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An unusual silence drapes Tornado Alley

Maybe Mother Nature has turned shy, with so many eyes locked on the sky.

An almost unprecedented tranquility has descended upon Tornado Alley over the past week, even as a massive research project has been in position to study the development and lifespan of tornadoes and large thunderstorms on the Great Plains.

For only the second time since 1955, not a single incident of severe weather - tornadoes, hail or strong winds - was reported on May 21, according to the Storm Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In fact, the SPC hasn’t issued a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch since May 16. If a watch isn’t issued today or Saturday, it will be the first time since at least 1970 that a watch hasn’t been issued for the week of May 16-23.

Considering that week falls in the heart of tornado season, such a feat would be almost unbelieveable.

The warm, calm weather has been great news for those who enjoy cookouts, camp-outs, boating or hitting the hiking trails. But it’s profoundly frustrating for the crews of Vortex2, the research project deployed to collect information about tornadoes and thundertorms.

It’s been a case of Murphy’s Law for the Vortex project over the past week, said Amy Buchanan, who works for the College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences at the University of Oklahoma and is out in the field with Vortex. Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong, she said.

“Everyone out here is trying to make the best of any weather we can find,” Buchanan said from Hot Springs, South Dakota, this morning. “It is highly frustrating. We have this great opportunity to research all of this, and Mother Nature goes quiet. Right now, we’d just like to see a supercell.”

Weather patterns over the last several days are more characteristic of late summer, said SPC warning coordination meteorologist Greg Carbin.

The jet stream has moved north, taking severe weather threats into the northern Plains - which helps explain why Vortex was in South Dakota.

The weekend forecast for Kansas is consistent with a late summer pattern as well. Thunderstorms are expected to pop up in the afternoon heat, local meteorologists have told me, but they won’t become large or violent because the winds aloft are too weak to feed them. Any storms that do form will die with sunset - just as they do in late summer.

The Vortex crews are not getting anxious quite yet, Buchanan said, because the project still has not reached its midway point. And forecasters say it’s still possible for a more traditional late May-early June weather pattern to return.

“Everyone here is optimistic,” Buchanan said. “You do just need that one storm to get what you want.”