The radar was able to detect mesocyclones and capture information about wind and precipitation by giving off pulses of energy and catching the reflected signal. However, radar wasn’t providing all the clues that scientists were looking for.
So, they turned to computer simulations to model the physics of storms. In the 1970s, the first three-dimensional supercell simulations were created.
They helped scientists analyze the structure of the winds and the behavior of storms. As computer technology advanced, more details about supercells entered the picture. Still, the computer resolution wasn’t small enough to narrow in on the tornadoes.
Over time, radar improved as well, and researchers started chasing storms with it, along with other equipment, such as weather balloons.
But they found that the radar and weather balloons couldn’t tell whether a storm would be a tornado or not.
Now, scientists are using new tools to help them decipher why some supercells create tornadoes and others don’t. By flying drones into the storms, they are able to make more thorough observations.
Compared to cars or trucks, drones can take better measurements since they’re at higher altitudes. Additionally, they can travel across different areas of a storm, unlike weather balloons.
But scientists are still unclear about what’s happening near the ground where a tornado forms. Currently, there are a few hypotheses as to where the rotation of winds near the ground comes from.
One theory is that friction is slowing down the air that’s moving near the ground. This causes the spinning air to be turned upright when sucked into an updraft.
Other theories point to the differences in density between cool air and warm air next to each other, which produces an air current that leads to spinning. The models and observations have supported both of these ideas.
With the help of radar, computer simulations, and drones, perhaps scientists will eventually come closer to understanding the formation of a tornado.