Then and Now: 25 years ago

When Yahoo and Amazon were founded in 1994, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. That same year, the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory made its first web post.

Twenty-five years ago today, NSSL joined the information superhighway when two researchers —

The 1994 NSSL website
The NOAA NSSL website when it was first created in 1994.

David Stensrud and Harold Brooks — created the lab’s first website in November 1994 to “take advantage of the information explosion provided by the WWW,” according to a newsletter from that time.

The original site was organized according to NSSL’s administrative structure and organizational chart. Since then, Webmaster Vicki Farmer has overhauled the website three times, in 2007, 2010 and 2014.

“We realized individuals outside of NSSL were more interested in the content of our work and our website needed to reflect that,” Farmer said.

NSSL’s web audience includes the public, students, educators, collaborators, researchers, and Congressional staffers.

“A majority of our web traffic is from school-aged children in grades K-12 and we proudly provide information for those grades, including our Severe Weather 101 sites, information on research, and career options for meteorologists,” Farmer said.

Not only does the site provide general information about meteorology to the public but it also has a searchable publications database of all published NSSL authored articles. The website also has a thorough history of NSSL and lists of awards received by researchers at the lab.

“We’ve grown from one website to nearly 10 subdomains of content, research tools and data,” Farmer said. “Overall our web server hosts six terabytes of information, applications, and tools that scientists and the public utilize for research and information.”

Explore all NSSL has to offer at nssl.noaa.gov, as well as experimental tools for Warn-on-Forecast and convection-allowing models utilized by researchers.

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Hurricane Harvey offers unprecedented data for NSSL researcher

As Hurricane Harvey came ashore along the Texas coast, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Sean Waugh managed to do what no one has done before — he launched a weather balloon in the eye of the hurricane. The data recorded by the balloon’s instruments as it circled Harvey’s eyewall were record-breaking and confusing, and will require time and research to explain.

“This was the first observation of its kind,” Waugh said. “No one has ever seen this type of data, some of the values are exceptionally high and we are still trying to determine what those values mean.”

An image of the observations NOAA NSSL Researcher Sean Waugh saw after launching a weather balloon in the eye of the hurricane. (Photo by Sean Waugh/NOAA NSSL)

The eyewall is the edge of the eye of the hurricane — the strongest area of the storm. Two measurements from the balloon launch were particularly interesting. The first was a wind profile that produced computed values higher than ever observed, indicating its use in these circumstances may not be correct. The second, a measurement of potential rain, was also extreme, and may have been an early indication of the unprecedented flooding produced by Harvey.

The NOAA NSSL mobile mesonet in Texas before Hurricane Harvey came ashore. (Photo by Sean Waugh/NOAA NSSL)

The balloon launch was one part of Waugh’s efforts to collect data in the path of Hurricane Harvey. From a truck with roof mounted instruments called a mobile mesonet, he recorded observations of rain, wind, temperature and humidity for an extended period of time.

Gathering the data was not a task for the faint of heart. Before and after the balloon launch, Waugh experienced high winds — nearly 100 miles per hour — while sitting in the heavy mobile mesonet truck.

Waugh coordinated on this project with scientists from The University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. The university team collected data with their radar-equipped truck.

Over time, Waugh hopes to better understand this unprecedented data set, and how it can contribute to a greater understanding of hurricanes and the tornadoes they produce.

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NSSL stages equipment near Hurricane Harvey

NSSL Researcher Sean Waugh with the mobile mesonet. (Photo provided)

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory Researcher Sean Waugh will collect weather data in the path of Hurricane Harvey Friday to record how the landfalling hurricane changes as it develops.

The first major hurricane forecast to make landfall in the Gulf Coast in 12 years provides an opportunity to study its development and any potential development of tornadoes.

“While tornadoes are relatively rare in environments associated with landfalling hurricanes, if they occur they can have large impacts,” Waugh said.

Waugh will use a truck with roof mounted instruments called a mobile mesonet to record observations of Hurricane Harvey for an extended period of time. The instruments and weather balloons will record rain, wind and temperature. He will work with scientists from The University of Oklahoma College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences. The team is utilizing the university’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies SMART radar truck.

Researchers will monitor how the hurricane’s structure changes during landfall as well as temperature changes and wind on the surface. Scientists will test a  new instrument developed at NSSL that measures rain size and distribution to help with flood forecasts. Information gathered will be shared with National Weather Service forecasters.

NOAA NSSL and partners are studying the development of tornadoes in the Southeast U.S. in order to improve their prediction through  VORTEX-Southeast.

For more information about Hurricane Harvey and the current forecast: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/#harvey.

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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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NEWS CONFERENCE MEDIA ADVISORY: Researchers test unmanned aircraft systems

Researchers test unmanned aircraft systems for measuring the lower atmosphere, potentially improving short term weather forecasts

Researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, The University of Oklahoma, University of Colorado and Meteomatics have begun a project to test the value of airborne, mobile observing systems for observing important changes in the local environment that can spawn severe thunderstorms.

During EPIC, the Environmental Profiling and Initiation of Convection field project, researchers will deploy fixed-wing and rotary small Unmanned Aircraft Systems today through May 20 at and near the Department of Energy’s Southern Great Plains site in Lamont, Oklahoma, and at a second site near an Oklahoma Mesonet station chosen each day. Timing and location of activities will be coordinated with the NOAA National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office, which will be receiving data from the instruments in real time for evaluation.

During the news conference, researchers will discuss their operational plans and project goals. Equipment on display will include the three systems being deployed:

  • Meteodrone rotary UAS from Meteomatics
  • CopterSonde rotary UAS from The University of Oklahoma
  • TTwistor fixed-wing UAS from the University of Colorado

WHAT:
News conference to discuss operational plans and project goals
Equipment displays

WHEN:
10 a.m., Friday, May 12

WHERE:
National Weather Center
Ceremonial Drive (circle drive by the flagpoles)
120 David L. Boren Blvd., Norman, Oklahoma

Colorado University’s TTwistor will be used in EPIC. (Photo provided)
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Collaboration improves UK and US radar techniques to improve forecasts

The national weather radar system used throughout the United States by NOAA National Weather Service  forecasters to “see” weather across the country is unique because it can be upgraded and modified with the newest capabilities, unlike other systems worldwide.

Because of this, and the need to work with experts in radar signal processing for improving the quality of radar data, international partners from the United Kingdom Met Office are collaborating with researchers from The University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory to develop new techniques for U.K.-based radars.

The U.K. Met Office operated a radar system that did not allow changes and was considered a “commercial off-the-shelf solution.”

“Most weather services in the world purchase radar systems from companies and in those systems, the signal processor is typically a black box,” said Sebastian Torres, senior research scientist with OU CIMMS and NSSL. “The signal processor is a key component in all weather radar systems. Its job is to convert echoes received by the radar into weather images. It’s something most weather services don’t really have access to. They know how it works but they can’t change or improve anything.”

The U.K. Met Office decided to build its own signal processor for their radar systems. This allows a similar degree of flexibility to that of the NEXRAD radars, also known as the WSR-88D (weather surveillance radar-88 Doppler), operated in the United States. NOAA offered some of its tested techniques to the U.K. Met Office and in return received access to valuable data it could use for future research and operations.

Inside every NEXRAD radar is a rotating parabolic antenna. As the antenna rotates, it travels up and around while sending out pulses of electromagnetic energy. When radars send and receive these pulses, buildings and other structures may obstruct the radar’s view, contaminating the storm data.

To help keep unwanted objects from impacting storm data, Torres and fellow CIMMS Researcher David Warde developed two complementary signal-processing techniques for the WSR-88D. One technique, called CLEAN-AP, or Clutter Environment Analysis using Adaptive Processing filter, removes unwanted radar echoes from objects on the ground. The other one, called WET or Weather Environment Thresholding, intelligently decides when the CLEAN-AP filter should be applied. This prevents slow-moving storms from being confused with stationary objects.

NSSL and CIMMS researchers Sebastian Torres and David Warde (second and third person from the left) visited the UK Met Office in Exeter from February 22-26, 2016 to support implementation of CLEAN-AP on the UK weather radar network.

 

“The goal of CLEAN-AP and WET is to clean the data as much as possible so the forecasters have the best data available to make warnings and forecasts,” Torres said.

Through collaboration with the U.K. Met Office, who implemented CLEAN-AP and WET, the techniques were fine-tuned and improved. Both techniques are being transferred to the NOAA National Weather Service, and CLEAN-AP is licensed by OU to U.S. weather radar manufacturer Baron.

CLEAN-AP before and after

 

Another CIMMS Researcher, Igor Ivic, developed a third product transferred to the U.K. called the Radial-by-Radial Noise Estimator. RBRN  improves the quality of radar data by removing “noise,” the radar equivalent of radio static or television static. It was implemented on the U.S. NEXRAD network as part of ongoing research-to-operations efforts at NSSL and CIMMS.

“If you have noise and you can remove it from the radar returns, then you get just the signal, and that can be used to get better quality data,” Torres said.

Torres called the collaboration a “win-win” situation because the information exchange, as well as the new technologies and techniques that have been developed are good for both the U.S. and U.K.

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Researchers Begin Second Year of Tornado Study in Southeastern United States

The second field observing campaign for the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment-Southeast (VORTEX-SE) research program, coordinated by the National Severe Storms Laboratory, began March 8 and continues through May 8. A media day will be held at 10 a.m. CDT March 21 at the Signature Flight Support – Huntsville International Airport. Researchers from NSSL, Air Resources Laboratory, University of Alabama – Huntsville and other participants will discuss their operational plans and show some of the vehicles and instruments they are using, including the NOAA P-3 aircraft, mobile radars and research drones.

VORTEX-SE is a research program designed 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 will also determine the best methods for communicating forecast uncertainty to the public and evaluate public response related to these events.

This year’s field project will gather data to address two main research topics:

1. How cold air flowing out of a storm influences the development of tornadoes.

2. The role of terrain in tornado formation and how terrain influences wind, temperature and humidity in storm environments.

The ultimate purpose of this research is better forecasts and warnings for the public.
Erik Rasmussen, VORTEX-SE project manager, speaks during media day in 2016, kicking off the spring 2016 field research campaign. Media day for VORTEX-SE’s 2017 spring field research campaign is Tuesday, March 21.
Credit NOAA/Keli Pirtle.
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Gab at the Lab: Don MacGorman

Don MacGorman, Senior Research Scientist

don-macgorman

 

Background:Ph.D. Space Physics and Astronomy, Rice University
M.S. Space Physics and Astronomy, Rice University
B.A. Physics, Rice University
Experience:Don was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Aside from his 4th grade year, which he spent in Durham, North Carolina, and his 11th grade year, spent in Beirut, Lebanon, Don’s entire childhood took place in Texas. He remained in the state for college, earning his bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. at Rice University in Houston, where his graduate research focused on using recordings of thunder to map where lightning occurred in a hailstorm. Don came to Norman in 1978 as a postdoctoral researcher.
What He Does:Don began working with NSSL in 1978, first as a postdoctoral research with OU CIMMS, and then as a National Research Council postdoc. Since December 2000, Don has been a Federal research scientist with the Lab. He currently serves as the Storm Electricity Team Leader in the Warning Research Development Division. Using the Lightning Strike Locating System, his team conducts studies on positive cloud-to-ground detection. Recently, the longest lightning bolt ever recorded was found to extend almost 200 miles across the state of Oklahoma. The bolt occurred during a thunderstorm on June 20, 2007.
Trivia: Don is the son of a Canadian father and a Texan mother. His wife and two daughters all hold Master’s degrees in music. In his free time, Don enjoys reading, gardening, strength training, music, and he has recently taken up ballroom dancing.
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Gab at the Lab: Alexander Ryzhkov

Alexander Ryzhkov, Senior Research Scientist (CIMMS/NSSL)

Background:Ph.D. Radio Science, St. Petersburg University (1977)
M.S. Physics, St. Petersburg University (1974)
Experience:Alexander Ryzhkov grew up in Russia, in a small city called Valday, Novgorod Oblast. He attended St. Petersburg University, where he earned degrees in both physics and radio science. After completing his Ph.D. program, Alexander worked at Russia’s Main Geophysical Observatory from 1978 to 1992. During this time, he networked with scientists in Norman, and was eventually invited to come to NSSL as a National Research Council postdoctoral researcher.
What He Does:Alexander was an NRC postdoc at NSSL from 1992 to 1995. He then accepted a research scientist position with OU’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, where he has remained for over 20 years. Alexander’s primary research goals are developing operational algorithms for quantitative precipitation estimation, hydrometeor classification, and microphysical retrievals using polarimetric radars, and utilizing polarimetric radars for the improvement of Numerical Weather Prediction model performance. To achieve these objectives, he works to break down walls between radar scientists and cloud modelers and capitalizes on the benefits of international collaboration.
Trivia: Alexander’s favorite pastimes include walking in the woods, strolling the streets of European cities, spending hours in art galleries, and relaxing with some music. He enjoys spending time with his family, which includes his wife, two daughters, and a son.
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