Science journal publishes article on weather radar tracking bats

The 25 February 2011 Volume 331 issue of Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science published the following article:

Researchers Use Weather Radar to Track Bat Movements

A new field of study called aeroecology looks at the interactions between flying animals and their airspace. Using weather radars, a bat ecologist has discovered that the weather strongly affects the behavior of at least one species. Brazilian free-tailed bats, common in the south-central United States and Mexico, emerge from their daytime slumber at different times of day depending on the temperature, she and her colleagues reported on 19 February at the AAAS annual meeting (see p. 995 and here for more meeting coverage).

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First annual Warn-on-Forecast workshop

The first annual workshop for the Warn-on-Forecast project was held on 23 February 2011 in Norman, Oklahoma, on the University of Oklahoma campus. Warn-on-Forecast is a NOAA research project to create forecasts of severe weather so specific, forecasters will be able to issue a warning based on that forecast before the weather even forms.

The workshop brought together over 60 participants from across the United States to listen to progress reports from all the groups participating in the project.

Focus topics for discussion included a social science research action plan and the benefits of VORTEX2 research to the Warn-on-Forecast project.

These reports indicated that the project is moving forward with research that will lead to improvements in lead time for severe weather warnings.  The project also has the potential to benefit a number of different weather information user communities, including surface transportation, aviation, and renewable energy.

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NOAA names new director of NSSL

Steve Koch
Steve Koch

Steven Koch spent time in Norman, Okla., while he earned his doctorate in meteorology in 1979. He’ll return to Norman in late April as the new director of NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, the laboratory most involved with tornado research.

“Steve has the skills and the demonstrated ability to lead a research and development laboratory,” said Craig McLean, NOAA acting assistant administrator for research. “In this new position, he’ll build on a great foundation left by his predecessor to keep the laboratory in the forefront of severe storm research by working collaboratively with university and NOAA partners.”

Koch will leave his position as director of the Global Systems Division at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., to fill the director spot vacated when Jeff Kimpel retired in 2010. Koch will lead a lab with 48 federal and 81 joint institute, post-doctoral and graduate student staff located in the heart of so-called Tornado Alley, the part of the U.S. that sees most of the nation’s tornado activity. The lab focuses on research in weather radar, severe storm forecasts and warnings, and hydrometeorology.

The lab is co-located with the University of Oklahoma, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, and the Norman office of the National Weather Service. This arrangement mixes research and operations to better serve the nation in time of severe weather events as well as to enhance our understanding of violent weather. In the past two years, the lab has co-led VORTEX2, a multi state multi-agency field study to understand how, when, and why tornados form.

Koch began his career at NOAA in 2000 as chief of the Forecast Research Division at the then-Forecast Systems Laboratory. The lab was one of six that were merged into the Earth System Research Laboratory in 2006. Koch went on to become the acting director of the Global Systems Division in 2006; the following year, he was named director.

Most of Koch’s work focused on leading the research and development of observing, prediction, computer and information systems to deliver products dealing with local to global predictions of weather and air quality events as well as longer-term climate projections.

Before joining NOAA, Koch was an associate professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh where he developed new courses in a variety of meteorological subjects. He also was a meteorologist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where he conducted research into new ways to use satellite imagery to understand large atmospheric processes and dynamics.

In addition to his doctorate from the University of Oklahoma, Koch earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis. in 1974 and 1972 respectively.

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NSSL uses weather radar clutter to help biologists

Dual-polarized weather radar can estimate the number of bats in a swarm similar to the way it can estimate the number of raindrops in a cloud.  This information is valuable to biologists, ecologists and entomologists as they try to understand how populations and behaviors of bats and insects are affected by changes in climate over time.

Several mobile radars, including NSSL’s dual-polarized mobile radar were used in a project to track swarms of millions of bats as they emerged from their caves each night to feast on insects. The radar images of bats appear as distinct “blooms.”

Usually data from birds, insects or bats are considered “clutter” and are filtered out.  NSSL researchers have reversed the filter to now focus on the bioscatter.  Using calculations of radar backscatter from a single bat in the laboratory, made by the University of Oklahoma, the group is developing the first means to calculate aerial densities of bats as they travel.

NSSL will use the data to enhance algorithms that remove the bioscatter clutter to see the weather more clearly.

“What we see in the dual-polarized fields provided by NSSL’s radar, and soon with WSR-88D dual-polarization, will bring a whole new era in behavioral ecology and conservation as well as radar quality control,” says NSSL’s Ken Howard.

The National Science Foundation sponsored project includes researchers from several Universities, the National Park Service and the USGS.

“The summer night sky is filled with a spectrum of biological life that is in many ways equivalent to what we observe in coral reefs,” says Howard.  The data we collected has brought a new appreciation of the rich diversity of life and that can be seen using radars, and especially dual-polarized radars.”

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NSSL hosted successful booth at WeatherFest

NSSL WeatherFest booth
NSSL has a busy boot h at the 2011 WeatherFest in Seattle, WA!

NSSL hosted a busy booth at the American Meteorological Society’s WeatherFest on January 23, 2011 at the

This shy young lady asked to have her picture taken with Chase StormDawg.

Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, Wash.  More than 4,000 people of all ages attended the interactive weather and science fair open to the public.

NSSL’s booth featured “tornado in a bottle” demonstrations and looping videos about NSSL research.  Children were anxious to help pack an emergency backpack loaded with items such as a NOAA Weather Radio, cell phone, whistle, medicine, snacks and more.  They also identified where the safest place in a house would be in the event of a tornado warning.  Handouts available included “Careers in Meteorology,” instructions on how to make a tornado in a bottle at home, coloring pages, a word search, and an information sheet on NSSL research.

The booth was also part of a scavenger hunt where participants had to visit us to get the question, “What is the difference between a severe weather watch and a severe weather warning?” answered.

WeatherFest is an interactive outreach event designed to instill a love for math and science in children of all ages, and inspire young people to consider a career in the fields of science and engineering.

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NSSL video takes viewers to another dimension

The dual-polarization zoneNSSL’s videographer James Murnan has posted a creative outreach video explaining dual-polarization radar technology on the NOAA Weather Partners YouTube channel:

Part of “That Weather Show” series, the video creatively spoofs popular commercials to talk about the benefits of the planned upgrade to existing National Weather Service weather radars.  Viewers are taken into another dimension called, “The dual-polarization zone.”  Dual-polarization technology will give forecasters more precise information to accurately diagnose severe weather.

The video also addresses questions such as, “What is dual polarization technology?” and “Why should you care?”

Murnan has created 30 videos over the past few years on topics ranging from phased array radar technology to the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning project (CI-FLOW) .

NSSL has been a leader and major contributor to the scientific and engineering development of dual-polarized weather radar.  This 25-year history is being rewarded as the NOAA National Weather Service will soon begin a major upgrade to all of their weather radars using this technology.

Check out the video at:

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A tribute to the “Father of NEXRAD”

Dale Sirmans
Dale Sirmans

For many in the weather radar community, Dale Sirmans is recognized as the father of the NEXt-Generation RADar (NEXRAD). As the lead engineer and principal architect of NSSL’s first 10-cm Doppler weather radar, his leadership and guidance helped bring Doppler radar to the National Weather Service.  Sirmans recently passed away on December 23 in Albertville, Ala., at 76, and we wanted to celebrate his five decades of contributions to weather radar, weather science and to the careers of future engineers and scientists.

Sirmans started at NSSL during the early 1960’s, making key contributions to the understanding of Doppler weather radar theory.  He led his team to build one of the first 10-cm Doppler weather radar systems in the world for investigating the use of Doppler measurements for severe weather detection.  This radar became the prototype for the current NEXRAD, or Weather Surveillance Radar -1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) network.

Since Doppler weather radar was new to the weather community, Sirmans also made significant contributions by identifying the most efficient Doppler weather radar data estimation and analysis techniques.  He meticulously documented and reported his findings, and many of the techniques are still used today, or formed the foundation for new developments.

By the early 1980’s, most of the science and basic engineering principles necessary to develop a usable Doppler weather radar were understood.  This attracted attention from the National Weather Service, the U.S. Air Force’s Air Weather Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration.  They decided to form a Joint System Program Office (JSPO) to develop a new NEXRAD radar network for the nation.  Sirmans played a key role in the full-scale development of the WSR-88D system and by the end of the 1980’s the U.S. government had a first production version of the WSR-88D ready for validation.

As the research radar technology transitioned into national deployment and operations, Sirmans left NSSL to become the first Chief of the new NEXRAD Operational Support Facility (OSF) Engineering Branch, effectively becoming the Chief Engineer for all WSR-88D operations.  He retired briefly then returned to the OSF (later renamed the Radar Operations Center) as an employee of the OSF support contractor, supporting the Nation’s network of radars by documenting performance and solving unique technical problems.  Every area of the WSR-88D benefited from his expertise, from basic hardware to radome cleaning processes.

Sirmans also had the ability to impact the lives and careers of people he knew, mentoring a new generation of engineers and scientists who will carry on his work.  His dedication to his work continued until his death, and his contributions have helped forecasters save thousands of lives.

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NSSL deploys mobile radar to help with winter weather forecasts

NO-XP in Colorado
The NO-XP mobile radar deployed in southern Colorado

NSSL deployed the NOAA X-Pol mobile radar in southwestern Colorado over the weekend as part of the Southwest Colorado Radar project to collect data on snowfall in the area.  The project continues through the end of February, 2011.

The NOXP is equipped with dual-polarization technology, which provides detailed information about the water content of snow, providing better estimates of precipitation amounts.   Data from NOXP is being processed through NSSL’s NMQ/Q2 multi-sensor precipitation estimation system.

Forecasters will use the information to enrich their winter weather forecasts.  Local data users include county search and rescue and airport operations.

The mobile radar was also used during the summer phase of the project to demonstrate the potential usefulness of gap-filling radars in rugged terrain.  Southwest Colorado is not optimally observed by surrounding NWS WSR-88D radars due to numerous mountain ranges, leaving uncertainties in surface precipitation rates.

Project sponsors include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Division of Emergency Management, Southwestern Water Conservation Board, Durango – La Plata County Airport and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

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