Storm Chasing

Many among us have seen and have been fascinated by the movie Twister. (Probably the most memorable scene was the cow flying by.) Scientists know the basic science behind tornados, but there is much they still do not know. For example, they know tornados form from super cells, but they don't know why some super cells form tornados and others don't. They also do not have a good way to predict which tornados will become strong F5 monsters while others will comparatively limp along at F1 scale. Vortex 2 is the largest attempt in history to study the origin, structure, and evolution of tornados. They want to know the how, when and whys of storms. For the next five weeks, over 100 scientists, university students, and support personnel from around the United States will converge in the Midwest "chasing" storms. Their aim is to provide a concentrated and coordinated effort to study storms from all angles. Many of us are familiar with the Discovery Channel series Storm Chasers. These people are scientists, but the series unabashedly focuses on the drama of stalking and getting as close as possible to a tornado's path. The Vortex 2 project (the first Vortex project was in the mid 1990s), is different than just chasing storms. It is not out for glory, but pure science. The various research teams have all agreed in advance that they will converge on the same storms and collect data in a coordinated manner. Even if they make the wrong call and something more interesting develops nearby, once they are committed to a storm, they will see it through to its conclusion. As one of the chief scientists, Dr. Josh Wurman said to me, "Those people looking to drive straight into storms are crazy. I'll certainly take their data, but I'm not going in there." I had a chance to meet Dr. Wurman on Friday in Norman, Oklahoma where the Vortex 2 project formally kicked off with a media day. If you haven't heard yet, Lenovo is sponsoring this project by providing over 50 computers to the Center for Severe Weather Research (CSWR). I LOVE this project. I mean no disrespect to our Formula One team, nor to the other sponsorships that Lenovo has been a part of, but they have been rather ho-hum to many but the most die-hard enthusiasts. This project is different. Everyone I've mentioned it to has had the same immediate reaction, "Oh how COOL!" I think the difference is that everyone has experience with storms of some kind. We've seen their dramatic images on television and watched the brave men and women who run to rather than from them. Even if we think "I could never do that," what they do is interesting and even heroic. Sports are entertainment, and nothing more. You watch, get excited, and then promptly forget as in the end, sport contests really have no lasting value. A project like this is different. The data these teams collect will be used and analyzed for the betterment of mankind for years to come. It's cool at a visceral level. As I mentioned, Lenovo is providing over 50 desktops, laptops, and workstations to the CSWR team. These will be used for data analysis in the labs, but also outfitted in mobile Dopplers on Wheels (DOW) vehicles. These mobile RADAR vehicles will image the storms with more accuracy and detail than is possible with fixed RADAR installations. Lenovo machines inside these vehicles will crunch, tabulate, and organize the gigabytes of data collected from each storm.

I've got a lot more to say on this topic and how we at Lenovo are helping. In tomorrow's post, I'll give you some more detail, pictures, and a tour inside a DOW. I also hope to do a ride along with the storm team in a couple of week's time to be able to give you a picture of how this is actually working in the field. It promises to be a wild ride, and I hope you'll find this as interesting as I do. You may ask why we are doing this. I'm going to steal shamelessly and quote Ray Gorman: We are looking to demonstrate that the computers behind the best brains are Lenovo computers. Whether it is on a space station, at the top of Everest, putting together that one-shot presentation to potential investors, completing a research paper that's due tomorrow morning, or driving into the middle of a Midwest tornado…when performance really counts, you're going to want a Lenovo. More tomorrow…

Here are some resources for you to learn more and get regular status updates. Learn about the Center for Severe Weather Research and their mission. Follow the Vortex 2 project on Facebook. Twitter feed.