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Faculty Mentor: Nathan Magee

Student: Megan Hartline

This summer Melanie Crampton, Walter Ingram, and I worked with Impress-Ed, a program funded by NASA that gives future science educators the opportunity to learn more about earth science by participating in focused research in either astrophysics, geophysics, or atmospheric physics. During the first two weeks of the program, we were engaged in the “common module”, where we learned content involved with those fields of earth science from Dr. Magee, Dr. Benoit, Dr. Wiita, and Dr. Kavic. In addition to content, we learned science pedagogy by discovering helpful resources available in the science community.

Following the two weeks, we were each paired with a mentor based on the field in earth science we were interested in. I worked with Dr. Magee in atmospheric physics. More specifically, I focused on tornadogenesis, which is our current understanding of how tornadoes form. Using NASA’s A-Train satellites, particularly CloudSat, as well as records of tornados from the past six years available through the National Weather Service, I was able to find times when the satellite passed over a thunderstorm that produced a tornado. A computer program, originally written in MatLab by Rachel Goldberg with Dr. Magee in the spring, was designed to scan every day since 2006 and formulate a list of these matches with respect to close latitude, longitude, and time. The CloudSat satellite gives us more information about the reflectivity and altitude of the clouds in its path, which helps to understand the formation of tornados. After the lists were devised, I narrowed down the matches in more detail by using the images from Calispo and MODIS, two more satellites in the A-Train, to find thunderstorms with not only a close match between the time of the tornado touchdown and the satellite overpass, but also significant reflectivity and altitude. I focused in on one F3 tornado from May 2nd, 2010, which touched down on the border of Mississippi and Tennessee. Using the National Weather Service’s Weather and Climate Toolkit, I was able to look at the base reflectivity, storm relative velocity, base velocity, and enhanced echo tops of the section in the thunderstorm where the tornado was formed. From there, I compared the current understandings of tornadogenesis with the results I found through these satellite images.