Forecasters to test experimental lightning data

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.48.39 AMNOAA National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters will test how lightning data impacts the warning process during convective events in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed from July 21-August 29. The project is a collaboration between NSSL and Earth Networks, Inc., a private weather company.

Earth Networks has indicated the potential for its continental scale total lightning network (ENTLN) data and associated “Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts” (DTAs) to increase forecaster situational awareness and lead times. Prior limited studies have shown the use of total lightning detections and associated derivative products could have positive impacts on the warning process.

During the tests, Earth Networks lightning data and its DTA products will be implemented into NWS operational software (AWIPS2) in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. Forecasters will complete a series of weather-warning scenarios in displaced real time, ranging from marginally severe to high-impact tornadic events for a variety of geographic locations.

These tests will evaluate the feasibility of using this data in warning operations, as well as the impact on warnings issued by NWS forecasters. The final outcome of this project is to make recommendations on possible product improvements, and determine whether Earth Networks products should become part of the operational product suites available to NWS offices nationally.

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NSSL scientists heading to Florida to launch balloons into thunderstorms

Photo by Mike Coniglio
Photo by Mike Coniglio

NSSL scientists will launch instrumented balloons into north Florida thunderstorms as part of an ongoing University of Florida triggered lightning experiment for two weeks beginning July 28. The team hopes to characterize the microphysics and electrical structure of storms in which lightning is triggered and learn more about how lightning works.

NSSL will launch two balloons at a time. One balloon will carry a high-definition video particle imager and a Parsivel disdrometer to measure the number, size, and shape of liquid and frozen water particles, and the other will carry an electric field meter.  Both will be tracked by GPS radiosondes which will also measure temperature, pressure, dewpoint and winds.

The University of Oklahoma’s Shared Mobile Atmospheric Research and Teaching Radars (SMART-R) will be making polarimetric observations of the storms. NSSL’s data will be used to help interpret the SMART-R’s polarimetric observations.

Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville have had an extensive long-standing program to launch wire-trailing rockets into storm clouds to trigger and study lightning initiation, lightning strikes, and radiation from lightning. This new effort will improve our understanding of lightning produced by thunderstorms, and provide an opportunity to study storms with more tropical characteristics than those observed in the southern Plains.

NSSL’s participation is part of a cooperative agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that sponsors the University of Florida triggered lightning experiment near Gainesville, Fla.

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Researchers plan first extensive U.S. study looking for link between cities and storms

A group of researchers, including NSSL’s Dave Stensrud, recently announced they plan to study the effects of cities on thunderstorms. Looking at a number of different U.S. cities, the project hopes to clarify how urban pollution, canopy, and surrounding landscape influences the intensity and track of an approaching thunderstorm.

Stensrud is a principal investigator on the three-year $1.5 million NASA grant.

Researchers will use data from the space-borne MODIS sensors on NASA satellites to look at city shape and size, as well as pollution and other aerosols, for selected cities in the Great Plains.  These measurements, along with geographic data of the urban canopy and the vegetation of surrounding rural areas, will be combined with archived radar data of storms in high-resolution computer simulations.

“We are going to set up and run the model many times but with different variables; city or no city, pollution or vegetation,” Stensrud said.  “From this we hope to learn what size a city needs to be to have an impact on a storm.”

The information will be valuable for city and regional planners, as well as agricultural producers in surrounding areas.

The team includes weather computer modelers, radar meteorologists, landscape architects, atmospheric chemists and geographers from NSSL, South Dakota State University, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Michigan, Columbia University and the University of Minnesota.

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