NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory celebrates 40 years

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Severe Storms Laboratory will celebrate its 40th Anniversary with invited talks, a celebration dinner and a public open house Oct. 15 and 16 in Norman, Okla. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The public is invited to attend talks highlighting the organization’s history, research accomplishments and current activities from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, 2401 Chautauqua Ave., followed by a reservation only celebration dinner, also at the museum.

The NOAA Weather Partners in Norman will join NSSL in hosting a free, public Open House on Saturday, Oct. 16, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This includes the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and NSSL at 1313 Halley Circle, along with the NOAA National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office and the Radar Operations Center at 1200 Westheimer Dr.

Established in 1964, the National Severe Storms Laboratory leads the way in investigations of all aspects of severe and hazardous weather. NSSL is part of NOAA Research and the only federally-supported laboratory focused on severe weather. The Lab’s scientists and staff explore new ways to improve understanding of the causes of severe weather and ways to use weather information to assist National Weather Service forecasters, as well as federal, university and private sector partners.

Currently, NSSL scientists are working on ways to improve short-term weather forecasting computer models for the National Weather Service, basic tornado research to understand how tornadoes form, and real-time delivery of radar data to the meteorological community and interested partners. Research at NSSL has led to greater knowledge and improved forecasts of tornadoes, flash floods, damaging winds, hail, lightning, heavy snow, ice and freezing rain.

“We want to take this time to savor our accomplishments over these part 40 years and look optimistically toward the future,” said James F. Kimpel, NSSL Director.

Early on, NSSL researchers recognized the potential of Doppler radar to improve the detection and warning of severe weather. NSSL built the first real-time displays of Doppler velocity data, which led to discoveries of tornado-related radar “signatures.” The successful demonstration that Doppler radar could help forecasters provide much improved severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings led to the deployment of the Next Generation Weather Radar (WSR-88D) network of Doppler radars throughout the United States. This important contribution to the nation was recognized by a Department of Commerce gold medal award.

NSSL continues to be a pioneer in the development of weather radar. The lab is working with the NWS to deploy dual polarization, a planned upgrade to the current NEXRAD Doppler radar hardware that provides more information about precipitation in clouds to better distinguish between rain, ice, hail and mixtures. Such information will help forecasters provide better forecasts and warnings for flash floods, the number one severe weather threat to human life.

In addition, NSSL researchers are adapting state-of-the-art radar technology currently deployed on Navy ships for use in tracking severe weather. Phased array radar reduces the scan or data collection time from five or six minutes to less than one minute, potentially extending the lead time for tornado warnings beyond the current average of 12 minutes. When combined with other technology being developed at NSSL, warning lead times may be extended even farther.

Recently, NSSL collaborated with the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas A&M University to build two new 5-cm mobile Doppler radars. These SMART-Radars (Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radars) are capable of scanning and penetrating an entire tornadic storm or hurricane, providing critical data needed to understand the mysteries of how tornadoes form and for eventually improving severe storm forecasts and warnings.

During the past few years, scientists from NSSL completed several field experiments to study severe and hazardous weather. In 2003 and 2004, researchers launched weather balloons loaded with instruments into thunderstorms during the Thunderstorm Electrification and Lightning Experiment, or TELEX. The lightning observations they made will be used to improve forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather. In 2002, NSSL hosted the International H2O Project or IHOP, one of the largest weather-related studies ever conducted in the U.S.

NSSL has a research partnership with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, a cooperative institute between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Oklahoma. Additionally, NSSL conducts collaborative research with other NOAA laboratories including the Forecast Systems Laboratory, the Environmental Technologies Laboratory, and the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, as well as the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Texas A&M, Texas Tech University, Lockheed Martin, Basic Commerce and Industries, Weather Decision Technologies, Weather News International, Inc., Weather Data, and Salt River Project.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events, and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. More information is available online: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov or by calling (405) 360-3620.

On the Web:
NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov
NSSL: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov
NOAA Weather Partners: http://www.norman.noaa.gov