NOAA NSSL announces new director

Jack Kain speaking to someone in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed room
Jack Kain in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. Kain has been instrumental in facilitating experiments in the NOAA HWT.

A collaborative leader in the meteorological community and expert in weather modeling is returning to NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, as its new director. John “Jack” Kain starts in this new position on Monday, April 13.

Kain began his NOAA Research career more than 20 years ago at the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies supporting NSSL. He transitioned from OU CIMMS to a federal position and rose in the ranks to head NSSL’s Forecast Research and Development Division. As chief, he led a team in groundbreaking experimental forecasting research. For the past two years, he has worked with NOAA’s National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

“It’s great to be back at NSSL, where I know I will be joining a dedicated, hard-working, and generous team,” Kain said. “It’s an honor to be selected to lead this amazing group of people and build on the great tradition of NSSL.

A proven manager and collaborator, Kain is a research scientist at his core, having designed a complex test and evaluation strategy that was utilized to create a community-based, next-generation forecast model suite. He’s continued to build collaborations across the United States weather enterprise, involving public, private and academic entities.

“I’m thrilled to be moving back to Norman and truly honored to be leading one of its world-famous institutions. NSSL has always been a strong and active partner in the Norman community and I look forward to continuing and enriching that spirit of community engagement,” he said.

Kain’s work as a skilled leader assisted the research organization by driving scientific activities to completion more effectively, establishing a vision, fostering innovation and collaboration, and by engaging and motivating others to deliver on NOAA and National Weather Service strategic goals.

“It is my pleasure to welcome Dr. Kain as director of NSSL. Over the years of his career at NOAA, Jack has proven to be a successful leader and has made a great impact throughout NOAA,” said Craig McLean, OAR’s assistant administrator. “His influence in the research community has helped to make research more relevant as it relates to research-to-operations.”

Kain was instrumental in creating and was co-director of the NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed — a physical space fostering collaboration between forecasters, emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, and researchers as they test experimental forecasting tools and methods. Products tested in NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed are aimed to improve tools utilized by National Weather Service forecasters and provide more specific and timely severe weather information for the public.

Kain cultivated strong relationships between the NOAA NWS Storm Prediction Center and weather enterprise, and those relationships have continued throughout his career. His collaborations with the NWS SPC started the annual Spring Program, which provided the foundation for the NOAA HWT. Today, hundreds of forecasters visit the NOAA HWT each year to test experimental forecasting technologies and provide feedback on the design, use, and the research to operations process.


Kain returns to NSSL after serving as chief of the Model Physics Group at the NWS Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Maryland, where he led diverse teams through organizational restructuring and technology adaptation.

His awards are numerous, including the National Weather Association Larry R. Johnson Award in 2015 and the AMS Editor’s Award from Monthly Weather Review in 2010. He has authored more than 50 formal publications in peer-reviewed research journals. Kain earned master’s and doctoral degrees in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University and a bachelor of science in chemistry from the College of William and Mary.

Kain succeeds former NSSL Director Steven Koch, who retired in 2019.

“I would like to encourage all of our researchers to be patient and safe as we navigate the future. I’m looking forward to working with each of them to ensure their personal and professional success as we work together to make NSSL a great place to work and an even stronger contributor to scientific research and the protection of life and property,” Kain said.

During the transition, NSSL’s Deputy Director Kurt Hondl has been serving as the lab’s acting director. He will resume his role as deputy director in April.

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NSSL researcher’s new book illuminates state of the science in lightning physics

Vlad Mazur
Vlad Mazur

The current understanding of lightning physics is the focus of a new book published by physicist Vladislav Mazur, based on his more than 30 year career at NSSL. Principles of Lightning Physics presents and discusses the most up-to-date physical concepts that govern many lightning events in nature, including lightning interactions with man-made structures.

Mazur’s approach to the understanding of lightning — – to seek out, and to show what is common to all lightning flashes —- are illustrated by an analysis of each type of lightning and the multitude of lightning-related features. Using this approach, the book examines the work that has gone into the development of new physical concepts, and provides critical evaluations of the existing knowledge of the physics of lightning and the lexicon of terms and definitions used in lightning research.

Since joining NSSL in 1984, Mazur has produced research on many aspects of lightning, from lightning interactions with aircraft and ground structures to lightning processes and lightning physics. He was a pioneer of high-speed photography of lightning in the early 1990s.

The book was released this month by the Institute of Physics Publishing.

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Gab at the Lab: Don MacGorman

Don MacGorman, Senior Research Scientist



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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Gab at the Lab: Derek Stratman

Derek Stratman, NRC Postdoc


Background:Ph.D. Meteorology, University of Oklahoma (2016)
M.S. Meteorology, University of Oklahoma (2011)
B.S. Meteorology, Valparaiso University (2009)
Experience:Derek was born and raised in Jasper, Indiana, best known for Strassenfest, an annual summer festival celebrating German heritage and culture. He attended Valparaiso University in his home state, earning his bachelor’s degree in meteorology. Then, he moved to Norman to continue his education at the University of Oklahoma. He earned both his Master’s and Ph.D. in meteorology at OU before accepting a National Research Council Postdoc position with NSSL’s Warn-on-Forecast group.
What He Does:Derek began working with the Warn-on-Forecast group in August 2016. His current research is focused on alleviating storm displacement errors in storm-scale forecasts. Previously, he had been an OU graduate research assistant. He worked with NSSL from 2009 to 2011, looking at storm-scale model verification. From 2011 to 2016, he worked with the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms on improving storm-scale modeling and data assimilation techniques. He also took part in several field experiments. In 2010, he participated in the Verification of the Origin of Rotation of Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2), assisting with mobile mesonet operations and taking surface observations. In 2013, Derek helped coordinate data collection for the Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX).
Trivia: Derek and his wife recently had their first child. In his free time, Derek enjoys several hobbies, including photography, storm chasing, astronomy, camping/hiking, playing trumpet, and sports.

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Q&A with Pam Heinselman

Pam HeinselmanNSSL scientist Pamela Heinselman recently transitioned from our Radar Research Development Division to the Forecast Research Development Division, marking a significant shift in her area of focus. Heinselman has been a research scientist with the Lab since March 2009 and received a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering in 2009 as well. Previously, she was a collaborator with OU’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, where her efforts centered on developing phased array radar through experiments in NOAA’s Hazardous Weather Testbed.

While radar research has long been her passion, Heinselman was ready for a new challenge. For many years, her research concentrated on warning and forecast applications of weather radars. Now, she is applying that experience to develop Warn on Forecast, a program aiming to increase tornado, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warning lead times.

We sat down with her to get her take on how radar and forecasting work together at NSSL.

Q: What inspired you to make the switch to the Warn-on-Forecast group? What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?

A: What inspired me was the opportunity to engage in new challenges, to be immersed in and learn more about this exciting research area, and to contribute to the success of the Warn-on-Forecast program through my skills and experience.

What I hope to accomplish is to work with our in-house scientists and OAR labs and National Weather Service partners at National Centers and local offices to advance and eventually transfer to operations a cutting-edge forecast system that ultimately improves the ability of individuals, families, and communities to protect their lives and property.

Q: How is your position in FRDD related to your work with radar?

A: My position in FRDD is related to my work with radar in several ways. Most importantly, like Phased Array Radar, the Warn-on-Forecast system under development is cutting-edge technology. While Phased Array Radar is introducing adaptive rapid-radar scanning as a potential replacement for the WSR-88D, Warn-on-Forecast is introducing frequently updating, probabilistic high-impact weather forecast guidance as an integral part of a forecasting paradigm shift, known as Forecasting a Continuum of Environmental Threats (FACETS). Another connection is the Warn-on-Forecast program’s exploration of benefits from assimilating legacy and rapid-scan dual-polarization radar data in these model forecasts.

Q: In your Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment, you used eye tracking technology to analyze forecaster decision-making. How will the results of this research be useful in developing Warn-on-Forecast?

A: The results of the eye tracking experiment will shed light on forecaster cognitive processes that will aid the development of forecast visualization techniques optimized for the needs of operational forecasters. Additionally, since currently forecasts rely heavily on radar data in their warning decision process, results of the experiment will help to bridge the use of weather radar data with the use of probabilistic forecast guidance in operations.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for radar and forecasting research?

A: One of the biggest challenges for radar and forecasting research is finding creative solutions to known technological issues, such as matching co-polar radar cross-sections, reducing model error, and attaining the computational resources needed for forecasting systems with 1-km or smaller grid spacing.

At the same time, one of the biggest opportunities for radar and forecasting research is to revolutionize the frequency and specificity of high-impact weather observations and forecasts to ultimately provide decision makers with more timely guidance that improves their ability to take protective action well in advance of life-threatening events.

Q: How will Warn-on-Forecast address the need for greater lead time and more accurate weather forecasts?

A: Warn-on-Forecast will address the need for greater lead time and more accurate weather forecasts by producing frequently updated, well-calibrated probabilistic 0 to 6 hour convective-scale analyses and forecast guidance that support high-impact forecast and warning operations within NOAA.

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Gab at the Lab: Yunheng Wang

Yunheng Wang, Research Scientist (CIMMS/NSSL)


Background:Ph.D. Computer Sciences, University of Oklahoma (2007)
M.S. Meteorology, University of Maryland (2000)
B.S. Meteorology, Nanjing Institute of Meteorology (1993)
Experience:Yunheng grew up in northeastern China and attended Nanjing Institute of Meteorology (now renamed as Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology). He began his career with the China Meteorological Administration before moving to the United States, where he earned his Master’s degree at the University of Maryland. From Maryland, Yunheng made his way to Norman, earning his Ph.D. in computer sciences at the University of Oklahoma. He worked with OU’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms as a research scientist/software manager, then was offered a position with OU CIMMS. He has been a member of the Warn-on-Forecast team since October 2015.
What He Does:Yunheng's work is concentrated on the Warn-on-Forecast project. He develops software running on supercomputers for atmospheric applications. He also uses data assimilation techniques (3D/4D variational method, EnKF, LETKF, etc.) to conduct radar and satellite data analysis. In addition, he is working with numerical weather prediction models, including WRF, NMMB, the Advanced Regional Prediction System, and the Coupled Ocean/Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System. Yunheng enjoyed taking part in the 2016 Hazardous Weather Testbed experiments focusing on 3DVAR analysis and the WRF prediction system.
Trivia: Yunheng has many interests, including reading (particularly ancient history), movies, and travel. He is not an avid sports fan, but encourages his two boys to be involved in athletics.
Fun Fact: Wang is the largest surname in China, with over 92 million people sharing the name!

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NSSL’s Dr. Rodger Brown to Retire

rodger-brownRodger A. Brown is retiring after 51 years as a research meteorologist, including 46 years of federal service with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.

Brown started at NSSL on the same day NOAA was formed, October 3, 1970, just as Doppler weather radar was becoming operational. He and his colleagues were interested in using this new resource to learn more about how severe storms develop. On May 24, 1973, Brown was working in the newly built, experimental Norman Doppler Radar when a tornado devastated the small town of Union City, Oklahoma. Working with former NSSL researcher Les Lemon, who monitored the surveillance radar, Brown and his team determined where to scan the storm to collect the data they would need.

The following morning, Brown surveyed the damage in Union City with fellow researchers, including Don Burgess, retired NSSL research meteorologist who is now with the University of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies.  Brown recalls coming to grips with the magnitude and severity of the storm. “I think that’s the first time we realized the extent and how devastating the tornado was,” Brown said.

In the following weeks, Brown, Burgess, and Lemon pored over the data. This was the first time they had visualized the entire lifecycle of a tornado. They discovered the existence of a Tornadic Vortex Signature, a measurement of circulation aloft provided by the Doppler radar that indicated a tornado may be forming. This important warning device is still used today by NOAA’s National Weather Service to issue more timely severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings.

Brown earned his bachelor’s degree in earth sciences from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1960. He received his master of science degree. in geophysical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1962, and his Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma in 1989. During his career, he has been an active member of the American Meteorological Society, the National Weather Association, the American Geophysical Union, Sigma Xi, and England’s Royal Meteorological Society. He has held elected offices in the NWA and served as committee chairs and conference chairs for both the AMS and NWA.  Outside of work, he enjoys reading, making Native American style flutes, and serving as a Boy Scout leader. He is looking forward to spending more time with his family in retirement, including his wife, three children, and five grandchildren, as well as volunteering with various weather-related organizations in Norman.

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Gab at the Lab: Matt Mahalik

Matt Mahalik, Research Associate (CIMMS/NSSL)


Background:M.S. Atmospheric Science, Texas Tech University (2015)
B.S. Meteorology/Climatology/GIS, The Pennsylvania State University (2012)
Experience:Matt grew up in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, and earned his bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Penn State University. During his undergraduate studies, he was active in the Penn State chapters of the AMS and NWA. He was also a NOAA Hollings Scholar and spent time at the NWS forecast office in Melbourne, Florida, in 2011. He went on to earn his Master’s degree from Texas Tech University in 2015, focusing his studies on supercell modeling and vorticity dynamics, working with mobile radars, and maintaining West Texas Mesonet stations.
What He Does:Matt started with OU CIMMS in July 2015. He is a part of the Severe Weather Warning Applications and Technology Transfer group in the Warning Research and Development Division. He describes himself as a writer, tester, and fixer of algorithms for the Warning Decision Support System -- Integrated Information. Currently, he is working on azimuthal shear applications, including rotation tracks, and developing divergent shear. Matt also contributes to several other projects with the Lab, including Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor severe weather applications and the Multi-Year Reanalysis of Remotely Sensed Storms program. In addition, he is helping develop mesocyclone and tornado detection algorithms with the Radar Operations Center, and assists severe weather researchers at the OU School of Meteorology.
Trivia: Matt was a campus tour guide at Penn State. In his spare time, Matt enjoys road trips, attending college football games, and the occasional storm chase. Some miscellaneous favorites of his include Carolina BBQ, red dirt country music, and a surprising amount of hip hop.

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Gab at the Lab: John Lawson

John Lawson, Postdoctoral Research Associate (CIMMS/NSSL)


Background:Ph.D. Meteorology, Iowa State University
M.S. Meteorology, University of Utah
MMet Meteorology, University of Reading (UK)
Experience:John was born in Stockton-on-Tees in the United Kingdom. He earned his MMet degree at the University of Reading, and was able to come to Oklahoma on a foreign exchange during that program of study. This eventually led to his decision to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Utah, where he took part in field studies of downslope windstorms. He then went on to earn his Ph.D. at Iowa State University, an excellent location for studying severe weather!
What He Does:John’s passion is in chaos theory and the predictability of weather. At NSSL, he is designing short-range ensemble forecast systems (collections of slightly different weather forecasts) for the Warn-on-Forecast project. The project aims to provide a probabilistic (risk-based) forecast of high-impact weather such as tornadoes and flash flooding to increase warning lead times in these events. His other research areas include supercell and bow-echo predictability, and the development of a Python package that generates and evaluates ensemble forecasts.
Trivia: John runs a UK private forecasting operation called Bolt Forecast. He also enjoys listening to music, and coaching or watching soccer (or football, as it is known in the UK). He also likes spending time with his dog and coloring (see photo).

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