CI-FLOW provided useful predictions of total water level during Hurricane Irene

CI-FLOW predicted water levels above sea level (ft) issued at 1500 UTC 27 August 2011 (approximately at time of hurricane landfall) overlain with Hurricane Irene's track in coastal eastern North Carolina. Maximum predicted water levels occurring on the western side of the barrier islands of 6-8 feet compared within +/- 1 foot of the observations. Highest predicted inundation amounts occur in the Neuse and Tar River outlets to the Pamlico Sound.

The Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project began producing real-time 84-hour simulations of total water level in coastal North Carolina from Hurricane Irene on August 23, 2011.  CI-FLOW is the first system to capture the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows, and storm surge to produce total water level simulations.  Hurricane Irene made landfall near Morehead City, N.C.

Impressive predictions of water level and inundation are shown in the image to the left.  This information was available to forecasters before landfall.  CI-FLOW total water level simulations were compared with water levels observed during the storm.  Researchers found a high level of agreement in both the timing and water level heights for the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse River coastal watershed.

The Raleigh NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) shared CI-FLOW information with critical decision makers in briefings and conference calls, including highlighting the CI-FLOW predictions displayed on the public domain Coastal and Emergency Risks Assessment (CERA) web site.  A Raleigh WFO said: “Several of us referred to and viewed various CI-FLOW products. The one product I used the most was the storm surge simulation.”  A forecaster from the Newport/Morehead City WFO said, “I received a call for a storm surge forecast from the Emergency Management office at MCAS Cherry Point early Thursday morning. I relayed to them an expected water level height of 6-8 feet there based on the forecast hydrograph at that location during that time. I did stress that the information was to be used as guidance only given the experimental nature of the data, but I felt comfortable enough with the forecast based on my personal experience of observing water levels on the Neuse to consider it reasonably reliable.”

The North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue has stated preliminary losses from Hurricane Irene topped $400 million.  President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for coastal North Carolina.  Hurricane Irene inflicted some of its worst damage in that state by pushing the water from the estuarine sounds up against the western edge of the barrier islands and the Tar and Neuse river outlets to the Pamlico Sound.

A diverse group of local, state, regional, academic and federal partners, and emergency management communities formed CI-FLOW with a united goal to improve flood predictions and warnings. The consortium includes NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas Sea Grants, National Sea Grant, University of Oklahoma, Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Seahorse Consulting, NWS Forecast Offices in Raleigh, and Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, NOAA-IOOS, DHS-DIEM, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and NOS Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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CI-FLOW total water level system prepared for test by hurricane

Forecast track for Hurricane Irene
Forecast track for Hurricane Irene as of 8:00 EDT 8/24/11

Researchers with the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) project are preparing for Hurricane Irene to test their total water level prediction system in North Carolina later this week. The CI-FLOW system captures the complex interaction between waves, tides, river flows and storm surge to produce total water level simulations that will improve forecasts for inland and coastal flooding events to help users react, respond, and recover.

The CI-FLOW system is currently focused on the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse river basins of North Carolina but the goal is to transition CI-FLOW research and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds.

The CI-FLOW computing environment routinely collects weather, river, tide and ocean observations to be used in an interactive exchange between atmospheric, river and ocean models.

The CI-FLOW project addresses a critical NOAA service gap:  routine total water level predictions for tidally-influenced watersheds and has a vision to transition CI-FLOW research findings and technologies to other U.S. coastal watersheds. This real-time demonstration will offer valuable insight on the accuracy and utility of total water level predictions for communities in the coastal plain of the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse Rivers and the Pamlico Sound.

CI-FLOW’s unique interdisciplinary team is lead by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and includes North Carolina, South Carolina, & Texas Sea Grant Programs, National Sea Grant, Renaissance Computing Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Oklahoma, NWS Offices in Raleigh & Newport/Morehead City, NWS Southeast River Forecast Center, NOAA Coastal Services Center, NOAA in the Carolinas, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence SouthEast, NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, and National Ocean Service Coast Survey Development Laboratory.

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Top weather minds unite in new video

A new outreach video about the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Experiment was just released on YouTube.  Created with a video game theme, the video opens with “Top weather minds unite in the quest for a better forecast.”

NWS forecasters and participating researchers are interviewed in four “levels” including, “Tactical Role Playing,” “Real-Time Strategy,” “Co-Op Feedback,” and “Experience Points.” The video closes with “Game Over…until next spring.”

The Spring Experiment has been the cornerstone of the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) for more than a decade, where forecasters are provided with a first-hand look at the latest research, concepts and products.  At the same time, research scientists gain valuable understanding of the challenges, needs and constraints of front-line forecasters.

NSSL, the NWS Storm Prediction Center and the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Okla. sponsor the Spring Experiment.  The end result meets another NWS goal to increase the development, application and transition of advanced science and technology to operations and services.

NSSL videographer James Murnan has created more than 30 outreach videos over the past few years on topics ranging from dual-polarized weather radar to the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning project (CI-FLOW).  Murnan was recently awarded the 2011 INDUS Excellence Award for his work.

The video can be seen at:

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Study investigates how future profiling observations improve forecasts

The DOE ARM Southern Great Plains site in Lamont, Okla.

Monthly Weather Review has published the results of an observation system simulation experiment (OSSE) that shows how measurements from various hypothetical remote-sensing networks would impact weather analyses and forecasts.

A team from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies and the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lead by Dave Turner who is now at NSSL, performed the experiment.

Currently, the NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) launches weather balloons every 12 hours at 92 stations across the U.S.  As the balloon rises, temperature, pressure, wind and water vapor data are collected and transmitted to be used in weather analyses and forecast models.  However, for a model to correctly predict the strength, timing, and location of precipitation, more dense and frequent observations of the lower atmosphere are needed.

The experiment simulated observations from three different ground-based temperature and water vapor profiling technologies, and a wind profiling system.  Systems evaluated in the study included a Doppler wind lidar, a Raman lidar, a microwave radiometer, and the Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer.  Pseudo-observations from these systems were used investigate the improvement in the analyses and short-term (0-12 hour) forecast of a cold-season convective event over the central portion of the U.S.

The researchers found that the simulated array of profilers resulted in better analyses of how water vapor is transported. The results also showed that forecasts of accumulated precipitation were most improved when data from the multiple sensors were used.  Researchers also compared the different water vapor profiling technologies and found each yielded approximately the same improvement to the forecast.

This research provides important information to help determine the cost/benefits of these potential upgrades to the NWS observational network.

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NSSL/CIMMS phased array radar team awarded DOC Gold Medal

The Secretary of Commerce has awarded a Gold Medal to the NSSL/CIMMS Radar Research and Development Division for “scientific and engineering excellence in adapting military phased array radar technology to improve U.S. weather radar capabilities.”

NSSL has led the unique federal, private, state and academic partnership to develop and evaluate phased array radar technology since 2003.

Phased array radar has strong potential to provide revolutionary improvements in NOAA National Weather Service tornado, severe storm and flash flood warning lead times and accuracy, reducing false alarms.

“This Gold Medal Award from DOC signifies a huge accomplishment for the NSSL/CIMMS RRDD group led by Doug Forsyth.  They are very worthy of this high level of recognition of their accomplishments,” said NSSL Director Steve Koch.

This is NSSL’s fourth Gold Medal Award and is the highest honorary award granted by the Secretary of Commerce.  A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable, or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one or more operating units, which reflects favorably on the Department.

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NSSL helps Phoenix power company brace for sand storms

An NSSL algorithm developed in collaboration with Arizona’s Salt River Project (SRP) alerts the power company of the potential for a dust storm called a haboob.  A haboob is a wall of dust that is pushed out along the ground from a thunderstorm downdraft at high speeds.

The Haboob Algorithm runs on NSSL’s Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor system at SRP, and automatically monitors the radar for thunderstorms reaching thresholds that could result in outflows producing strong surface winds and blowing dust.   When thresholds are reached, SRP operational personnel receive an alert to prepare for the impact of wind loading on SRP power poles and substations.

The SRP was alerted two hours in advance of the haboob that struck Phoenix, Ariz. on July 5.  This storm travelled at least 150 miles with wind gusts more than 60 mph and a leading edge almost 100 miles long.  An estimated 10,000 people lost power.

On Monday, July 18 the Haboob Algorithm gave the power company 45 minutes advance notice to prepare for the impact of the storm in Phoenix.

The Salt River Project has a reputation for innovative use of radar and weather information in their daily operations towards highly efficient electrical energy production and transmission.

SRP is two entities: the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, a political subdivision of the state of Arizona; and the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association, a private corporation.

The District provides electricity to about 920,000 retail customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and the Association delivers nearly 1 million acre-feet of water annually to a service area in central Arizona.

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NSSL hydrometeorologist featured on tribal news program

NSSL hydrometeorologist Suzanne Van Cooten is featured on the Chickasaw Nation tribal news channel this month.   Van Cooten is a member of the tribe.

The program focuses on the tribe’s Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy designed to inspire Chickasaw middle and high school students to pursue careers in science and technology.  The segment on Van Cooten is titled “Sky Reader,” and  highlights her career at NSSL as the perfect role model for children attending the camps.

Van Cooten emphasized the need for Native American students to pursue weather and water sciences to help improve the health and wellness of tribal communities.

CNTV produces their news program twice each month and can be found at

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Summer Thunder 2011 hosted by NSSL

NWC lightning
Lightning over the National Weather Center

NSSL co-hosted the Southern Thunder 2011 Workshop at the National Weather Center in Norman, Okla. last week along with the NOAA Storm Prediction Center and the University of Oklahoma.

Southern Thunder 2011 was the fourth in a series of workshops driven by increasing opportunities in the U.S. to detect all types of lightning activity with ground-based systems.  The first workshop was in 2004.

Southern Thunder workshops bring together lightning data providers, product producers, and decision-making consumers in government, academia, and industry to advance lightning science and prediction.  More than 50 leading lightning scientists, operational forecasters and program managers from around the world participated in the workshop.

During the workshop, participants made plans to test a promising technique for identifying jumps in lightning flash rates to improve severe weather warnings.  They also outlined next steps towards producing model forecasts of total lightning activity and provided guidance for those developing web-based modules to train forecasters in the use of lightning data.  Furthermore, they defined issues to be addressed by scientists developing platforms for the NWS that will combine lightning data with other types of data to improve the ability of forecasters to warn of severe weather.

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Study cautions use of lightning trends alone to diagnose severe weather potential

Researchers from NSSL and CIMMS have published the first study to combine rapidly-updating phased array radar data with high-resolution lightning data to study lightning behavior in a hail storm. Frequent scans from phased array radar revealed relationships between lightning and storm growth not able to be seen with current radar update rates.  Though total lightning flash rates are expected to increase as storm updrafts intensify, in this case a decrease in total lightning flash rate was observed during the simultaneous development of an updraft surge. This finding cautions forecasters in the use of lightning mapping observations alone to diagnose an increase or decrease in updraft intensity and the potential for severe weather.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, was published in the June 2011 Monthly Weather Review, an American Meteorological Society journal.

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