Tornadoes are fact of life in the Midwest. A researcher at Western Illinois University is using a National Science Foundation grant to look inside storms to figure out which ones will spawn twisters.
WIU Meteorology Professor Marcus Buker said he's using the grant to look at how the multiple "vortex features" inside a storm interact to create a tornado.
Buker said that a type of storm known as super cell thunderstorms produce tornadoes but not not every super cell storm goes on to generate tornadoes. He said how the different vortex features inside the storm influence each other may hold the answer.
He and his team are using computer simulations and some novel mathematical modeling to explain those interactions.
Buker said fluids, like air and water, actually behave in similar ways to magnetic fields, so he's using math developed to describe magnetic fields to explain interactions going on inside a tornado.
He added that making the models work has been a bit tougher than he expected and he recently sought out some help from an expert in Russia.
"He's in St. Petersburg, Russia and I'm trying to get some help from him and have a cleaner target in proving our hypothesis," Buker said.
One of the problem, Buker said, is that there is actually relatively little data that they can use in their calculations.
"There is one really good case. There is a lot of decent data that's out there but there is one premier case that was in Goshen, Wyoming that they got really, really good data and that's where a lot focus in on," he said.
Buker said and his team will spend the next few months writing papers based on the research so far and he will also continue to collaborate with the Russian mathematician.
He said he hopes they will eventually author a paper together.