Scientists Will Hunt Tornadoes to Learn Their Secrets

Most people flee tornadoes, but next month a small army of scientists will be doing just the opposite. They will crisscross the midsection of the United States, known as "tornado alley," in search of twisters.

Organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, Operation Vortex2 will last from May 10 to June 13.

Fifty researchers will set out in research vehicles, including mobile radars, in an effort to get close to tornadoes and study how the twisting funnel clouds work to wreak devastation.

"New advances from Vortex2 will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm's wind, temperature and moisture environment, and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form and how they can be more accurately predicted," Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology, said in a statement.

Twisters tend to form in so-called supercell thunderstorms that often form over more than 900 miles of the central Great Plains.

The study will focus on southern South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma.

The original Vortex program operated in the central Great Plains during 1994 and 1995 and documented the life cycle of a tornado for the first time.

In addition to NOAA and NSF, two foreign organizations, Environment Canada and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, are among other universities and institutions taking part in the new study.