Science Advisors


Terra Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. As a member of the VORTEX2 team, she operated one of the SMART-Radars that collect storm-scale radar data.

Thompson’s research focuses on the study of severe convective storms using radar observations for data assimilation in numerical models. Through her work, she aims to improve current data assimilation systems and use their analyses to study storms, their evolution, and their interactions with the environment. She hopes this research will ultimately help lead to the improvement of severe weather forecasts and warnings.

Thompson received her B.S. and M.S. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma, and is a graduate student research assistant at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman. She is the director of the School of Meteorology’s mentor program, where she helps acquaint undergraduates contemplating careers in science with the school’s programs. She has done educational outreach work with kids of all ages, and looks forward to participating in Tornado Alley’s educational events.



Paul Markowski is an associate professor of meteorology at Penn State, and one of the principal planners of the VORTEX2 project. He studies thunderstorms and tornadoes using Doppler radar observations and computer simulations.

Dr. Markowski’s love of weather stemmed from a tornado outbreak that hit western Pennsylvania, just hours from his childhood home, in May of 1985. Born in Alexandria, Virginia, and raised in Camp Hill, he watched the storm unfold and immediately knew he wanted to learn more about severe weather. He received his B.S. in meteorology from Penn State in 1996, and then went on to earn his M.S. and Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma, where his research focused on supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Dr. Markowski has published over forty journal articles and given over a hundred presentations on topics such as fronts, the effects of clouds on temperature, the effects of terrain on storms, and downbursts, in addition to tornado formation. He is an associate editor for the American Meteorological Society’s journals Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting. He also co-authored, with Dr. Yvette Richardson, Mesoscale Meteorology in Midlatitudes, a textbook published by Wiley-Blackwell. He is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Award, the Penn State University Alumni Achievement Award, and the American Meteorological Society Editor’s Award.



Yvette Richardson is an associate professor of meteorology at Penn State. She was a co-coordinator of the mobile mesonets on the VORTEX2 mission, and she also serves on the project’s steering committee. Her research interests include theoretical severe storm dynamics, cloud and mesoscale modeling, and radar observations of thunderstorms and tornadoes.

In addition to advising on Tornado Alley, Dr. Richardson also loaned her severe weather knowledge to the production team of the highly successful IMAX film Forces of Nature.

Dr. Richardson earned her B.S. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 1990, and her M.S. and Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. In addition to VORTEX2, she has participated in several field projects, including the original VORTEX, ROTATE-2000, ROTATE-2001, and IHOP-2002. 

She has been an invited speaker at numerous banquets, university seminars, and National Weather Society workshops, and she has published in journals such as Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting. She also co-authored, with Dr. Paul Markowski, Mesoscale Meteorology in Midlatitudes, a textbook published by Wiley-Blackwell.



Katja Friedrich is an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. On the VORTEX2 project, she led a team that placed disdrometers, laser instruments that measure rain, in the path of storms. Her research focuses on the kinematic and microphysical processes in thunderstorms, precipitation in mountainous environments, hurricanes, and processes relevant for convection initiation.

At the University of Colorado, Dr. Friedrich is the head of the cloud and precipitation research group. She received both her B.S. and her M.S. in meteorology from the University of Leipzig, Germany. She earned her Ph.D. in physics from Ludwig-Maximillians-University, in Munich, in 2002.

Dr. Friedrich did post-doctoral work at the University of Colorado and the German Aerospace Center, in Oberpfaffenhofen, where she set up the first and only bistatic Doppler radar network in Europe. She then joined the radar research group MeteoSwiss, in Lorcarno, Switzerland, where she worked on improving precipitation estimation and forecasts during severe weather events. In January of 2008, she joined the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Over the course of her teaching career, Dr. Friedrich has also done a good deal of storm chasing. She travelled to Galveston, Texas, and deployed Doppler on Wheels radar during the landfall of Hurricane Ike in 2008. She recently helped lead the Boulder Snow Experiment, a field study of snowfall and its effects on the Colorado Front Range. She also appears in Science Storms, an interactive exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.