What a great start to the HWT. There were troubles, and troubleshooters. We had plenty of forecasters and plenty of forecast problems. All in all it was quite a challenge.
The convection initiation (CI) team had some great discussion on the CI definition including all the ways in which CI gets complicated. For example, visually we can identify individual clouds, or cloud areas on satellite. When using radar, we might select areas of high reflectivity that last for say 30 minutes. In the NWP models, we rely on quantitative values at a single grid point at two instances in time.
We also have the issue of whether CI is part of a larger episode (close in space and/or time by other storms) or developing as a direct result of previous convection (ahead of a squall line). In these relative cases, visually identifying new storms might be easily accomplished, but in the model atmosphere (in a grid point centric algorithm) new CI points may be all over the place, say as gravity waves or outflow achieve just enough separation to be classified as new (thus CI) even though it might simple be redevelopment. From a probability standpoint, spatial probabilities of CI may thus be larger around existing convection. Does this enhanced probability, ahead of the line, signal actual new storm development?
Trying to establish an apples to apples comparison between model and human forecasts of such discrete events is a major challenge. We are testing 3 model definitions of CI to see their viability from the perspective of forecasters, and we will also evaluate object based approaches to CI.
Of course we cannot talk about where CI might be without talking about when! When will the first storm form? This gets back to your definition of CI. Should the storm produce lightning to be classified a storm? How about reaching a threshold reflectivity? How about requiring it that it last a certain amount of time? The standard definition of storms relies on its mode (ordinary, multicell, supercell); all having a unique evolution with the placement of the updraft and precipitation fall out. But what about storm intensity (however you define it)?
I should also acknowledge that defining all of this can be quite subjective and is relevant to individual users of a CI forecast. So we are definition dependent, but most people know it when they see it. Lets consider two viewpoints: The severe storm forecaster and an aviation forecaster. The severe storm forecaster wants to know about where and when a storm may form so they can decide the potential threat thus leading to a product (mesoscale discussion for specific hail, wind, tornado threats) provided that storm or CI episode is long lived. The aviation forecaster might be concerned with the sudden appearance of cumulonimbus which could pose an immediate threat to aircraft. But they are also concerned with the resulting coverage of new storms (diverting traffic, shutting down airports, planning new traffic routes or patterns) and the motion, expansion, and decay of existing storms.
And lastly it will be important for us to establish what skill the models and forecasters have with respect to CI. This is not a new area of study, but it is one where lots of complexity, vagaries of definitions, and also a lack of understanding contribute to making this one of the greatest forecast challenges.
As we refine what our forecast will consist of, we will report back on how our forecast product evolved. The more we forecast, the more we learn.