NSSL researchers measure eclipse effects

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory research scientist Sean Waugh uses an instrumented truck to measure the atmosphere while he prepares a weather balloon for launch earlier this year in Kansas. He will do the same thing on Aug. 21 in Nebraska during the total solar eclipse.
(Photo by Matthew Mahalik/OU CIMMS and NOAA NSSL)

The total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 offers a unique opportunity for researchers from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Oklahoma State University to study sudden, drastic changes in the Earth’s lower atmosphere caused by a loss of sunlight.

“This is a rare circumstance,” said Sean Waugh, research meteorologist with NSSL. “We don’t know what sort of effects on temperature and winds an eclipse might have.”

Waugh will drive to a location in southern Nebraska and park in the path of totality. From the start of the eclipse through its completion, weather instruments mounted to the roof of the NSSL truck will automatically measure surface temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, pressure and solar radiation every second.

Next to the truck about every 30 minutes, Waugh will launch weather balloons with instruments attached to take the same atmospheric measurements in a vertical profile through the lower part of the atmosphere. These weather balloons are used by the National Weather Service daily, and can reach altitudes up to about 80,000 feet.

At the same time, Adam Houston, associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and collaborators from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, will fly two Unmanned Aerial Systems. The UNL Matrice, operated by University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will measure temperature, moisture and pressure. The DJI Matric 600 operated by Oklahoma State University will measure wind speed and direction, along with temperature, moisture and pressure.

The UNL Matrice, operated by University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will measure temperature, moisture and pressure. The DJI Matric 600 operated by Oklahoma State University will measure the same things as well as wind speed and direction. (Photo provided)

“It will be good to combine different platforms and take the same observations in different ways,” Waugh said. “These measurements will increase our understanding of what an eclipse will do and what sort of effects it can have on our surface weather conditions.”

In addition to documenting the surface temperature and wind changes caused by the eclipse, the data will be used later to validate predictions from and refine an experimental version of the High Resolution Rapid Refresh short-term weather model run by the NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory’s Global Systems Division in Boulder, Colorado.

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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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NSSL announces passing of aircraft program pioneer Jean “J.T.” Lee

The National Severe Storms Laboratory is saddened to announce the passing of Jean “J.T.” Lee, a pioneer who managed NSSL’s aircraft program when it began, leading to better weather-related safety.

Lee was a scientists at NSSL for 42 years, discovering and documenting correlations between weather radar and turbulence hazards to aircraft. This work began at the Weather Bureau’s National Severe Storms Project based in Kansas City, Missouri, then was part of the team who moved to Norman to start the National Severe Storms Laboratory in the early 1960s.

During 2004, Lee was interviewed about his job and why he enjoyed working at NSSL.

“I found it fascinating,” he said. “The people we worked with were devoted and many times we weren’t 8 to 5 but 8 until whenever the situation stopped and that would be midnight sometimes,” he said. “There was real camaraderie.”

Lee’s team produced radar criteria for avoiding storms by aircraft. He took part in Project Rough Rider, flying aircraft into thunderstorms to measure turbulence to compare with measurements of rain intensity from the WSR-57 radar. The project led to improved commercial airline safety guidelines.

“The Air Force at that time was beginning to have problems with their jet aircraft,” Lee said during an interview about NSSL’s 40th anniversary. “They were interested in what was the weather above thunderstorms and how high did thunderstorms extend. Our penetration work was around 30,000 feet with the aircraft and we were the first ones to do supersonic penetrations. I feel the greatest accomplishment here was we were able to provide the design of safety procedures for the safety of flight.”

His work contributed to several Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, including a memorandum to the FAA Wind Shear Program Office in 1976 suggesting the usage of anemometers to provide instant reports on winds near airports.

Lee wrote more than 50 research articles in journals on aviation radar interpretation, aircraft turbulence and wind shear, and Doppler radar studies. He received several awards, including the Losey Atmospheric Sciences award in 1981 for his invaluable contributions to flying safety. The award was one of seven presented by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was also honored in 1982 with the NASA Group Achievement award for MSFC Doppler Lidar 1981 flight experiments.

Lee, 95, passed away June 28, 2017.

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NSSL Announces Passing of Pioneering Lightning Researcher Dave Rust

We are saddened to announce the death of one of the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory’s renowned scientists who made significant and revolutionary contributions to thunderstorm science. David “Dave” Rust, NSSL scientist emeritus, passed away surrounded by family on Monday, May 8, 2017.

A physicist and observational scientist, Rust pioneered creative ways to measure storms for more than 35 years until his retirement from NSSL in 2010. From mobile laboratories to instrumented storm-penetrating balloons, Rust’s measurements have shaped our present understanding of how storms become charged and produce lightning.

“I have always been in awe of nature,” said Rust in 2011 as he recalled lying on his front lawn in New Braunfels, Texas, watching the changing shapes of summertime cumulus clouds. He was an only child who loved to study, tinker and build.

Retired NSSL scientist Dave Rust, and then grad student Sean Waugh look at a static electricity exhibit with Exploratorium staff.


It was during graduate school at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico, that Rust stumbled into the field of atmospheric electricity. He was measuring radon flow in mountain canyons for his master’s work, but found something magical about the weather. In his spare time he helped with thunderstorm projects, eventually moving his research into atmospheric electricity. His doctoral dissertation became the foundation of his career: the electrical conditions near the bases of thunderclouds using measurements from a tethered balloon.

As a postdoctoral fellow in Boulder, Colorado, he used “free-ballooning” to measure the electric field inside thunderstorms. He continued this work at NSSL, where he directed a fleet of mobile research facilities (excluding mobile radars) for decades. Beginning with the mobile lab he helped build at NSSL out of an old Suburban truck in 1979, the armada now includes mobile ballooning facilities, field coordination vehicles, mobile mesonet vehicles and mobile radars.

Dave Rust briefs his crew in front of a mobile lab.


Rust saw the value in going out to find the storms rather than waiting for them to come to NSSL. Countless other scientists and research projects have benefited from the ability to measure temperature, pressure, dew point, wind speed and direction, the electric field, and even return stroke velocities in a storm.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction supporting other research,” he said in 2014.

Rust co-wrote a graduate level textbook with NSSL’s Don MacGorman, “The Electrical Nature of Storms.” A review by a colleague said, “The book is clearly the best compilation of material on storm electricity that exists today.” He has also advised and mentored numerous graduate students over the years.

Rust lead the way in many endeavors, including becoming the first NSSL scientist to receive the honor of being elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2014. Established in 1962, the Fellows program recognizes AGU members who have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers and vetted by a Union-wide committee of Fellows.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made in Dave Rust’s name to the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. For his full obituary, visit The Norman Transcript.

Dave Rust tries to extract an Electric Field Meter from a cactus during a field campaign.
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Project using unmanned aerial systems starts May 8

Meteorologists are always looking for better ways to measure the lower atmosphere. This spring, researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) will join with others to test the value of airborne, mobile observing systems for observing important changes in the local environment that can spawn severe thunderstorms in a new way. EPIC, the Environmental Profiling and Initiation of Convection Field Project, will deploy fixed-wing and rotary small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) May 8 through 20 at and near the Department of Energy’s Southern Great Plains (SGP) site in Lamont, Oklahoma.

During rapidly evolving severe weather conditions, the instruments will provide detailed profiles of temperature, moisture and winds to determine the potential for severe weather development. Such information has the potential to improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts three to six hours before weather impacts a community.

During the project, scientists will test miniaturized, high-precision, and fast-response atmospheric sensors adapted for use on the UAS. These are expected to have high accuracy in the strong winds they expect to encounter in north central Oklahoma.

The data provided by the instruments we’re testing is different from anything available, including satellites, radars, manned aircraft, and ground observing stations. We don’t yet know the value of UASs to monitor the atmosphere.

Colorado University’s TTwistor will be used in EPIC. (Photo provided)


At the SGP site, researchers will conduct short-duration experiments and a second site will be chosen in “real-time” from the Oklahoma Mesonet. Timing and location of activities will be coordinated with the National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office, which will be receiving data from the instruments in real time for evaluation.

EPIC is a collaborative effort funded by NOAA’s UAS Program Office.  NSSL’s partners in EPIC consist of the University of Colorado, The University of Oklahoma, and Meteomatics.

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Edwin Kessler, first NSSL director, 1928–2017

Dr. Edwin Kessler
Dr. Edwin Kessler

We are sad to announce the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s first director, Dr. Edwin Kessler, passed away Tuesday, February 21.

Originally from the northeast, Dr. Kessler received his Ph.D. in Meteorology in 1957 from MIT after serving in the Army. He also served as a Captain in the Air Force Reserve and was Chief of the Synoptic Meteorology Section at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories. He also worked at the Travelers Research Center in Connecticut.

In 1964, Dr. Kessler became the first Director of the NSSL and was an Affiliate Professor of Meteorology at The University of Oklahoma until his retirement in 1987.

Under his leadership, NSSL scientists conducted Doppler radar research that led to the NEXRAD, deployed in the 1990s and still in use today.

Dr. Kessler authored more than 250 publications and reports. He served on numerous advisory panels, including NASA and NCAR, and consulted for several countries on weather-related topics, including Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Our Lab owes a great deal to his leadership, scientific talent, and good judgment.

Kimpel, Kessler, Koch at NSSL 50th
At the NSSL 50th Anniversary celebration. L-R: Dr. James Kimpel, Dr. Edwin Kessler, Dr. Steven Koch

Norman Transcript: Norman mourns ‘Father of Doppler radar’
Norman Transcript: Obituary
Norman Transcript: 50 years with an eye on the storm
NSSL History

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President Obama honors NSSL/CIMMS researcher Corey Potvin for innovative research

Corey Potvin
Corey Potvin

President Obama has named a local scientist as one of three NOAA-supported scientists receiving the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on federally-funded early career science and engineering professionals.

The recipient is Corey Potvin, Ph.D., a research meteorologist with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS), a partnership of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.

Potvin is making key contributions to NOAA’s mission to revolutionize the way the American public is warned about tornadoes and other threats associated with severe thunderstorms. He is a leader in the development of numerical weather prediction models used to better capture the structure and evolution of thunderstorms in order to provide more precise and reliable warnings of severe weather with much longer lead time. Potvin collaborates with a wide range of federal and academic scientists to pioneer severe weather prediction that is designed to save lives and property and create a more weather ready nation. Potvin received his Ph.D. and master’s degree in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma and a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Lyndon State College.

2015 NSSL Lab Review, Corey Potvin discusses his research with one of the reviewers.

Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.

Potvin is the sixth recipient from NSSL and CIMMS. Previous awardees are:

Adam Clark
Michael Coniglio
Pamela Heinselman
Erik Rasmussen
David Stensrud

For more on the PECASE: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/09/president-obama-honors-federally-funded-early-career-scientists

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NOAA Research grants support continued tornado research in the Southeast


A study of tornadoes in the southeastern United States begins its second year this month as NOAA Research announces awards of $2.5 million in grants presented to partner institutions.

Scientists from more than 20 organizations are part of VORTEX-Southeast, a program to understand how environmental factors characteristic of the southeastern United States affect the formation, intensity, structure and path of tornadoes in this region. VORTEX-SE researchers will also determine the best methods for communicating forecast uncertainty related to these events to the public, and evaluate public response.

NOAA is supporting research in three main areas:  improving forecast models, addressing risk awareness and response, and observing and modeling tornadic storms and their environments. A list of all the grants is available here: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/projects/vortexse/supported-2017/

4362photo-2017vortexgrants-texas-tech-researcher-vanna-chmielewski-prepares-to-launch-a-weather-balloon-near-storms-in-northern-alabama-credit-keli-pirtle-noaaThis past spring, researchers spent about seven days during a two-month period gathering data on storms around Huntsville, Alabama,  using an armada of instruments. They targeted a range of weather situations from multiple rapidly evolving supercell thunderstorms to days when anticipated storms failed to develop. A similar field experiment is planned for spring 2017.

With a year’s worth of data in hand, researchers are gaining insights into how to study storms in the southeast, which has a very different terrain from the Great Plains, said Erik Rasmussen, VORTEX-SE project manager and research scientist for the University of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

4361photo-2017vortexgrants-erik-rasmussen-vortex-se-project-manager-speaks-during-media-day-kicking-off-the-spring-2016-field-research-campaign-credit-keli-pirtle-noaa1“We now have a tremendous amount of information about what we can and can’tobserve in the southeastern environment, and an understanding of how to move forward from here. We know what to expect and how to observe it, ” Rasmussen said. “We’ve learned a lot in the social science related studies as well — where we should focus our attention to answer the critical questions of how weather information is used and how people respond.”

VORTEX-SE activities are supported by special Congressional allocations of more than $10 million to NOAA made in 2015 and 2016.

Contact: Keli Pirtle, National Severe Storms Laboratory, (405) 325-6933, keli.pirtle@noaa.gov

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CI-FLOW total water level system prepared for test by Tropical Storm


Researchers with the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW; http://ciflow.nssl.noaa.gov/) project are preparing for Tropical Storm Hermine to test their total water level system in North Carolina this weekend. The CI-FLOW system captures the complex interaction between rainfall, river flows, waves, tides and storm surge, and how they impact water levels in the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse Rivers and the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina.

CI-FLOW collects data from a computing system that combines radar and rain gauge information to create estimates of rainfall. This information is passed on to water quantity models that simulate freshwater flows from the headwaters of the basins into the rivers; taking into account soil type, slope of the land and vegetation patterns. Finally, water flow data is passed from river models to a coastal circulation and storm surge model that provides simulations of waves, tides and storm surge.

National Weather Service forecasters will have access to CI-FLOW during Tropical Storm Hermine to help them evaluate the system for application in the flood and flash flood warning process.

The CI-FLOW project is motivated by NOAA’s critical forecast need for detailed water level predictions in coastal areas and has a vision to transition CI-FLOW research findings and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds.

The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, with support from the NOAA National Sea Grant Office, collaborates with the unique interdisciplinary team including the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas Sea Grant Programs, University of Oklahoma, Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Seahorse Coastal Consulting, NWS Forecast Offices in Raleigh and Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, NOAA in the Carolinas, NOAA Southeast and Caribbean Regional Team (SECART), NOAA-Integrated Ocean Observing System, Department of Homeland Security Coastal Resilience Center
of Excellence, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, Coast Survey Development Laboratory and NWS Office of Hydrologic Development.

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Make plans now to attend Second Annual Research Operations Nexus at NWA Annual Meeting

RON-2016Many members of the NWA fondly recall longtime associate Ron Przybylinski, a luminary in operationally-focused severe weather research for more than a quarter century. When Ron passed away in March 2015, a number of friends and colleagues within our association sought to honor his legacy of research-to- operations integration. The result was the first Research Operations Nexus (RON) Meetup, held at the 2015 NWA Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City in memory of Ron and his work.

The first RON meetup was a special session on Sunday night at the start of the conference, bringing together researchers and operational forecasters in a forum where they could discuss topics of mutual interest. Nearly 70 meteorologists participated in the event, breaking into groups to discuss topics like communicating uncertainty and impacts, flash flooding and heavy precipitation, use of social media in operations, and fire weather support. The sessions were structured to connect challenges being faced by operational forecasters with work being done by the research community, and to start collaborative relationships that might continue in the future.

Given the success of the RON in Oklahoma City, a second meetup has been scheduled for the upcoming 2016 NWA Annual Meeting in Norfolk. This year’s event will be held Sunday, September 11th, from 7 to 9 pm in room Marriott IV of the conference hotel. We hope you can and will make plans to attend. If you have suggestions for topics to be covered or would like more information, please contact Greg Stumpf at Greg.Stumpf@noaa.gov.

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