Then and Now: 25 years ago

When Yahoo and Amazon were founded in 1994, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. That same year, the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory made its first web post.

Twenty-five years ago today, NSSL joined the information superhighway when two researchers —

The 1994 NSSL website
The NOAA NSSL website when it was first created in 1994.

David Stensrud and Harold Brooks — created the lab’s first website in November 1994 to “take advantage of the information explosion provided by the WWW,” according to a newsletter from that time.

The original site was organized according to NSSL’s administrative structure and organizational chart. Since then, Webmaster Vicki Farmer has overhauled the website three times, in 2007, 2010 and 2014.

“We realized individuals outside of NSSL were more interested in the content of our work and our website needed to reflect that,” Farmer said.

NSSL’s web audience includes the public, students, educators, collaborators, researchers, and Congressional staffers.

“A majority of our web traffic is from school-aged children in grades K-12 and we proudly provide information for those grades, including our Severe Weather 101 sites, information on research, and career options for meteorologists,” Farmer said.

Not only does the site provide general information about meteorology to the public but it also has a searchable publications database of all published NSSL authored articles. The website also has a thorough history of NSSL and lists of awards received by researchers at the lab.

“We’ve grown from one website to nearly 10 subdomains of content, research tools and data,” Farmer said. “Overall our web server hosts six terabytes of information, applications, and tools that scientists and the public utilize for research and information.”

Explore all NSSL has to offer at, as well as experimental tools for Warn-on-Forecast and convection-allowing models utilized by researchers.

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NSSL Announces Passing of Pioneering Lightning Researcher Dave Rust

We are saddened to announce the death of one of the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory’s renowned scientists who made significant and revolutionary contributions to thunderstorm science. David “Dave” Rust, NSSL scientist emeritus, passed away surrounded by family on Monday, May 8, 2017.

A physicist and observational scientist, Rust pioneered creative ways to measure storms for more than 35 years until his retirement from NSSL in 2010. From mobile laboratories to instrumented storm-penetrating balloons, Rust’s measurements have shaped our present understanding of how storms become charged and produce lightning.

“I have always been in awe of nature,” said Rust in 2011 as he recalled lying on his front lawn in New Braunfels, Texas, watching the changing shapes of summertime cumulus clouds. He was an only child who loved to study, tinker and build.

Retired NSSL scientist Dave Rust, and then grad student Sean Waugh look at a static electricity exhibit with Exploratorium staff.


It was during graduate school at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico, that Rust stumbled into the field of atmospheric electricity. He was measuring radon flow in mountain canyons for his master’s work, but found something magical about the weather. In his spare time he helped with thunderstorm projects, eventually moving his research into atmospheric electricity. His doctoral dissertation became the foundation of his career: the electrical conditions near the bases of thunderclouds using measurements from a tethered balloon.

As a postdoctoral fellow in Boulder, Colorado, he used “free-ballooning” to measure the electric field inside thunderstorms. He continued this work at NSSL, where he directed a fleet of mobile research facilities (excluding mobile radars) for decades. Beginning with the mobile lab he helped build at NSSL out of an old Suburban truck in 1979, the armada now includes mobile ballooning facilities, field coordination vehicles, mobile mesonet vehicles and mobile radars.

Dave Rust briefs his crew in front of a mobile lab.


Rust saw the value in going out to find the storms rather than waiting for them to come to NSSL. Countless other scientists and research projects have benefited from the ability to measure temperature, pressure, dew point, wind speed and direction, the electric field, and even return stroke velocities in a storm.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction supporting other research,” he said in 2014.

Rust co-wrote a graduate level textbook with NSSL’s Don MacGorman, “The Electrical Nature of Storms.” A review by a colleague said, “The book is clearly the best compilation of material on storm electricity that exists today.” He has also advised and mentored numerous graduate students over the years.

Rust lead the way in many endeavors, including becoming the first NSSL scientist to receive the honor of being elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2014. Established in 1962, the Fellows program recognizes AGU members who have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers and vetted by a Union-wide committee of Fellows.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made in Dave Rust’s name to the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. For his full obituary, visit The Norman Transcript.

Dave Rust tries to extract an Electric Field Meter from a cactus during a field campaign.
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Edwin Kessler, first NSSL director, 1928–2017

Dr. Edwin Kessler
Dr. Edwin Kessler

We are sad to announce the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s first director, Dr. Edwin Kessler, passed away Tuesday, February 21.

Originally from the northeast, Dr. Kessler received his Ph.D. in Meteorology in 1957 from MIT after serving in the Army. He also served as a Captain in the Air Force Reserve and was Chief of the Synoptic Meteorology Section at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. He also worked at the Travelers Research Center in Connecticut.

In 1964, Dr. Kessler became the first Director of the NSSL and was an Affiliate Professor of Meteorology at The University of Oklahoma until his retirement in 1987.

Under his leadership, NSSL scientists conducted Doppler radar research that led to the NEXRAD, deployed in the 1990s and still in use today.

Dr. Kessler authored more than 250 publications and reports. He served on numerous advisory panels, including NASA and NCAR, and consulted for several countries on weather-related topics, including Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Our Lab owes a great deal to his leadership, scientific talent, and good judgment.

Kimpel, Kessler, Koch at NSSL 50th
At the NSSL 50th Anniversary celebration. L-R: Dr. James Kimpel, Dr. Edwin Kessler, Dr. Steven Koch

Norman Transcript: Norman mourns ‘Father of Doppler radar’
Norman Transcript: Obituary
Norman Transcript: 50 years with an eye on the storm
NSSL History

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NSSL: The Modern Era (2010-2015)


NSSL deploys a mobile radar to help with winter weather forecasts over southwest Colorado.
The first annual Warn-on-Forecast workshop was held in Norman.

NSSL’s mobile radar scans the early and mature stages of the first tornado in an outbreak in central Oklahoma. A long track EF-4 tornado is captured by MPAR and tornadoes threaten the National Weather Center building.

NSSL launches the 2-Dimensional Video Disdrometer (2DVD) attached to a balloon to learn more about storm electricity and how it relates to different kinds of precipitation.

An NSSL algorithm helps alert a power company of the potential for a dust storm in Phoenix with 45 minutes advance notice.

NSSL deploys a mobile radar to collect data on dust storms in Arizona.

CI-FLOW accurately predicts flooding conditions in coastal North Carolina from Hurricane Irene.

The Department of Commerce awards NSSL’s Radar Research and Development Division a gold medal for “scientific and engineering excellence in adapting military phased array radar technology to improve U.S. weather radar capabilities.”

NOAA researchers share the science of storms at the San Francisco Exploratorium science museum for two weeks as NOAA Scientists in Residence.
NSSL participates in the Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry field experiment, a study of how thunderstorms impact the upper atmosphere.

The Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array expands from eleven to eighteen sites to provide mapping of lightning channel segments over most of Oklahoma.

The Hydrological Cycle in the Mediterranean (HyMeX) is a 10-year international effort to better understand, quantify and model the hydrologic cycle in support of improved forecasts and warnings of flash floods in the region. NSSL ships a mobile radar to France to participate. It is the largest weather field project in European history.

The meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPING) mobile app was launched to crowdsource weather data.

Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX). Researchers collected data on pre-storm and post-storm environments in an effort to better predict when and where thunderstorms will form.
Researchers collect data on tornadoes that struck within 30 miles of the laboratory and research radars.

NSSL’s Multiple Radar Multiple Sensor system—a merging of NMQ and WDSS-II—went into NWS operations, providing information to NWS forecasters at unprecedentedly high spatial and temporal resolution over the continental United States and southern Canada.
NSSL celebrated its 50th anniversary.

NOAA scientists tackled the mystery of nighttime thunderstorms in the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field experiment, an intensive campaign deploying instrumented aircraft, ground-based instruments, mobile radars, and weather balloons to collect data before and during nighttime thunderstorms in the western Great Plains, to learn what triggers these storms and how they impact lives, property, agriculture and the water budget in the region.

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NSSL: 2000-2010


NSSL participates in the Pacific Land falling Jets Experiment (PACJET) along and offshore of the U.S. Pacific coastline to improve short-term forecasts and warnings of floods, damaging winds and other severe weather.

A fire destroys the NSSL field research equipment storage facility including one of two mobile radars, a new lightning mapping array, a new mobile laboratory, a mobile mesonet instrumented vehicle, and many valuable instruments.

An NSSL scientist develops the Hazardous Weather Pager Program that sends lifesaving weather messages via pagers to subscribers with hearing disabilities.

The Joint Polarization Experiment (J-POLE) tests the polarimetric capabilities of the WSR-88D in Norman, OK in an operational demonstration in collaboration with operational hydrologists, meteorologists and aviation users.

NSSL partners with researchers from around the world for the International H20 (IHOP) field project. The goal is to improve understanding of the process of convective initiation and boundary evolution, and learn what types of data are needed to make forecasts of thunderstorms and rainfall amounts more specific.

The NWRT Multi-function Phased Array Radar (MPAR) becomes operational.

NSSL completes Project CRAFT; successfully proving that real-time access to high-resolution radar data from multiple radars is technically possible and economically feasible.

NSSL participates in the Bow Echo and Mesoscale Convective Vortices Experiment (BAMEX) during May–June 2003 to understand the processes and improve prediction of systems that produce severe winds.

The Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array (O-LMA) becomes operational and is used by NSSL researchers to investigate how lightning characteristics relate to updrafts, precipitation, and severe storm processes.

The Thunderstorm Electrification and Lightning Experiment (TELEX) begins the first year of a two year project to learn how lightning and other electrical storm properties are dependent on storm characteristics.

NEXRAD Program Management Committee approves taking first steps towards upgrading the national operational WSR-88D network to include dual-polarimetric capabilities developed by NSSL.

It is the second year of TELEX.

NSSL seamlessly mosaics all 130 NWS and Department of Defense weather radars across the U.S. to provide the first high-resolution depiction of storms and quantitative precipitation estimation products from coast-to-coast in real-time.

Data collection with the Multi-function Phased Array Radar (MPAR) begins.

NSSL celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

NSSL SMART-R team operates the mobile radar in California to help forecast debris flows in areas burned by wild fires.

The NSSL-developed multi-sensor technology to improve severe weather warning decision-making will be moved into operations.

The first National Weather Festival draws 1000 visitors to tour NSSL facilities.
Students make phone calls to collect reports of severe weather from the public as part of the Severe Hazards Analysis and Verification Experiment (SHAVE).

NSSL moves into the new National Weather Center six miles south of their previous location.

MPAR detects rotation, hail, microbursts and gust fronts well ahead of other radars due to its rapid scan capability.

NSSL and the SPC formally organize their collaboration towards improving severe thunderstorm and tornado watches and warnings in the new NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT).

NSSL leads the Coastal and Inland Flood Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) Project to improve flood forecasts and warnings in coastal areas.

NSSL deploys a mobile radar to provide data for the Flash Flood and Debris Flow project in California.

NSSL introduces real-time MPAR data to forecasters in a simulated operational environment and receive positive feedback. The project is called “Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment” (PARISE) and is ongoing.

NSSL researchers create the Meteorological Development Lab to invite collaboration and discussion on current projects being developed.

NSSL launches a new Web site to reach out to a wider audience including students, researchers, colleagues, media and the public.

The NOAA HWT identifies two interrelated areas of focus creating the Experimental Warning Program to target improving severe weather warning precision, and the Experimental Forecast Program to improve predictions of hazardous convective weather phenomena.

NSSL’s prototype Four-Dimensional Stormcell Investigator (FSI) designed to “slice and dice” storms is alpha-tested in three NWSFO’s and will be implemented at all WFO’s.

MPAR scans landfalling Tropical Storm Erin as it tracks over Oklahoma.

NSSL launches a “Video Highlights” Web page.

NSSL adds a mobile X-Band dual-polarized radar (NOXP) to the armada of mobile research equipment.

NSSL operates the SMART-R in Arizona to observe the lifecycle of strong microbursts and assess their impact on the Salt River Project’s electrical power transmission and infrastructure.

NSSL’s SMART-R team transmits mobile radar data to the NWSFO in Oxnard, CA in real-time, aiding the office in their decision to issue a flash flood warning.
The NWS in Little Rock, Ark. uses NSSL’s “On-Demand” severe storm verification system to help with damage surveys and warning verification following the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak in the south-central U.S.

NSSL embraces social networking by creating a Facebook and Twitter presence.
The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2009-2010 (VORTEX2) begins. It is the largest field tornado research project in history deploying ten mobile radars and 40 other instrumented vehicles. VORTEX2 is working to better understand how, when and why some supercell thunderstorms produce tornadoes and others do not. The project was designed to observe all scales of motion from the thunderstorm down to the tornado.

VORTEX2 collects data on a tornado in LaGrange, Wyoming using all of their mobile research equipment. It remains the best-sampled storm in history.

An NSSL team deploys a dual-polarized mobile radar and a team of researchers to support the 2010 Winter Olympic Games through their participation in Science and NOWcasting of Olympic Weather for Vancouver (SNOW-V10). It is a unique opportunity for international collaboration on the science of winter nowcasting in complex terrain.

NSSL/CIMMS team win the prestigious Vaisala Award for their Outstanding Research Paper, “Rapid Sampling of Severe Storms by the National Weather Radar Testbed Phased Array Radar.”

NSSL deploys a mobile radar in the Southwest Colorado Radar Project to collect data on thunderstorm rainfall to better understand and forecast flash flooding caused by the Southwest Monsoon.

The Central Oklahoma chapter of the American Red Cross uses NSSL’s WDSS-II: On Demand system to assess tornado disaster areas much faster than before.

VORTEX2 continues and logs over 25,000 miles for each vehicle over the two-year project sampling 36 supercell thunderstorms and 11 tornadoes.

The Kimpel Symposium, a review of successful meteorological programs in Oklahoma including contributions made by Dr. Jeff Kimpel, and a look into the future of severe weather research, was held at the National Weather Center on Friday, June 18, 2010.

More than 5000 visitors attend the 6th annual National Weather Festival at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla.

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NSSL: 1980-2000


NSSL attempts to deploy TOTO, the TOtable Tornado Observatory in the path of an oncoming tornado. They are unsuccessful.

NSSL researchers develop and test a technology that transmits radar energy pulses both horizontally and vertically on the Cimarron radar. They discover this capability provides valuable information about the type and amount of precipitation that is falling and call it dual-polarization technology.

NSSL develops and tests radar algorithms that detect and notify forecasters of hail, tornado circulations, downbursts and gust fronts.

Engineers convert the Cimarron radar to dual-polarization.

NSSL researchers begin development of the Warning Decision Support System (WDSS) designed to enhance National Weather Service warning capabilities. WDSS contains a combination of sophisticated severe weather detection algorithms and an innovative, user-friendly display.

NSSL participates in the Cooperative Oklahoma Profiler Studies of 1991 (COPS-91) and uses instrumented aircraft and a ground-based network of instruments to sample tornadic supercells.

The Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment (VORTEX) begins. VORTEX is a two-year project designed to answer a number of ongoing questions about the causes of tornado formation. It was a near record for the fewest number of tornadoes in the VORTEX area, but operations still occurred on 18 days and collected data on storms on 9 days.

NSSL partners with the University of Oklahoma to develop the first mobile Doppler radar.

The Department of Commerce awards NSSL a Gold Medal for work leading up to and ongoing support of the national deployment of Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) radars.

VORTEX intercepts nine tornadoes; two of them were very large and violent.
The mobile Doppler radar is operational and provides revolutionary data on several tornadic storms during VORTEX.

NSSL and SPC begin a long-term collaboration to address operational severe weather forecasting issues.

NSSL supports weather-decision making during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. with the Warning Decision Support System (WDSS).

NSSL designs and develops software allowing the WSR-88D system to be more easily modified and updated.

The National Severe Storms Forecast Center moves from Kansas City to Norman and changes its name to the Storm Prediction Center. This was a deliberate move to collocate research with operations.

NSSL receives permission to upgrade their prototype WSR-88D radar with dual-polarization technology to determine the practicality of upgrading the nationwide network of Doppler radars.

NSSL scientists lead the Thunderstorm Initiation Mobile Experiment (TIMEx), an organized effort designed to answer specific questions concerning convective initiation.
NSSL conducts the SubVORTEX project as an extension of VORTEX with fewer vehicles and a tighter focus.

NSSL coordinates the MEaPRS (MEsoscale Convective System Electrification and Polarimetric Radar Study) project using an array of fixed and mobile sensors, including a P-3 research aircraft and several mobile laboratories, to simultaneously sample a target Mesoscale Convective System.

NSSL’s Warning Decision Support System (WDSS) is included in the Advanced Weather Information Processing System (AWIPS) to provide forecasters with the latest severe weather warning technology.

It is the 50th Anniversary of the first tornado forecast.

NSSL and OU conduct VORTEX-99, a small follow-on project to the original VORTEX. VORTEX-99 is operating when an F5 tornado tears through parts of south Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999.

NWS forecasters rely on NSSL’s Warning Decision Support System (WDSS) to make timely and accurate tornado warnings during the deadly tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma on May 3, 1999.

NSSL unveils the next-generation of WDSS: WDSS-II (WDSS-Integrated Information), redesigned to allow for easier development and testing of severe weather detection and prediction applications using all operational data available in AWIPS.

NSSL receives funds to build the National Weather Radar Testbed (NWRT) facility in Norman to develop and test phased array radar technology. Phased array radar can scan the skies in less than a minute, five times faster than current radars.

NSSL joins a coalition of researchers to design, build and deploy a mobile dual-radar system: the Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radars (SMART-R).

NSSL scientists direct research aircraft in Europe’s Mesoscale Alpine Project.

The Intermountain Precipitation Experiment (IPEX) collects data on terrain-induced precipitation events and interactions producing lake-effect snow bands in northern Utah.

NSSL conducts the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study (STEPS) field program near the Colorado-Kansas border to study thunderstorms and lightning on the high plains for eight weeks.

NSSL develops a real-time multi-sensor algorithm to estimate rain and snowfall called QPE-SUMS (Quantitative Precipitation Estimation and Segregation Using Multiple Sensors).

An NSSL scientist develops a severe weather climatology model telling us when and where severe weather is most likely to happen anywhere in the U.S.

NSSL and the NWS publicly fight the myth that highway overpasses are safe shelters in tornadoes.

A partnership begins with North Carolina groups to bring advanced flood monitoring and warning technologies to the coastal Carolinas.

The first NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) Spring Experiment to evaluate operational and experimental models and algorithms with the NWS begins and becomes an annual event.

NSSL’s Warning Decision Support System (WDSS) provides weather support during the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, in Sydney, Australia.


View the complete NSSL timeline here.

For More:
NSSL: 1964-1980

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NSSL: 1964-1980

nssl-history-bannerNOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory is celebrating 51 years of history. We have a proud legacy of improving understanding of severe weather and developing tools that assist our partners in NOAA’s National Weather Service as well as various other federal, public, and private groups. We are committed to protecting lives and property through our continued and ever-expanding research. Take a look back at some of the milestones in our first two decades:

The entire National Severe Storms Project operation moves from Kansas City to Norman and is reorganized as the National Severe Storms Laboratory with Edwin Kessler as the new director.

Visitors to the Lab and NSSL employees in 1964

In 1956, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory built a 3 cm continuous wave Doppler radar that used one antenna to transmit and another to receive. This radar, built for the U.S. Weather Bureau, was designed to detect very high wind speeds in tornadoes, but could not determine the distance to the tornadoes. In 1964, NSSL engineers modifed this radar to transmit in pulses. The pulsed Doppler radar could receive data in between each transmit pulse, eliminating the need for two antennas and solving the distance problem.

Aircraft flew into thunderstorms to measure turbulence during Project Rough Rider in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. This data was combined with measurements of the intensity of the rain from NSSL’s WSR-57 research radar to understand how thunderstorm echoes and turbulence are related. This research led to improved commercial airline safety guidelines in the vicinity of thunderstorms that are still in use today.

Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory brought its 3 cm Doppler radar to Oklahoma to join NSSL’s 3 cm Doppler radar for the first dual-Doppler experiment in the United States. The two radar were placed so that each had a different view of the same storm.

NSSL obtains a surplus 10 cm Doppler radar that had been used by the U.S. Air Force.

The experimental NSSL 10 cm Doppler radar becomes operational.

NSSL engineers create a contoured black and white display, a vast improvement from the grid of numbers currently in use.

On May 24, an NSSL team intercepts a storm being scanned by the NSSL Doppler radar. The team documents the entire life cycle of the tornado on film. Researchers are able to compare the film images with Doppler radar data and discover a pattern that meant the tornado was forming before it appeared on film. They name this pattern the Tornado Vortex Signature (TVS). This important discovery eventually led to NOAA to deploying a nationwide network of Doppler radars.

This same year, NSSL commissions a second Doppler radar 15 miles west of Oklahoma City and names it the Cimarron radar. This gives NSSL the ability to conduct dual-Doppler experiments by simultaneously scanning the same storm with both radars.

NSSL’s legacy in organized field experiments begins with the Tornado Intercept Project in 1975 led by NSSL’s Bob Davies-Jones. NSSL’s Don Burgess provided storm intercept crews with live radar information via radio—and the term, “nowcaster,” was born.
NSSL engineers develop a color display for Doppler radar data.

NSSL conducts the Joint Doppler Operational Project (JDOP) to prove that Doppler radar could improve the nation’s ability to warn for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This led to the decision in 1979 by the National Weather Service (NWS), the U.S. Air Force’s Air Weather Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to include Doppler capability in their future operational radars.

View the complete NSSL timeline here.

For More:
NSSL: 1980-2000
NSSL: 2000-2010
NSSL: The Modern Era

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NSSL Then & Now

The National Severe Storms Laboratory celebrated its 50th anniversary in December 2014. Over the last half century, we have been committed to improving understanding of severe weather and developing tools to assist National Weather Service forecasters. The projects and instruments have changed over the years, but our mission has remained the same.

Take a look at how NSSL has evolved: Slide the bar left and right to compare then and now.

In 1974, the Joint Doppler Operational Project proved the value of using Doppler radar to improve weather forecasting. Now, NSSL scientists join forces with forecasters from the National Weather Service in the PARISE experiment to study the possibilities of Phased Array Radar.

Forecasters ThenForecasters Now

Photo Credit: [Then] Don Devore (NWS), Captain Dave Bonewitz (USAF), and Don Burgess (NSSL). [Now] James Murnan (NSSL).

In 1973, the NSSL Storm Intercept project was one of the earliest field experiments. NSSL scientists were guided by Norman Doppler Radar as they tracked the Union City tornado on May 24. Now, field research continues to evolve with more advanced technology and equipment.

Field ThenField Now

Photo Credit: [Then] Joe Golden and Dan Purcell. [Now] Unknown.

During the 1950s, the U.S. Weather Bureau’s continuous-wave 3-cm Doppler radar with side-by-side transmitting/receiving antenna was used for tornado studies in the southern Plains. Now, several large mobile radars are deployed in the NSSL PECAN experiment to help analyze nighttime thunderstorms in the Plains.

Mobile RadarThenMobile Radar Now

The original fleet of mobile mesonets was prepared for the original VORTEX experiment in 1999. Now, updated mobile mesonets stand at the ready in Hays, Kansas as part of the PECAN experiment.

Mesonet ThenMesonet Now

Photo Credit: [Now] Mike Coniglio.

In the early days, NSSL was housed at the University of Oklahoma Research Park in Norman, Oklahoma. Today, NSSL offices are in the state-of-the-art National Weather Center, which opened its doors in 2006.

Office ThenOffice Now

The first Doppler radar became operational in Norman, Oklahoma in 1974. Today, NSSL scientists are exploring the possibilities of Phased-Array Radar for improving weather forecasting.

Radar ThenRadar Now

The scientists meeting at NSSL in 1964 looked very different from the group that works here today!

Staff 1964Staff 2012

In the 1980s, aircraft flew into thunderstorms for Project Rough Rider, measuring turbulence and leading to improved commercial airline safety guidelines. Today, NSSL scientists use the NOAA P-3 aircraft in field experiments to learn more about convective storms.

Aircraft ThenAircraft Now

NSSL has launched special research weather balloon systems into thunderstorms to measure conditions inside the storm. Now, researchers have developed a ballon-borne instrument called the Particle Size Image and Velocity Probe (PASIV), which captures high-definition images of water and ice particles and, along with other instruments, helps us to understand relationships between macro and microphysical properties of thunderstorms.

Balloon ThenBalloon Now

To learn more about NSSL, browse our website and visit us on our social media pages:

YouTube · Facebook · Twitter · Instagram · Flickr

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US Annual Tornado Death Tolls, 1875-present

Updated 23 May 2013 to include data through 2012

One of the reasons that we started this blog was to provide basic information on severe weather and its impacts.  Frequently, we get questions along the lines of “What’s the average X per year?” For many different “X”es, this is not as easy of a question as it might appear.  In large part, this is because many of the things we deal with have large trends in them (severe weather reports per year), so that the “average” depends on how far back you go in the record.  In order to make it easy for people who want the data to get the answer they need, we hope to put some of those numbers online here.

The first dataset is the number of deaths per year from tornadoes in the United States. The National Weather Service archive goes back to 1950. Brooks and Doswell (2002) discussed the long-term history of tornado deaths, drawing on the work of Grazulis (1993) (Grazulis, T. P., 1993: Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991. Environmental Films, 1326 pp.). Reasonably reliable estimates of deaths per year can be made back to about 1875 by using the Grazulis data.

The Brooks and Doswell paper had a graph of the annual death toll normalized by population of the US through 2000.  Here is an updated version (through 2008) of that figure, showing that the death toll per million population appears to have leveled off in the last decade or so.

The purple points are the annual death rates, the red line is a simple smoother, the solid black line is a long-term trend in two sections (1875-1925, 1925-2000) and the cyan lines are estimates of the 10th percentile and 90th percentile from 1925-2000. Brooks and Doswell (2002) have an extensive discussion of the record and its possible implications.

US Tornado Deaths Per Million People

At the end of this post, we have a table of the annual death tolls going back to 1875 (1875-1949 from Grazulis, 1950-2008 from the National Weather Service.)  Although the data represent our best understanding at this time, it is possible that the numbers could change, if additional information was found.  Occasionally, it’s discovered that a fatality associated with a tornado was missed or double-counted. We’ll correct such entries if we find about about them, but that will likely be a rare event.  The death tolls are for direct deaths, i.e., someone killed directly by the impact of the tornado.  It does not include indirect deaths, which might not have occurred if the tornado had not happened, but the tornado was not an immediate cause.  Examples of indirect deaths that have occurred include a heart attack upon seeing damage to a neighbor’s house, falls when going to shelter, and a fire caused by a candle lit when the power went out after a tornado.

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