Researchers travel to Gulf of Mexico to study Hurricane Laura

A team of research scientists from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma have traveled to the Texas-Louisiana border near the Gulf of Mexico to collect data during the landfall of Hurricane Laura.

We encourage people to visit the National Weather Service website for the latest forecast.

The team, led by OU School of Meteorology Professor Michael Biggerstaff and NSSL Research Scientist Sean Waugh, is working closely with colleagues from Texas Tech University, the University of Florida, the Center for Severe Weather Research, and the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Data collected by the team will be shared in real-time with NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Offices and emergency managers in areas affected by the storm.

NOAA NSSL deployed a truck with weather instruments attached, known as a Mobile Mesonet, along with small portable weather platforms. The Portable In Situ Precipitation Stations, or PIPS, have sensors to measure temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed, and direction. In addition, PIPS determine the distribution of particle sizes by using an instrument called a Parsivel disdrometer to measure the number and size of any object that falls through it.


Research vehicles parked in front of a hotel.
The NOAA NSSL Mobile Mesonet and OU SMART-Rs. (NOAA)


Team members deployed include OU Data Scientist Gordon Carrie, and Cooperative Institute Research Scientist Kim Elmore, with doctoral students Addison Alford and Noah Brauer and undergraduate students Robert Moore and Jeffrey Stevenson.

The OU researchers will collect data using mobile radar units known as SMART (Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching) radars, operated through the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences.

The radars are used to map the maximum winds observed during landfall, determine the duration of severe winds at each location within their domain, and evaluate the impact of tornado-like mesovortices, small-scale rotational features found in storms created by surface heating. These mesovortices are often found on the inner edge of the eyewall during landfall.

Combined data from these tools can provide more insight into landfalling hurricanes, especially the severe winds hurricanes bring and the damage they may cause.

A researcher standing in a field holding a weather balloon above his head, waiting to release it.
NOAA NSSL Research Scientist Sean Waugh releases a weather balloon into the atmosphere. (NOAA)

For example, damage to homes and businesses is associated with more than just the maximum wind speed. Wind gusts, duration of extreme winds, water intrusion, and the change in wind direction experienced by a structure during a wind event all impact building damage. Different parts of the hurricane create greater gust factors than other parts.

The project is sponsored by the National Institute for Standards and Technology as part of their National Windstorm Research Initiative.

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NOAA Research grants support continued tornado research in the Southeast


A study of tornadoes in the southeastern United States begins its second year this month as NOAA Research announces awards of $2.5 million in grants presented to partner institutions.

Scientists from more than 20 organizations are part of VORTEX-Southeast, a program 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 researchers will also determine the best methods for communicating forecast uncertainty related to these events to the public, and evaluate public response.

NOAA is supporting research in three main areas:  improving forecast models, addressing risk awareness and response, and observing and modeling tornadic storms and their environments. A list of all the grants is available here:

4362photo-2017vortexgrants-texas-tech-researcher-vanna-chmielewski-prepares-to-launch-a-weather-balloon-near-storms-in-northern-alabama-credit-keli-pirtle-noaaThis past spring, researchers spent about seven days during a two-month period gathering data on storms around Huntsville, Alabama,  using an armada of instruments. They targeted a range of weather situations from multiple rapidly evolving supercell thunderstorms to days when anticipated storms failed to develop. A similar field experiment is planned for spring 2017.

With a year’s worth of data in hand, researchers are gaining insights into how to study storms in the southeast, which has a very different terrain from the Great Plains, said Erik Rasmussen, VORTEX-SE project manager and research scientist for the University of Oklahoma’s Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

4361photo-2017vortexgrants-erik-rasmussen-vortex-se-project-manager-speaks-during-media-day-kicking-off-the-spring-2016-field-research-campaign-credit-keli-pirtle-noaa1“We now have a tremendous amount of information about what we can and can’tobserve in the southeastern environment, and an understanding of how to move forward from here. We know what to expect and how to observe it, ” Rasmussen said. “We’ve learned a lot in the social science related studies as well — where we should focus our attention to answer the critical questions of how weather information is used and how people respond.”

VORTEX-SE activities are supported by special Congressional allocations of more than $10 million to NOAA made in 2015 and 2016.

Contact: Keli Pirtle, National Severe Storms Laboratory, (405) 325-6933,

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Significant Paper: The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program: The First 20 Years – Introduction


The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program: The First 20 Years – Introduction
Authors: D. D. Turner, R. G. Ellingson
Journal: Meteorological Monographs
Publication Date: In Print 4/2016

Important Conclusions:
The ARM program is the DOE’s primary observationally-based climate research program.  The ARM program set a new paradigm by operating a large number of instruments, including many that were previously considered laboratory-only instruments, operationally in different climatic regimes around the world. The program developed several new instruments, including the first autonomous 8-mm cloud radar and water vapor Raman lidar. ARM data have been been used for a large number of different scientific studies including: development of cloud overlap statistics, improving detailed radiative transfer models and their parameterization in global climate and numerical weather prediction models, a better understanding of cloud phase microphysical processes, aerosol-cloud interactions, and more.

This paper is the introduction to the AMS Meteorological Monograph entitled “The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program: The First 20 Years.” This monograph is a history of the origins of the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program, its programmatic maturation, and its primary scientific accomplishments. It consists of 4 general overview chapters, 8 chapters on the development of the program’s infrastructure, and 18 chapters that cover the various scientific accomplishments of the program. The chapters were authored by selected participants from the ARM program.

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Significant Paper: Using Citizen Science Reports to Evaluate Estimates of Surface Precipitation Type

mPING overlaid on MRMS

Using Citizen Science Reports to Evaluate Estimates of Surface Precipitation Type
Authors: Sheng Chen, Jonathan J. Gourley, Yang Hong, Qing Cao, Nicholas Carr, Pierre-Emmanuel Kirstetter, Jian Zhang, Zac Flamig
Journal: Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Publication Date: In Print 2/2016

Important Conclusions: Consistency in results from city to city give an indication that the citizen science reports of rain and snow from the meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground app (mPING) provide useful information about the quality of the MRMS precipitation type algorithm. The MRMS surface precipitation type algorithm has a slight propensity to produce too much rain where there is snow; this suggests some modifications are needed to the temperature thresholds and motivates probabilistic approaches.

Significance: This is the first paper to comprehensively evaluate the MRMS rain-snow product using mPING crowd-sourced observations.

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VORTEX2: 2009-2010


Spring 2009 brought scientists at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory back to the field for the largest tornado research project in history. With support from NOAA and the National Science Foundation, more than 100 scientists, students, and staff sought to collect data that would provide better understanding of tornado intensity, longevity, and behavior. The team deployed 10 mobile radars and 40 additional vehicles with custom instrumentation for data acquisition.

vort-2 mobile mesonets
Mobile mesonets deployed on VORTEX2.

NSSL’s Lou Wicker was one of six principal investigators on the project, which included Chris Weiss from Texas Tech, Joshua Wurman from the Center for Severe Weather Research, Yvette Richardson from Penn State, David Dowell from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Howard Bluestein from the University of Oklahoma.

VORTEX2 Principal Investigators

Between May 10 and June 13, 2009, researchers traveled more than 10,000 miles across the central and southern plains. A number of storms were analyzed, including one supercell that spawned a tornado. On June 5, researchers were able to deploy all of their mobile research equipment in a tornadic supercell in LaGrange, Wyoming. They collected data on the tornado from 20 minutes before formation until dissipation. This remains the best-sampled storm on record.

Tornado in LaGrange, Wyoming

During the second year of VORTEX2, vehicles logged more than 25,000 miles each. Scientists sampled 36 supercells and 11 tornadoes. The field project resulted in numerous studies published in peer-reviewed journals.

Photo Credit: Susan Cobb

To read some of the publications resulting from VORTEX2 research:

For more pictures:

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Significant Paper: Multi-radar Multi-sensor (MRMS) Severe Weather and Aviation Products: Initial Operating Capabilities


Multi-radar Multi-sensor (MRMS) Severe Weather and Aviation Products: Initial Operating Capabilities
Authors: Travis M. Smith, Valliappa Lakshmanan, Gregory J. Stumpf, Kiel L. Ortega, Kurt Hondl, Karen Cooper, Kristin M. Calhoun, Darrel M. Kingfield, Kevin L. Manross, Robert Toomey, Jeff Brogden
Journal: Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Publication Date: Online 1/27/16

Important Conclusions:
Several individual, automated algorithms have been developed using the MRMS system to yield a forecasting and analysis system that provide real-time products useful in severe weather and aviation nowcasting. Automated algorithms that operate on data from multiple radars can provide information with greater temporal resolution and better spatial coverage than their single-radar counterparts. MRMS-Severe/Aviation products were developed and tested over a period of more than a decade prior to becoming operational at NCEP. MRMS Severe/Aviation software integrates knowledge from NWS forecasters, as well as scientific research of storms and their environments, to provide a foundation for managing ever-increasing data flows through intelligent integration of remotely sensed information

The paper summarized the initial operating capabilities of the MRMS-Severe Weather applications and 3D radar mosaicking capability built on the WDSS-II infrastructure, which the core of MRMS functionality.  It also covers the history of development and testing of the system. It is a timely submission to BAMS, as the MRMS capabilities are currently rolling out for use in the National Weather Service.

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Significant Paper: A Qualitative Analysis of NWS Forecasters’ Use of Phased-Array Radar Data during Severe Hail and Wind Event

A Qualitative Analysis of NWS Forecasters’ Use of Phased-Array Radar Data during Severe Hail and Wind Event
Authors: Katie A. Bowden, Pamela L. Heinselman
Journal: Weather and Forecasting
Publication Date: In Print 2/2016

Important Conclusions:
Forecasters using 1-minute radar updates perceived significantly more information than forecasters using 5-minute radar updates and demonstrated improved projections of storm activity in the hail and wind cases worked, owing to earlier perception of severe weather precursor signatures and the ability to more easily observe strengthening and diminishing trends in storms. Such improvements in situational awareness from the use of 1-minute radar updates resulted in superior severe warning lead times and supported correct rejections of unverified threats.

This paper summarizes qualitative findings from the 2013 Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment. It builds on results presented in the published Impacts of Phased-Array Radar Data on Forecaster Performance during Severe Hail and Wind Events. This paper demonstrates efforts that are being made to learn about the forecaster warning decision process through the use of social science techniques.


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VORTEX: 1994-1995


In 1994, scientists at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory embarked on a field campaign that aimed to study why certain supercells produce tornadoes. Coordinated by Bob Davies-Jones, Jerry Straka, and Eric Rasmussen, the two-year project sought to address questions about the dynamics and evolution of tornadic storms.

Bob Davies-Jones, Jerry Straka, and Eric Rasmussen

VORTEX took place in the central and southern plains, where conditions are most favorable for severe weather outbreaks in the spring. The region also boasts an easy-to-navigate road network and flat terrain, making it particularly well suited to storm observation.

Mobile mesonet tracking the storm.

Field work was completed between April 1 and June 15, with data analysis taking place during the remainder of the year. Because the project spanned over two years, researchers were able to adapt lessons learned in the first year to improve strategies in the second.

Research vehicle near tornado in Dimmitt, TX.

The first VORTEX field campaign employed a number of vehicles equipped with custom weather sensors, including mobile mesonets, mobile radars, and mobile sounding systems. In addition, the NOAA P-3 participated in both the 1994 and 1995 seasons.

The original fleet of mobile mesonets preparing for VORTEX.

During its two seasons, VORTEX scientists intercepted ten tornadoes. Most notably, researchers followed the Dimmitt, Texas tornado on June 2, 1995, which was the most thoroughly observed tornado on record to that point.

The tornado in Dimmitt was powerful enough to tear up highway pavement!

Each storm was analyzed from multiple angles, some at close range. Research from the VORTEX project was instrumental in improving National Weather Service tornado warning lead time to thirteen minutes. The project also inspired two follow-up campaigns: SubVORTEX in 1997 and VORTEX-99 in 1999.

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Clouds Enhance Greenland Ice Sheet Meltwater Runoff

dave_summit_greenland_73_belowNSSL’s Dave Turner has co-authored a paper entitled “Clouds enhance Greenland ice sheet meltwater runoff,” which appears in Nature Communications this month. The research is an international effort, which has been coordinated by KU Leuven in Belgium.

The study was conducted using satellite observations over Greenland from 2007 to 2010. With these observations, researchers were able to determine that cloud cover directly impacts the melting rate of the Greenland ice sheet. Previously, there had been no calculation of snow and ice loss related to clouds, and theoretical climate models do not agree its significance.

How was NSSL involved? Dave Turner, a Research Scientist with NSSL’s Forecast Research & Development Division, acted as a Principal Investigator on the Integrated Characterization of Energy, Clouds, Atmospheric State, and Precipitation at Summit project. This project, funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, with additional support from NOAA and the Department of Energy, deployed an advanced atmospheric research station at Summit (in the middle of the Greenland ice sheet) in June 2010, and has since been collecting data continuously. Dr. Turner was involved in the derivation of the microphysical properties of the clouds above Summit and offered his expertise in radiative transfer to help interpret study results.

“We have known for some time that clouds that contain liquid water have a big impact on the energy balance at the surface, and hence on the amount of melt of the ice sheet,” Dr. Turner said. “However, this study showed that clouds that contain only ice have about the same impact on the surface melt over Greenland as the liquid-bearing clouds, which is surprising.”

This research is noteworthy because it promotes understanding of the properties and evolution of the Arctic atmosphere, a significant scientific challenge that NOAA is helping to address. In addition, the ICECAPS observations at Summit are being used to examine the properties and evolution of stable boundary layer. Very stable boundary layers are difficult to properly represent in numerical weather prediction models, and we are hopeful this research will improve our knowledge.

Overall, the study brings to light the importance of clouds in climate modeling. For accurate meltwater estimates, it is crucial to consider cloud cover. Future climate projections will be far more reliable when these impacts are understood.

For the full press release from KU Leuven, click here.


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Eye Tracking Technology at NSSL

Have you heard about eye tracking? This burgeoning technology has become increasingly important to the work we do here at NSSL. Our researchers are leveraging opportunities to use eye tracking to analyze forecaster decision-making and improve awareness in various meteorological scenarios.

eye-tracking-1Michigan State University researcher Robert Drost applied the concept in 2013 to analyze the gestures of broadcast meteorologists and the effect on viewers’ attention. Eye tracking has since been used in several other studies.

NSSL scientists first used this technology to study how forecasters analyzed Phased Array Radar data, updating every minute. Realizing the utility of the eye tracking information, researchers were motivated to incorporate these tests into the 2015 Phased Array Radar Innovative Sensing Experiment. In this study, principal investigators Pam Heinselman (NSSL) and Katie Bowden (OU CIMMS researcher, working with NSSL) used eye tracking technology to examine the decision-making process of National Weather Service forecasters from around the country. The eye gaze data of the forecasters was collected as they studied radar data, providing insight into their thought process and focus.

CIMMS/NSSL scientist Elizabeth Argyle, in collaboration with NSSL’s JJ Gourley and CIMMS/NSSL’s Zac Flamig, uses eye tracking to study how a type of decision-making support tool for flash floods called recommenders affect a forecaster’s situational awareness of the overall meteorological situation. This type of feedback will help us develop useful tools and training for forecasters, resulting in improved warning for you when severe weather strikes!


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