloons are being used to track the weather.  Radar is one of the most helpful tools when it comes to tracking severe weather. The students also use a distrometer, which measures rain drop sizes and numbers along with hailstones and snowflakes. They're studying whether a difference in rain drop sizes or shapes play a role in how tornadoes form.

Smaller raindrops evaporate more quickly with more cooling taking place in the thunderstorms and tornadoes are not as likely to form in this environment. Larger raindrops will lead to less evaporation and a more favorable environment for tornadoes to form in.

The project wrapped up in late April and the group caught two tornadoes in northern Alabama back in early spring. Analysis of the data collected can take months or even years but they expect to see preliminary results in the fall.

They're hoping their research will help with even better warnings and they also hope to understand how people react to those warning messages once they receive them.