NOAA scientists work to improve severe weather forecasts
Thunderstorms with lightning, hail, strong winds and tornadoes can be devastating, resulting in hundreds of deaths and millions of dollars in damage each year. Researchers and forecasters with NOAA in Norman, Okla., are working together to improve the tools forecasters use to predict such storms, ultimately providing the public more time to prepare for severe thunderstorm events and more specific information about what type of severe weather to expect.
This one-of-a-kind collaboration between the research and forecast communities occurs each year at NOAA in what is known as the Spring Program, and is the cornerstone of the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed, operated jointly by the NOAAâ€™s Storm Prediction Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory. It provides a unique environment where research meteorologists can interact directly with the end users of their productsâ€”operational forecastersâ€”with obvious benefits for all involved.
The NOAA Storm Prediction Center and the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory worked closely with the NOAA National Weather Service office in Norman and partnered with three external organizations to generate a unique collection of high resolution numerical weather prediction models. These experimental models were generated three times a day. The predictions were made from several different versions of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, an advanced weather prediction system being designed for use by research scientists and forecasters in the United States.
Specifically, special supercomputer model predictions were generated by the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center in Camp Springs, Md., the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and the University of Oklahoma Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) in Norman. The Environmental Modeling Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research provided very high resolution WRF model forecasts designed to predict thunderstorm systems and other hazardous weather events in much greater detail than current forecast models.
Meanwhile, CAPS went one step beyond. They used 2000 processors at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to produce daily WRF model forecasts having twice the horizontal resolution and nearly 50 percent greater vertical resolution than the other two experimental products. This version of the WRF model has the capability to predict individual severe thunderstorms called supercells, which produce a disproportionate number of tornadoes, very large hail and damaging wind events each year. It provided an unprecedented chance for forecasters and researchers to examine cutting edge technology and prediction models that may be five to 10 years away from daily operations.
“Real time daily forecasts over such a large area and with such high spatial resolution have never been attempted before,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, CAPS director and professor of meteorology. “The Spring Program provided an unprecedented opportunity for forecasters and researchers to begin understanding storm-scale predictability, and it yielded a wealth of data for further study.”
The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory / Storm Prediction Center Spring Program provides forecasters with a first-hand look at the latest research concepts and products, while immersing research scientists in the challenges, needs and constraints of front-line forecasters. It promotes forecast improvements by accelerating the transfer of the latest science and technology into forecast operations and by providing researchers with the first-hand knowledge to formulate research strategies that will have practical benefits for the public. The end result is not only better weather forecasts, but important contributions to the scientific literature as well.
Collaborations between NOAAâ€™s National Severe Storms Laboratory and Storm Prediction Center have continued for many years, particularly since the Storm Prediction Center moved its operations to Norman from Kansas City in 1997. The interactions led to the formation of the Hazardous Weather Testbed and a formal Spring Program has been conducted every year since 2000. The program has grown each year since then, and key alliances with other organizations have been established.
“The Spring Program is great for the operational forecasting community,” said Steven Weiss, science operations officer for the NOAA Storm Prediction Center. “It provides an opportunity to educate forecasters on the scientifically correct use of newly emerging tools and familiarize them with the latest research findings related to forecasting. Plus, it allows forecasters to have a direct impact on the latest research trends.
“Research scientists generally give us very positive feedback when they participate in the Spring Program,” adds Jack Kain, research meteorologist for the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. “Operational forecasting can be very different in practice than it is on paper and researchers really appreciate the opportunity to see how the latest science and technology is applied where the rubber hits the road.”
About 60 scientists and forecasters participated in this year’s program, which took place from mid-April through early June. NOAA organizations represented included the Forecast Systems Laboratory , the Environmental Modeling Center and the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, National Weather Service Headquarters, National Weather Service Central, Southern and Western Regions and the Satellite and Information Service.
Participants outside of NOAA were from the University of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center, National Center for Atmospheric Research, University at Albany-SUNY, University of Alabama at Huntsville, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Millersville University, Lyndon State College, St. Louis University, Purdue University, North Carolina State University, UCLA, University of Miami, CIRA-Colorado State University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Meteorological Service of Canada, National Administration of Meteorology-Romania and private industry.
NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, 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 the nation’s coastal and marine resources.