International collaboration benefits US, European forecasters

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Adam Clark at the European Severe Storms Laboratory Testbed this summer.

Weather doesn’t stop at borders. Nowhere is this more clear than in Europe, where two researchers working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory went shoulder to shoulder with researchers in the European Severe Storms Laboratory Testbed this summer. The goal was to collaborate on forecast products and learn how NSSL technologies are used abroad.

“As scientists and meteorologists, we need to continue to talk because that’s how true knowledge transfer occurs,” said Darrel Kingfield, University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies researcher working at NSSL. “ESSL researchers came to work with us in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed a couple of years ago and this year we went to them.”

Darrel Kingfield presenting at the European Severe Storms Laboratory Testbed this summer.

During its sixth year, the ESSL Testbed program evaluated forecasts for high-impact weather. Like the HWT, the ESSL testbed serves as a forum to stimulate interaction between product developers and operational forecasters from throughout Europe. Also, lectures from several local and international experts help testbed participants enhance their knowledge and skills.

Different geography, systems

Kingfield and NSSL Research Scientist Adam Clark each spent a full week at ESSL’s testbed. What struck them was the difference in geography between the United States and Europe. Clark said ingredients needed for severe weather come together much differently in Europe than the U.S.

“You have the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps and that affects much of their weather,” Clark said.

Adam Clark working in the European Severe Storms Laboratory Testbed.

Along with geographical differences, Clark and Kingfield learned about the different weather prediction and monitoring systems operated by each European country. A variety of forecasting tools and methods are used throughout Europe, from government operated to privatized systems. This results in data, forecasting and verification inconsistencies.

“For example, after a tornado occurs in the U.S., officials observe and record where it occurred and how severe it was,” Kingfield explained. “Europeans rarely go out and assess tornado damage after a storm. Those surveys are reserved for most damaging events.”

As a result, Europe’s tornado database is not nearly as complete as the United States.

Sharing tools and techniques
While in the testbed, Kingfield and Clark gazed upon a few familiar products.

“The German Weather Service is using a lot of the same techniques developed at NSSL to interpret radar data,” Kingfield said. Some European meteorologists use several products developed in the U.S. by NSSL and OU CIMMS researchers. For instance, one technique allows them to use radar data to visualize the possible track of a tornado based on the storm’s rotation.

Collaboration is an important tool for forecasters and researchers. Participation in ESSL’s testbed allows researchers like Kingfield and Clark to share new technologies, experience new techniques and learn new systems. Opportunities like this allow researchers to collaborate on new products and technology, ultimately leading to better forecasts and warnings for the American public.

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Evaluation Of Human-made Structures Impact On Lightning Data Featured As Research Spotlight

As cell phone towers continue to fill the landscape, evaluating the influence of such human-made structures and their impact on lightning data continues to be a priority for one research scientist.

A recent article by Darrel Kingfield, a research scientist at the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, was selected by the editors of Geophysical Research Letters to be features as a Research Spotlight on EOS.org. The paper, “Antenna structures and cloud-to-ground lightning location: 1995-2015,” explores spatial analyses of cloud-to-ground lightning occurrences because of the rapid expansion of antenna towers across the United States.

Kristin Calhoun, an OU CIMMS research scientist also working at NOAA NSSL, contributed to the article.

Research Spotlights provide an overview and summary of research topics, providing context for a broader Earth, space and science audience, along with science journalists.

Key points of Kingfield’s research include:

  • Tower lightning can constitute a larger fraction of overall cloud-to-ground lightning measured in an area, with areas particularly near taller towers seeing a 500 percent increase in cloud-to-ground lightning over a small area. These anomalies have been underexplored in previous lightning climatologies.
  • Shorter cell phone towers appear to be more susceptible to lightning in winter storms because of different convective growth and charging mechanisms historically observed in winter storms.

For the full Research Spotlight, visit https://eos.org/research-spotlights/antenna-towers-attract-additional-lightning-strikes.

Tower-initiated lightning observed from a Wichita, Kan., neighborhood on 9 June 2007. (Photo by Kiel L. Ortega/ OU CIMMS)
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