As one might expect, there are several federal agencies devoted to the study of weather, many of which are located at the University of Oklahoma's campus in Norman, Oklahoma in the heart of Tornado Alley. The agencies all have acronym abbreviations by which they are known: NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), NSSL (National Severe Storm Laboratories), SPC (Storm Prediction Center), NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), NWS (National Weather Service) and CAPS (Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms). Many of these organizations perform collaborative work, as can be seen by the VORTEX project, and many researchers belong to multiple organizations (e.g., a government agency and a university's atmospheric sciences department). This is terrific from a research point of view, but it makes it difficult to sort through the wealth of information. For example, the home page for the SPC is www.nssl.noaa.gov/~spc which may lead you to believe that it is part of the NSSL, but it is actually part of the NWS, which, in turn, is part of the NOAA. Also, several SPC and NSSL pages exist on University of Oklahoma servers. Hence, sorting through and organizing the government Web sites is nearly impossible. The data for all of these organizations should be considered very reliable because of their government affiliations.
The NOAA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the parent organization for several of the organizations listed below. The NOAA is in turn a part of the Department of Commerce. From the NOAA home page directly, there are no links to any weather organizations nor to any of their Environmental Research Laboratories, despite the fact that many of these organizations are under the NOAA. It is better to search through the NOAA's subsidiary weather sites for information on Tornado Alley.
The NSSL, or the National Severe Storm Laboratory, is located on the University of Oklahoma campus and is one of the NOAA's Environmental Research Laboratories. Interestingly, the links www.nssl.noaa.gov and www.nssl.ou.edu both connect you to the NSSL's home page, blurring its affiliation between university and federal agency. The purpose of the NSSL is to improve the Nation's severe weather warnings and forecasts in order to save lives and reduce property damage. The site has many Tornado Alley related links, such as on-line Conference Papers and Journal papers some of which are on Tornado prediction and related Tornado Alley studies. The NSSL has also created the site Golden Anniversary of Tornado Forecasting in celebration of 50 years of service to the American people. This site is visually appealing and presents histories of the first tornado predicted and tornado weather forecasting. Finally, the Question and Answers about Tornadoes site takes a kid-friendly look at tornadoes. The NSSL site has lots of material, including scientific research and individual home pages for meteorologists, but it is difficult to find anything specific from following links. However, they do have an internal search engine.
The SPC, or the Storm Prediction Center, is also located in Norman, Oklahoma and answers to the NCEP, or the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the NOAA's National Weather Service. The SPC monitors and forecasts severe and non-severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, winter storms, extreme winds, heavy rain and other hazardous weather phenomena across the continental United States. They are responsible for severe thunderstorm watches and tornado warnings. The page is fairly well organized, centered around 12 main pages that are each accessible from each other from a table at the bottom of each web page. Each page has a background which is a wallpaper of their logo; the net effect is to make the pages indiscernible and distracting. The SPC offers lots of statistical data from its Severe Storm Statistics page, including Monthly tornado statistics for 1994-1997, and U.S. deaths by tornadoes for the years 1996 and 1997. In the SPC's Historical Data Archive, there are several graphics that show the occurrences of tornadoes and tornado deaths state by state. In addition, tornado data from 1950-1995 is available, organized by month, year, and state. You can even get the raw tornado data to perform your own analysis, but you have to unzip and decode the data. Consider this data to be very reliable due to the authority and reputation of its source.
The NWS or the National Weather Service is part of the NOAA and is dedicated to providing weather and flood warnings, public forecasts and advisories for all of the United States, its territories, and adjacent waters. The site is very comprehensive, so following its home page links is unlikely to yield any information on Tornado Alley without several clicks. However, it has an internal search engine that brings up many interesting links from entering the keyword "tornado". For example, the Severe Weather Statistics page has tornado data organized by month and year for 1950-1994. They have a page tornadoes . . . Nature's Most Violent Storms which is a good tornado preparedness guide containing safety information, but the font used is very large, making it hard to read. In addition, the NWS is preparing a page All About Tornadoes which will likely become an excellent source, but currently it is empty.
The NWS has forecast offices throughout the U.S., and the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Oklahoma is located in the heart of Tornado Alley. Consequently, this site provides a few links for tornado information. To add to the confusion of the affiliation of these organizations, their web address is http://www.nssl.uoknor.edu/~nws/severe.html, which implies that this office is affiliated with the NSSL, the NWS and the University of Oklahoma.
NCAR or the National Center for Atmospheric Research is a national research center located in Boulder, Colorado. NCAR's mission is to plan, organize, and conduct atmospheric and related research programs in collaboration with universities, to provide state-of-the-art research tools and facilities to the entire atmospheric sciences community, to support and enhance university atmospheric research education, and to facilitate the transfer of technology to both the public and private sectors. The site has an internal search engine from which one can find Tornado Alley links, by using the keyword "tornado". One such link is to the Tornado Exhibit, which provides an elementary explanation of how tornadoes work. The page is very readable and attractive, containing good illustrations (not bandwidth-intensive images) of experiments that just about anyone can do at home to better understand tornadoes. Another useful link is to Dial an Expert and Topic Summary on Tornadoes which is a simple text file that does not look very interesting at first. However, a closer look reveals statistical information selected from the book Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991, by Thomas Grazulis, and from recent issues of Weatherwise magazine. For example, the site gives statistics for tornado fatalities, frequency, injuries and damage for the Eastern 2/3 of the U.S. Overall, the search engine provides only a few interesting links to Tornado Alley. Clearly there is tornado research going on at NCAR, but it is difficult to find useful information, even by following the various research and educational links that are given.
CAPS, or the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, is yet another weather agency located in Norman, Oklahoma. CAPS is a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center whose mission is to demonstrate the practicability of small-scale numerical weather prediction with an emphasis on deep convection. The site has a page called The Tornado Alley Chronicles from which one can access information on tornadoes, classroom laboratory activities, direct links to Doppler radar, weather safety, and information about their K-12 outreach programs. Overall the Tornado Alley Chronicles is a well-organized, up to date, and easy to maneuver site.
VORTEX, or the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment, is a field project for tornado investigation. The field phase was held in the central and southern Plains of the U.S. (i.e., Tornado Alley) from April 1st through June 15 in 1994 and 1995. The complete analysis of data will take many years. VORTEX was hosted by the NOAA and the NSSL and involved the collaboration of the NSSL and scientists from a number of universities (including but not limited to the following: the University of Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the University of Mississippi, and Southwest Missouri State), NCAR, the NSF, and the NWS. More than 75 scientists took part. The site's information is very specific and technical, and does not give a layman's perspective of the goals of the project. The site is directed towards internal use by the scientists collaborating on the project. The site is continually being developed, but it has not been updated since January 1997.