Public hail observation program ready for spring

NSSL’s HaSDEx program is live and ready for spring severe weather.  Volunteers within 90 miles of Norman, Oklahoma are invited to document date, time, location and the size of hail through a link online at:

NSSL researchers will merge the reported observations with data from the dual-polarized KOUN radar to investigate the relationship of polarimetric variables to hail size.  The information will be used to refine hail detection algorithms designed to diagnose storm characteristics and intensity and improve warnings for hail producing storms.

HaSDEx volunteers are anonymous and make no long-term commitments.  In the past two years NSSL has logged thousands of reports.

Background: Dual-polarized radars transmit radio wave pulses with both horizontal and vertical orientations to more accurately measure cloud particles and precipitation size, shape and density. This additional information results in improved estimates of rain and snow rates, better detection of large hail location in summer storms, and improved identification of rain/snow transition regions in winter storms. The WSR-88D radars in the NEXRAD network will be upgraded with polarimetric technology beginning in 2010, extending their functionality and effectiveness.

Significance: Enhances public awareness of atmospheric science and severe weather hazards and severe weather safety.

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Mobile radar returns from California debris flow experiment

Last week’s NWS Flood Safety Awareness Week brought attention to the NOAA/NWS/USGS prototype Debris Flow Warning System experiment held for the past four years in California.  The project is focused on helping forecasters improve flash flood and debris flow warnings in areas damaged by wild fires by providing more detailed measurements of rainfall.

NSSL’s SMART-R team has deployed the radar near the target burn area each winter to supply real-time close-up radar data during rain events. The radar operated seven days and at the Santa Barbara airport to scan the Gap and Tea Fire burn areas.  The local NWS network radar beam is blocked by terrain in these areas causing a void in the data

Even though it was another low precipitation winter for coastal Southern California, the NOAA NWS in Los Angeles/Oxnard, California reported the SMART-R provided valuable information.  “In one case the SMART-R helped us question the one-hour rainfall estimate data seen on another local radar,” said Eric Boldt, Warning Coordination Meteorologist NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard.

The SMART-Radar and team returned to NSSL at the end of February.


Landslides in the U.S. result in an estimated 25-50 deaths and damages between $1B and $3B annually. Areas damaged by wildfires are particularly susceptible to flash floods and debris flow during rainstorms. Debris flows are linked with precipitation therefore are more predictable than most other types of landslides.  The weather conditions that trigger them can be the same as those monitored for flash flood warnings.

An article was published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in December 2008 on the evaluation of the prototype debris-flow warning system in southern California.  The report indicated that small, portable radars can augment observations from the fixed—site operational radar network with highly accurate, finer-scale estimates of precipitation.

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NSSL Retiree added to the COMET Hall of Fame

IMG_0259_1Don Burgess, retired NSSL and NWS research meteorologist, now part-time with OU/CIMMS was recently honored by COMET, the Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training with an induction into the COMET “Hall of Fame.”  Burgess’ award was in recognition of outstanding contributions to professional training.

The award states:  “Don Burgess’ exceptional leadership of many professional training efforts, including his scientific expertise for our first distance learning module (1990), have contributed significantly to the success of UCAR’s COMET Program.  His tireless dedication and enthusiasm as a lead instructor for residence courses and as a subject matter expert for multimedia distance learning resulted in high-quality, state-of-the-art training that has allowed many operational weather forecasters to greatly enhance their understanding of mesoscale processes and radar meteorology.  Thank you, Don, for the wisdom and expertise you have brought to our training endeavors.”

Burgess joins three other members, Fred Carr, Ken Crawford, and Brad Coleman.

COMET supports, enhances, and stimulates learning about atmospheric and related sciences.

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Van Cooten receives Cooperative Conservation Award

VanCooten talks about flash flooding with kids

NSSL Hydrometeorologist Suzanne Van Cooten is part of a inter-disciplinary and multi-agency team receiving the Department of the Interior Cooperative Conservation Award for the Protection of Aquifer Resources in Oklahoma.

The Cooperative Conservation Award is a Department of the Interior Honor Award established to recognize outstanding cooperative conservation achievements that include collaborative activity among a diverse range of entities that may include Federal, State, local and tribal governments, private for-profit and nonprofit institutions, other nongovernmental entities, and individuals.

The Protection of Aquifer Resources in Oklahoma project is an unprecedented effort to capture and hold flood waters over known recharge areas.

In cooperation with the Oklahoma Climate Survey, which administers the Oklahoma Mesonet system, the Chickasaw Nation is working with NOAA to calibrate NOAA radar systems (dual-polarimetric, phased array, and the WSR-88D network) to nearby Oklahoma Mesonet stations in order to assess site-specific source-water hydrology and soil moisture conditions.  Specifically, these data will reduce spatial and temporal variability and provide accurate, localized real-time precipitation estimates, helping to determine the availability of source water for recharge.

NSSL’s multi-sensor quantitative precipitation estimation system, Q2, will leverage this collection of real-time data to increase the accuracy of rainfall estimates within the aquifer area. Real-time observations will be linked with high-resolution rainfall estimates and increase the accuracy of predicted surface water and groundwater levels produced by a suite of existing and emerging numerical weather and water models.

Key to the success of the Protection of Aquifer Resources Project is the unique partnership led by the Chickasaw Nation, headquartered in Ada, Oklahoma.  Other groups involved are:  federal (NOAA NSSL, Bureau of Reclamation, Environmental Protection Agency), state (Oklahoma Climatological Survey and Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality), academia (OU and Oklahoma State University), and private landowners .

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VORTEX2 preparations intensify

NSSL and their partners are gearing up for the largest field project in history to study tornadoes.  VORTEX2, the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment – 2 will focus on answering new questions about how, when, and why tornadoes form, why some thunderstorms produce tornadoes and others do not, the structure of tornadoes, and the relationship of tornadic winds to damage.  Answers to these questions will improve forecasts and warnings of tornadoes.

VORTEX2 is a carefully planned field experiment that will target a potentially tornadic storm and canvass the area with an fleet of mobile radars, minivans equipped with instruments, instrumented weather balloons, and even unmanned aerial vehicles.

Recent and current activities include:

The VORTEX2 steering committee met in Boulder, Colo. in late February to present individual projects, strategies and scientific objectives.  Participants also talked about operations details, information flow, and deployment issues.  Five NSSL staff attended.

The Norman NOAA Communications Team is preparing to launch a VORTEX2 website in mid-March reaching out to the media and general public.   The official VORTEX2 website is hosted at

A VORTEX2 Media Day will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Friday, May 8 at the National Weather Center, 120 David L. Boren Blvd., in Norman, Okla. Interested media will have the opportunity to tour VORTEX2 research vehicles and interview VORTEX2 researchers and teams. Watch for more information.

NSSL engineers are outfitting research vehicles with cutting edge communications systems and weather instruments.  Vehicles will be shakedown tested during April and early May.

Background: VORTEX2 is funded by the National Science Foundation and NOAA.

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