2 June 2014

Here’s How Scientists Are Improving Warnings of Dangerous Weather

Posted by Dan Satterfield


The National weather Center in Norman,OK.

The National weather Center in Norman,OK.

Imagine a hot July weekend, and the beaches and or area lakes are packed with thousands of folks enjoying the sun, sand and water. While there is a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, the skies are sunny, and the weather is the last thing on the minds of most people. It’s the first thing on the minds of weather forecasters, however, and if strong thunderstorms with deadly lightning are going to develop quickly, we want to know when, where and how strong they will be. I suspect those folks enjoying the great outdoors will want to know that as well and be warned about it with as much lead-time as possible. 

Believe it or not, forecasters often have a better idea of what the weather will be doing tomorrow or two days from now, than what may be happening in 4 hours. 

I won’t be standing in front of a camera this week, but I will be doing a lot of forecasting, because I’m participating in an experiment that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is conducting in Norman, OK. It’s all about improving short-term weather forecasts, and especially severe weather warnings. Short term forecast improvement is something that is atmospheric scientists are working very hard on right now, and we are making progress.

The experiment is part of the Hazardous Weather Test Bed which is located in the National Weather Center (the NWC is on the campus of my alma-mater the University of Oklahoma). The NWC also houses the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), which is responsible for issuing all of the tornado and severe thunderstorm watches in the U.S. It will be a busy week, but I’ve already learned a great deal in the training I’ve completed to prepare for the experiment.

The experiments at the test bed are a bridge between the latest science, and operational forecasting. New methods of observing the atmosphere are being developed that combine advances in numerical weather models, the Doppler radar network, and satellite imagery to give us a better understanding what the atmosphere is doing now, and what it will be doing a few hours from now. I am one of a select number of meteorologists who work in TV to be invited, and I’ll be working alongside of forecasters from the National Weather Service.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.20.14 PMJust one of the things we will be evaluating is a model developed by meteorologists at the Univ. of Wisconsin at CIMMS and at the Univ. of Colorado (CIRA), that combines numerical weather prediction, satellite data and radar to assign a probability that a thunderstorm will produce severe weather. It seems to have great promise, and we will be looking to see how it does in the real world of severe weather nowcasting. The idea is to learn it;s strength and weaknesses and how it might be improved, and in addition how to use it in the normal work-flow during a forecasters shift.

So, this week, I will be doing my part to evaluate the latest techniques being developed to make better “now-casts” in hopes that  all forecasters can do a better job of providing important weather information to the public. Many times this can be life-saving information as well. I’ll share some more pictures and video with you during the week!