BLACKSBURG, Va.—A student at Virginia Tech who asked ''what if" now has the full attention of weather experts all over.
This student says tornadoes, like the one that hit Pulaski last year, are more common than even experts think.
That's it in a nutshell.
But what's even more interesting is that this student, Kathryn Prociv, told me that at first other students said her research just didn't make any sense.
Last year before the Pulaski tornado even formed, Virginia Tech student and storm chaser, Kathryn Prociv was warning her classmates to take shelter fast.
"We were all awake, we were chatting on the computer, we were following the radar, we knew it was a serious situation," Prociv said. "I was scared I was actually scared."
But until that April evening last year, most weather experts stuck to the long-held belief that horrific tornadoes would break up and weaken as they hit mountain ridges and hillsides.
But Prociv wasn't buying it. Her research showed that sometimes tornadoes actually become long and tight as they drop down a mountainside, causing the cyclone to spin faster and become meaner. There's evidence that happened in Pulaski. That theory is called "Vorticity Stretching."
"For me I think the biggest goal of my research was to combat that sense of complacency issue again, that tornadoes don't happen in mountains. But my research shows that it can and it does," Prociv said.
On Tuesday, close to 20 Virginia Tech geography students were loading up for a month-long storm chasing expedition through tornado alley.
We asked weather experts if vorticity stretching were possible.
"It's not something that we've studied closely," Steve Keighton of the National Weather Service. "We'd observed it, we wondered about it but we hadn't had the time or the effort to put into actually looking at the details."
We asked the National Weather Service why the government didn't start researching this sooner. They told me they've been asking for money to study this phenomenon ''vorticity stretching" but there is no money.
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