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ULM's Dr. Todd Murphy and four students on mission to collect data for PERiLS weather campaign

The University of Louisiana Monroe Atmospheric Science Professor Dr. Todd Murphy and four students left campus on Monday, March 21 to collect data on a then-approaching storm system. Murphy was awarded a PERiLS grant of $276,000 to study how tornadoes form from squall lines. Atmospheric Science students that participated in the field mission were Emily Allen, Haniston Holloway, Isaiah Montgomery, and Jacob Zeringue.

PERiLS is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation project to study the “Propagation, Evolution, and Rotation in Linear Storms.”

“The project is specifically interested in examining severe tornadic squall lines. Not just any type of thunderstorm or supercell thunderstorm that other projects have been focused on,” Murphy said.

LIDAR uses a laser to produce wind shear readings every five minutes compared to a weather balloon, which can take an hour or more to report data.

“Over the course of that hour, the environment is changing, especially in front of these squall lines. We hypothesize that the environment is changing very quickly. We’re not exactly getting the best low-level data of how quickly the weather is changing with the weather balloons.”

Using LIDAR and other weather instrumentation, Murphy said they will be “able to map out how quickly these squall lines are changing in both time and space.”

Ultimately, all the research is dedicated to improving the weather warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

“If we can see something interesting in our science data that we can report back to the National Weather Service about where you should be looking at squall lines, then maybe they can issue better warnings,” Murphy said.

Murphy was awarded the PERiLS grant in October. The three-year grant includes two years of fieldwork and one year of compiling data and research. In 2022, the grant will fund six-to-seven missions, and in 2023, eight-to-nine missions. The PERiLS territory reaches from the Missouri bootheel to the Gulf Coast and the mid-and lower-Mississippi Valley to the Appalachian foothills.

Universities that received PERiLS funding in addition to ULM are the University of Oklahoma, University of Alabama, Huntsville, Purdue, Texas Tech, Pennsylvania State University, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and North Carolina State.

Under the direction of NOAA and the NSF, 60 to 70 researchers are on the ground for each mission.