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Daphne Siefert-Herron
Pervasive Technology Institute

Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

IU weather prediction technology supports national tornado research project


May 4, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This spring and early summer, storm chasers from the VORTEX2 national tornado research project will spend six weeks getting up close and personal with tornadoes in an effort to better understand how they form and behave—and Indiana University technology will help guide their way.

The Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery (LEAD) II system, a cyberinfrastructure platform available through the IU Data to Insight Center, will produce on-the-hour weather forecasts and create up to 600 weather images each day that will be delivered to mobile devices carried in the field by the VORTEX2 storm chasers. This information will be used by the VORTEX2 field team and the command and control center at the University of Oklahoma to determine when and where tornadoes are most likely to occur and to help the storm chasers get to the right place at the right time.

Plale image

Photo by Chris Meyer

Beth Plale

Print-Quality Photo

"The LEAD II technology is an excellent fit for the needs of the VORTEX2 team," said Beth Plale, director of the Data to Insight Center (D2I) and associate professor in the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing. "Using the LEAD II cyberinfrastructure, we are able to provide the VORTEX2 team with reliable and timely atmospheric information using the most recent data, forecasts, and visualizations."

"We believe this will be of great value to the field teams as they decide where their moment-by-moment location should be," she added. "It's gratifying to know that the advanced technology developed in our research center will contribute to such an important and potentially life-saving project."

VORTEX2 is described as being the "largest and most ambitious effort ever made to understand tornadoes." The effort will involve as many as 100 scientists and 40 support vehicles, including storm-chasing trucks and aircraft. The project strives to save lives by gaining a better understanding of how, when, and why tornadoes form, and increasing the amount of warning time communities receive before a tornado strikes.

LEAD II is a continuation and extension of the original LEAD project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to make meteorological data, forecast models, and analysis and visualization tools available for research and education in problems related to climate, environment, and the atmosphere. The LEAD II/VORTEX2 partnership includes Plale and other scientists from IU's Pervasive Technology Institute in addition to atmospheric scientists Keith Brewster of the University of Oklahoma and Craig Mattocks of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Funded in part by the Microsoft Corporation and the NSF, LEAD II utilizes the Microsoft Trident Scientific Workflow Workbench, the ARPS Data Analysis System (ADAS) services from the University of Oklahoma, and the Weather Research Forecast model. It employs the IU Big Red supercomputer along with the TeraGrid, NSF's national network of high performance computing and data storage resources.

Plale says D2I's involvement in VORTEX2 also provides an invaluable educational experience for IU graduate students. "The students working on LEAD II are solving real-world problems with strict time constraints. It's the kind of experience that comes only from hands-on research. We can't control the weather, but we can help to predict it."

To view the latest forecasts on the project website or to use the Mobile Viewer, please visit:

For more information on the LEAD II/VORTEX2 collaboration, including details on the technology behind LEAD II, watch the short video featuring Professor Plale:

About the Data to Insight Center

The Data to Insight Center (D2I) undertakes research to harness the vast stores of digital data being produced by modern computational resources, allowing scientists and companies to make better use of these data and find the important meaning that lies within them. D2I creates tools and visualizations for working with very large data sets, develops methods to ensure data provenance (quality and authenticity), and builds methods for listing and discovering data sets. D2I is part of Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) at Indiana University. Funded by a $15 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., PTI is dedicated to the development and delivery of innovative information technology and policy to advance research, education, industry, and society.