Thursday, May 13, 2010

A week of chasing...

May 12, 2010

It’s been a busy week for the Vortex 2 team! As I’m sure most of you saw on either the Weather Channel or maybe even your local news station, there was a major tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma and along the Kansas/Oklahoma border on Monday. Central Oklahoma provides some logistical challenges for the Vortex 2 team. There are a lot of trees and hills, making it difficult to find a good place to deploy the radars and also visually see the storms develop. However, we were in the perfect location, ready for our first deployment in rotating supercell. Unfortunately, we had a communication issue and missed the storm that produced a large wedge tornado. Wireless reception is patchy in this area, so it was difficult to see the radar and communicate with our coordinators. We deployed in a storm that was farther North, and by the time we were able to pick up our 7 instruments we were too late. The good news, this was the first storm we successfully deployed all of our instruments! We came across roads with closures due to powerlines in the roads (we drove underneath one…pretty intense), tree limbs, and the power line poles. We had to turn around and call it a day because of the extremely fast movement of the storm and all of the roads were closed due to damage. I’ve only seen tornado damage on TV, so it’s really intense to experience it first hand. It is an eye opening experience and reminds me of why we are all out here. The exhausting days filled with early mornings to prepare the instruments and late nights after chasing seem like a small thing after you see with your own eye the damage these storms are capable of.

To top off this overwhelming experience, we got back to the hotel only to find out that our hotel and a majority of the restaurants were without power. We were able to grab a bite to eat at a Chili’s down the road, but were without power in our room for the entire night and morning. No breakfast, showers, or air conditioning…but this is a small discomfort compared to the people who lost their homes.

Tuesday seemed like it would be a pretty boring day, but after playing the “hurry up and wait game” things started to initiate in western Oklahoma. We all got excited when one storm looked like it was going to explode, but it died before it reached supercell status. Luckly, we were able to find a new target storm that had a lot of potential. We were able to deploy all of our instruments in the ideal part of the storm. While waiting for the storm to pass, we drove south to get a perfect view of the structure of the storm with some amazing intracloud lighting! It was a very late night chase though…well after dark when we picked up our instruments. This chase led us far into the middle of nowhere, but we were able to find a Sonic on the drive to our hotel only a few minutes before they closed at 11! We were able to get a shower for the first time since Monday morning….amazing!

Today (Wednesday) was our third chase day in a row. For details of today check out the CU link:
Today we had media in our backseat (Christian who is working on a German documentary). 

I also was filmed getting the instruments ready in Wichita Falls, TX today:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Travel Days: Perry, OK

Day….lost track of time. May 9, 2010

Most importantly, let’s start out with a big Happy Mothers Day to my wonderful majah and my newest mom Shirley!  Thanks for putting up with your crazy jet setting, tornado chasing daughter!   I love and miss you both!

Since the last blog, we have had a little bit of excitement with a lot of travel days in between.  We spent two nights in Hays, KS, the first night recovering from the drive and preparing the instruments (and ourselves) for a small chase day.  Our first official chase (mostly practice though) was on Thursday.   We spent most of the day waiting at the America’s Best Inn in Hays.  The famous saying with all of us is wake up and get the instruments ready so we can “hurry up and wait.”   It was great to get a chance to walk around and see everyone prepare their instruments for the chase.  This was also the first day that I got to see the TIV in person!  I hope they are able to get what they are looking for this year…I can’t wait for the IMAX movie to come out!   

Several locals stopped by and asked if “the big one” was headed their way….everyone gets pretty worked up when we roll into town.  I find it humorous when people run up to us on their cell phone asking if they should take cover when there isn’t a cloud in the sky….but our group is pretty intimidating!  After hanging around is Hays for several hours we drove about 20 miles west, only to hurry up and wait again!  We started chasing around 6pm local time and intercepted a small supercell north of Oberlin, KS. 
Our first deployment was an adventure!  Our method wasn’t quite as organized as we had hoped, but we were able to successfully deploy one out of the two probes.  The first stop we all jump out of the pickup while Cameron took his time finding his rain jacket as Katja is clapping her hands frantically yelling “Go Go Go!”  Since we did not work out beforehand who was in charge of what, we kept bumping into each other, put the datalogger box in the middle of the road (bad idea), had trouble unlocking the back where the instruments were…all as it started to hail.  The second deployment was a bit smoother…unfortunately the computer program was not started correctly so we didn’t collect any disdrometer data (my bad!) and we deployed the instruments on a tilted surface (the ditch) instead of the necessary flat surface. We were also REALLY slow, so if there was a tornado we may not have been able to fully deploy the instruments! We all had a lot of fun and learned a lot from it…but thank goodness it was practice!

That night we hit the late night AppleBees in Hays …the only place that was open when we rolled into town.  Two probes got stuck in the mud and were finally pulled out around midnight by a friendly local farmer.  So…if you see one of us stranded feel free to pull us out! Usually we don’t go back and rescue people because then we risk getting more of our vehicles stuck!  If you get stuck, mostly likely you’re sleeping there.

From Hays, we left for Amarillo, TX in hopes of being positioned for potential storms today with an off day yesterday. On our off day, we spent some time at a somewhat scary Laundromat…my clothes may have been cleaner before they went into the washer/dryer. We then had a practice deployment in the parking lot with the chance to work out all the kinks before the storms anticipated for Monday.  We were all looking forward to not riding in the car, but our third vehicle broke down for the third time on their way from Dallas, TX.  Our team is now complete though, with the exception of one vehicle in the shop…again!  Luckly, all of the instruments are in a trailer, so we are fully operational now!

We’re on the road again today heading to the next location that seems to have a lot of potential!

Until next time….

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vortex 2: Woodward, OK

Vortex 2

May 3, 2010

Day One:
Started in Nashville, TN and caught a flight at 5:45 in the morning to DIA. Filled out some paperwork in Boulder, met Stephanie and we were on our way.

Stephanie and I joined the team a few days later than the project started on May 1 due to weekend obligations.  We started from Boulder with a a very big Ford pickup, wired with internet, radios, a perfectly small laptop....and only a music radio. No place to plug in the ipod, put in a cd, not even going old school to a cassette player....just the radio.  After driving to Garden City, KS we decided we had enough of the radio and made a pit stop at Walmart to buy some investment on the trip so far!  We can now go back to the "new" world and listen to ipods and even stream live music from the computer!  We had a few adventures along the way, driving over the curb (bigger than we thought), not being able to take the key out, start the engine, or lock up the back.  However, we made it after only a couple of U-turns to Woodward, OK in about 10 hours. 

There are two main highlights of my day: 1) The A-MAZING sandwich I had for lunch, stopping at Costco was a great idea; and 2) Arriving at the Northwest Motel after a very long day and seeing all the chasing vehicles...hello DOW!!  This is what girls dream about ladies and gentleman...until next time!

Day two: May 4

Woodward OK:  Still in Woodward, OK. We had a fairly lazy morning with a chance to catch up on sleep from the long day of travel yesterday.  The Northwest Inn is a pretty good place to stay, only downside is the lack of internet that consistently works and they made us all check out this morning and check back in to different rooms today.  There are A LOT of us though, I think we booked 70 rooms last night. 

The parking lot is a fantastic place here!  You walk outside the door and the DOW and other radar trucks are testing operations, the mobile nets with all the instruments on top, pickups filled with instruments….a sight to see for sure!  The locals always wave and stare, we definitely stand out everywhere we go!

Today we had a chance to learn about deployment procedures and the instrument checks we need to do before we start chasing and deploy.  It’s the typical, make sure the computers are charged, batteries work, instruments’ time and GPS are all coordinated.  The disdrometers use a single diode laser and a single receiver to measure precipitation drop size and velocity.  The tornado pods have a temperature and relative humidity sensor (identical to the one I set up on the roof of NSSTC), a sonic anemometer, a regular anemometer, and a barometer with a GPS device located on the pod.  We deploy each pod and disdrometer together, take a picture of the set-up, and then write our GPS location down.  The goal is to deploy every 0.5-1km, following the path of the storm.  Our main location of deployment is north of the mesocyclone…usually about 5-10 minutes in front of where a tornado typically forms.  Rest assured, the actual tornado pod teams are deployed 3-4 minutes before tornado formation, so I don’t have the most dangerous job!  Plus, we have some good people watching out for us!

We were also filmed today by the Japanese media making a documentary about the Vortex 2 project.  We did a fake deployment in the parking lot for them, with Katja explaining the instrumentation and purpose after we deployed.  They follow so closely that I almost ran right into the camera guy when I turned around after putting the laptop back in the pickup!  It was fun...but having media in your face all the time is not something I'm use to!

We have the evening off and a late start for the morning again.  No storms tomorrow either, but it is a travel day. 

Until next time…check out these websites to track us!

My PI (Katja) will be keeping a blog here:  We will all be taking turns writing it.

The official project blog is here:

The Weather Channel:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Latest thoughts on the NASA budget cuts

Here is a quick look at what one of my favorite astrophysicists has to say about the NASA budget cut and why NASA is important to America.

He is one of my heroes. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Today I had a chance to attend a fascinating neurobiology robotics seminar here at JPL.  A professor at Caltech (Joel Burdick) has been able to do INCREDIBLE work in learning about spinal injuries and creating "brain machines."  If you have a problem with animal testing, I wouldn't check this out...but if you want to learn about some amazing advances their making to improve the quality of life for paraplegics and people with motor neuron disease take a look!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I'm starting a new part of my life and I'm looking forward to keeping track of my journey. I need a place to log and keep track of my upcoming adventures...what better place than a blog?

I'm 23, a recent college graduate, recently married, and will soon be moving back home to Colorado to start on my Ph.D. at CU Boulder. "I'm just a small town girl..." from the amazing song by Journey is only a description of where I started. I grew up in Yuma County, CO (that's right, not even a city) on a small ranch with my brother Josh and parental units Dennis and Dee. It's farm country my friends; where sports, the size of your new tractor, and the weather are the main topics of conversation. I grew up riding horses, moving cattle, showing steers, playing sports, and graduated high school with 11 other students (big class for Liberty). It's always fun to tell all of my coworkers about where I grew up because the common question is "How did the farm girl work her way into NASA?" The answer is easy, ranch/farm girls know how to work. We don't complain when our steers drag us through the dirt in the show ring. We simply stand up (once the steer decides to stop running), dust off, and walk away with a's all part of the game. Sure, the work in the field of science and spacecraft is a different game, but if you work hard enough at anything you do you will win (eventually).

I'm at a point in my life that I've never experienced...I don't know what I want to do with my future! Obviously I'm pursuing the academic path, but I'm not sure if I'm capable of picking just ONE topic for my Ph.D. thesis work. I always thought I wanted to start out with planetary atmospheres, but I can't see myself sitting in front of a computer modeling every single day. So instead, maybe I will explore the Earth's atmosphere and eventually find a way to relate it to other planets. Who knows, maybe I can move my Earth field work to Mars before my life is over.

So now after covering the past and the future...the present seems so uninspiring but I digress. I got married to my wonderful husband Casey last May, but unfortunately have spent more time away from him than with him since then. Two days after the honeymoon, I went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the Inspiration Summer Team Internship for 10 weeks. We worked on a mission known as HyspIRI (, an Earth science decadal survey mission to study ecosystem and climate change. It's a great learning opportunity, professionally and personally, for any student that is trying to learn as much as possible about mission design and the science behind it. I returned to Huntsville in the fall for my last semester, earning a Bachelor's Degree in Physics in December. I learned in January that I was not cut out to be a temporary house wife and now I'm back at JPL for another 11 weeks working on the same mission. I'm learning more than I thought possible about MODIS cloud mask data, trying to reach an understanding of how clouds might interfere (block the view of the instrument) with the science capabilities of the mission. The work is outside of my normal realm, but this gives me a chance to grow as a young scientist.

I will soon be chasing tornadoes across the U.S. plains...but more on that later.
Until next time...I leave you with a quote and some fun Mars facts.

"Procrastination isn't the problem, it's the solution. So procrastinate now, don't put it off."
Ellen DeGeneres