Featured VORTEX 2 Scientists
Josh Wurman is the president and founder of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado. He also serves as a chief scientist and coordinator of the VORTEX2 project, operating three of the project’s Doppler on Wheels vehicles, the fast-scanning radar trucks featured in Tornado Alley, which he invented in the mid-nineties.
Wurman appears regularly in the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series. He was also featured in National Geographic’s Tornado Intercept and The True Face of Hurricanes, as well as in the IMAX film Forces of Nature. He has appeared in several other documentaries and television shows, including those on PBS, NHK, the History Channel, and the Weather Channel.
In the early nineties, frustrated by the instruments then being used to study severe weather, Wurman began to conceive of radar he could “modernize, toughen up, and get up onto a truck platform.” Short on funds, his first DOW vehicle, he says, was made of “a U-Haul full of a junk,” cast-off parts that the National Center for Atmospheric Research, where he was then working, had left out in a field to rust. Using a borrowed truck and a surplus antenna pedestal from World War Two, he “duct-taped and bolted” the DOW together. (It was a project that was similar in spirit, he says, to Sean Casey’s TIV2).
Today, Wurman’s fleet of radar trucks is the backbone of the VORTEX2 project. They’re equipped with state-of-the-art computers that require constant monitoring. So much so that Wurman, a severe weather researcher who has gotten right up next to at least a hundred and seventy tornadoes over the course of his career, has physically only laid eyes on maybe twenty of them. “Right at the moment that would be most interesting to look out the window is the busiest time inside the truck,” he says. “I did it once. I got out. I looked at the tornado for a minute. When I hopped back in I saw that the computer had crashed. And so I don’t do that anymore, unless somebody is in there watching the computer. We’re not out there to look at the tornadoes. We’re out there to get data.”
In addition to creating the DOW mobile radars, Wurman also invented bistatic radar networks, and he owns nine patents related to this and other DOW technology. He received both his undergraduate and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked as a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and was a tenured faculty member at the University of Oklahoma, where he taught and did research for close to a decade. In 1998, Wurman founded the Center For Severe Weather Research, which he runs with his wife, Ling. They have four children, who, so far, Wurman says, “show no unhealthy obsessive interests in tornadoes, hurricanes, or radars.”
Karen Kosiba is an atmospheric scientist at the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado. As a member of the VORTEX2 team, she operates DOW 7 and coordinates the mission’s pod teams—a job, she says, that has taught her “very good multitasking skills.” Her efforts helped secure VORTEX2’s successful Goshen County storm intercept at the end of Tornado Alley.
Kosiba has also appeared in the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series. Prior to joining the Center for Severe Weather Research, she was, as she describes, a professional student. She received a B.S. in physics at Loyola University, an M.S. in physics and a M.A.T. in teacher education at Miami University, and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science at Purdue University.
A strong believer in experiencing weather firsthand, she has participated in many field projects, including Radar Observations of Tornadoes and Thunderstorms Experiment (ROTATE), Hurricanes and Landfall (HAL), Convectively and Orographically-Induced Precipitation Study (COPS), and VORTEX2. Over the course her academic career, Kosiba has won multiple awards for her outstanding performance as a teacher. She is passionate about science education and has recently maintained the National Science Foundation’s VORTEX2 blog. In addition, she appears in the Science Storms exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.
A native of the Chicago suburbs, Kosiba now resides in Colorado with her husband, cat, and dog. In her free time, she is an avid TV watcher, hiker, traveler, photographer, reader, coffee drinker, and sleeper.
Donald Burgess is a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Meteorology. He is the chief scientist on one of VORTEX2’s mobile radars, as well as a member of the project’s steering committee.
Burgess has spent forty-one years studying severe weather. In the nineteen-seventies, he pioneered the concept of “nowcasting,” making accurate weather forecasts for a very short period of upcoming time, by using radar to direct a research team during a tornado intercept. This discovery introduced, in turn, the frequent use of the tornado vortex signature seen in radar displays.
In the mid-nineties, Burgess served as an informal advisor on the movie Twister. His favorite memory from that experience was the afternoon he spent “talking storms” with Bill Paxton, who starred in the action adventure and who also narrates Tornado Alley. “Two or three of the things we talked about ended up as lines in the movie,” he says, “and I always wondered, you know, if any of them came from that afternoon.” While Burgess says he enjoyed the film, there were one or two things that rankled him. “This business of being able to chase and stop and go to Aunt Em’s place and eat and have a shower and then go and chase again. I’ve never had that happen,” he says. “Chasing is more difficult than that.”
A lifelong resident of Oklahoma, Burgess began working as a student employee of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in 1970, was promoted to a full-time position in 1972, and continued there in various capacities until 1991. From 1991 to 2000, he managed operations and training in the NEXRAD Operational Support Facility, serving for a year as Acting Director, before returning to the NSSL as a division chief in 2000. He retired in 2003, after thirty-two years of federal service. Prior to his retirement from NSSL, Burgess also served as Director and Chief of Operations at the NEXRAD Radar Operations Center and Chief of National Weather Service Radar Training.
Burgess was a co-editor of “The Tornado: Its Structure, Dynamics, Prediction, and Hazards,” which won the AAP’s Best New Book Award (in the category of Geography and Earth Sciences) in 1994. He is also a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. In his spare time, Burgess enjoys trout fishing, photographing interesting weather, and spending time with his wife, Fran, and their three grandchildren.