Researchers developing experimental winter forecasting tools

Last month, millions of people across the United States were impacted by several inches to feet of snow and the coldest temperatures in decades. Thousands lost power and water, and travel was treacherous as multi-vehicle pile-ups forced interstate shutdowns.

To help lessen these impacts, researchers at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, are working to improve current winter road tools. They are focused on predicting and monitoring a variety of winter hazards and the potential impacts of such weather.

“Hazards may include accumulating snow or ice on roadways, slushy roadways, and others,” said Shawn Handler, a researcher at OU CIMMS. His work supports NOAA NSSL. “It’s possible a winter storm may pose a greater threat to one infrastructure more than others, like maybe travel or power outages.”

A mailbox topped with snow.
A snow-covered home and mailbox in Oklahoma. Winter weather ravaged parts of the United States in February, leaving many without power and water. (Photo by James Murnan/ NOAA)

Handler, with a team of other researchers, are developing two experimental products: the Experimental Road Hazards Product and Probability of Subfreezing Road Temperatures (ProbSR) product. These are expected to be integrated into the National Weather Services’ Winter Storm Severity Index (WSSI).

The Experimental Road Hazards Product will provide information on specific hazardous road threats, like ice.
The experimental Probability of Subfreezing Road Temperatures (ProbSR) product uses current and immediately available information to predict if road temperatures are subfreezing.
The Winter Storm Severity Index (WSSI) is an operational product designed to provide impacts-based decision support to NWS forecasters in order to allow them to provide more target messaging to the general public and other government stakeholders. This product is developed and supported by NCEP/Weather Prediction Center.

These tools can be used together to increase the amount of winter-storm information available to National Weather Service forecasters and emergency officials.

Integrating the tools

Aimed to improve winter-weather advisories, the WSSI ingests several different sources of information but none of those sources provide information on the roads. Researchers want to pair WSSI with the ProbSR product, allowing forecasters to have greater confidence about the potential for winter-weather to result in treacherous driving conditions.

“It’s possible a winter storm may pose a greater threat to a certain infrastructure compared to others,” Handler said. “For example, Oklahoma City experienced an ice storm in October and impacts to the power grid outweighed the impacts to road travel, as hundreds of thousands of people lost power for an extended period of time.”

Integrating ProbSR and the road-hazard tool into the WSSI will allow ProbSR to be tested and evaluated as a forecasting tool next winter in a testbed environment.

Hazardous road threats are determined by pairing the road temperature tools of ProbSR with another model providing precipitation classification at the surface, like snow and rain, to create the Experimental Road Hazards Product.

“We are focused on what hazards or threats may be present,” said Handler. “For example, it could be snowing, but if ProbSR has low probabilities, the expected threats to travel may not be as high – such as a wet roadway as the snow is not expected to accumulate. Whereas, if it has been cold enough for a longer stretch of time – a higher ProbSR – and snowing, then accumulating snow would be the resulting hazard.”

Icicles hanging from the edge of a home roof.
Many states experienced the coldest weather in decades. Cold temperatures were accompanied by ice, snow and other winter precipitation. (Photo by James Murnan/NOAA)

Continuing research

Handler said tests with the products are successful, but the team is retraining ProbSR with more recent data from the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model (HRRR), a high-resolution weather forecasting model used by the NWS. The HRRR updates forecasts hourly over the entire lower 48 United States at a resolution of less than two miles.

The Experimental Road Hazards Product is in the early stages of development. The team continues to investigate ways to improve it, including gathering more inputs, such as precipitation rate and wind speed.

“Precipitation rate will provide information on how fast precip – like snow, rain, ice – is falling, whereas wind speed could be included as a way to assess visibility threats,” he said. “We also want to include more threats utilizing these new inputs, such as reduced visibility from blowing snow.”

The researchers’ next steps regarding the Road Hazards product are to add some of the features described above, and to properly verify the classifications made from the algorithm using traffic camera observations.

Products will be tested by researchers and forecasters in the winter of 2022 in a joint testbed with the NOAA Weather Prediction Center.

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New rating system charts a path to improved tornado forecasts

All tornadoes — whether small or large — originate from thunderstorms, but not all thunderstorms are the same. Different environments and situations create forecasting challenges. For instance, nighttime twisters, summer tornadoes and smaller events can be tougher to forecast.

Researchers wanted to quantify how much tougher, and have published a new method of classifying tornado environments according to their forecast difficulty.

In a new paper published online in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, University of Washington scientist Alexandria Anderson-Frey, and Harold Brooks from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory describe a new way to rate and possibly improve tornado warnings.

“With this research, we’re trying to find ways to truly level the field related to the difficulty of the forecast situation,” said Brooks. “This will help us identify areas for research, as well as better understand the long-term historical statistics.”

 The paper presents a new method to rate the skill of a tornado warning based on the difficulty of the environment. It then evaluates thousands of tornadoes and associated warnings over the continental United States between 2003 and 2017.

The NOAA-funded study finds that nighttime tornadoes have a lower probability of detection and a higher false-alarm rate than the environmental conditions would suggest. Summertime tornadoes, occurring in June, July or August, also are more likely to evade warning.

“The forecasting community is not just looking at the big, photogenic situations that will crop up in the Great Plains,” said Anderson-Frey, the lead author. “We’re looking at tornadoes in regions where vulnerability is high, including in regions that don’t normally get tornadoes, where by definition the vulnerability is high.”

The technique could be applied to forecasts of other types of weather as well.

This research began while Anderson-Frey was a postdoctoral researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, a partnership between the University of Oklahoma and NOAA.

This story was adapted from a  University of Washington news release.

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New data product offers a more complete picture of storms

Researchers are excited to announce the release of a new, extensive data product that combines a multitude of data sources to help researchers, forecasters, and weather enthusiasts.

The Multi-Year Reanalysis of Remotely Sensed Storms Project, or MYRORSS, combines individual radar data with other sources, like weather models and lightning data, for a more complete picture of storms. MYRORSS data is high-resolution, three-dimensional, and updates more rapidly, unlike some two-dimensional data sets. Created by researchers and students at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, MYRORSS provides scientists the capability to create new computer programs for storm analysis and climatologies, or storm climatology studies.

“Most storm climatologies are based on reports,” said Kiel Ortega, a researcher at CIMMS supporting NSSL. “Such reports can be biased based on where people live. With MYRORSS data, we can get a better idea, for example, where hail occurs and with what frequency.”

In addition, scientists may use the data in machine learning and artificial intelligence experiments to learn more about specific components and characteristics of severe weather. One example would be how tornado-producing storms may look different from storms that do not produce tornadoes.

A screenshot of a map showing the path of several tornadoes across the southeastern United States.
This an accumulation of azimuthal shear, called rotation tracks, from a tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011. Researchers are using rotation track data in MYRORSS to identify rotating storms and to help with climatologies, like hail, as rotating storms can produce larger hail than non-rotating storms. (Screenshot provided by Kiel Ortega and Skylar Williams, OU CIMMS/NOAA NSSL)

CIMMS Researcher Vanna Chmielewski who is utilizing the product for her lightning research said the data combination in MYRORSS will make a big difference.

“A large time commitment to many studies is quality controlling the data and aligning different data sources,” Chmielewski said. “For a large statistical or machine learning project, it is also important to have uniformity in how that process is done, otherwise there could be some bias which shows up in the statistical model purely due to changes in how the process was done.

“What has been done by the MYRORSS team is huge in building that base dataset over a large area and time period. This database really has infinite potential for future studies,” she said.

Several meteorological studies have sample sizes that are small, such as data from one field experiment or one severe weather season. Larger studies have often been limited in which data could be included due to time restrictions associated with quality control and other initial steps, Chmielewski explained.

“Having a dataset like this can really help improve science by allowing those larger studies to be more easily done,” she said. 

Chmielewski plans to use MYRORSS data to study “bolts from the blue,” cloud-to-ground lightning flashes typically originating from the backside of a thunderstorm cloud. Such flashes can travel a large distance in clear air away from the storm cloud, angling down and striking the ground.  She also intends to research answers to questions like, “how far can a flash of lightning strike from a storm?” with a larger data sample than previously available. 

The MYRORSS database will allow researchers to tackle many atmospheric questions from over many years and across the country. 

For Chmielewski, this presents new opportunities. 

“Are bolt from the blue flashes more common in some parts of the country than others? Has that changed with time? Can we find reasons why some storms do and others don’t? These sorts of questions are really hard to answer without a base dataset like MYRORSS, and the MYRORSS group has done a great job bringing these storm and environmental variables together into a single, quality-controlled dataset,” she said.

MYRORSS began in 2012 and utilizes the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor framework, along with many other data sources. Students made this project possible as they combed through terabytes of data. Guided by researchers from CIMMS at the University of Oklahoma and NSSL, students processed the data required for MYRORSS while conducting extensive quality control. The NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information also assisted with some of the data processing.

“MYRORSS was my first experience with research as a student and helped me determine my path in the field,” said Skylar Williams, CIMMS researcher supporting NSSL. 

Williams finished her master’s degree and was hired full-time at CIMMS, continuing her work on MYRORSS. She is excited to share the product with others after years of work.

“The processing was time-consuming— even with more than 15 machines —  and because of the extensive quality control, anytime we found bad data we would actually have to go back and reprocess that entire day,” Williams said. “When dealing with 14 years of data, reprocessing that added up. However, reprocessing allowed us to create a great product with good data for anyone to use.”

Learn more about MYRORSS and view the data here.

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Researchers study lower atmosphere to answer remaining questions

While scientists have learned a lot about our planet, questions remain about the lowest part of the atmosphere where we live. Researchers at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory are looking for answers. Utilizing a series of instruments located in a mobile research unit, researchers are analyzing data gathered by those tools to improve severe weather forecasts.

The lowest mile or so of the atmosphere, known as the planetary boundary layer, is where several elements mix — from pollution to moisture — and how those elements mix and change during the day impact events in the atmosphere.

“Understanding the boundary layer can improve forecasts of severe weather, pollution, and several other things impacting the surface,” said Elizabeth Smith, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory researcher.

In an effort to improve understanding, weather researchers with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma and NOAA NSSL deployed two trailers decked out with a collection of weather instruments known as the Collaborative Lower Atmospheric Mobile Profiling System in fall 2020.

A research trailer known as CLAMPS parked in a grassy field near a power connector. In the background is an operational radar. The sky is overcast, cloudy and gray.
The Collaborative Lower Atmospheric Mobile Profiling System, or CLAMPS, in Norman, Oklahoma. CLAMPS was deployed near a weather radar and weather station as part of an experiment to better understanding the depth of the boundary layer. (Photo by James Murnan/NOAA)

The CLAMPS platforms were deployed near a weather radar and a weather station in Oklahoma as well as the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Shreveport, Louisiana. The fast-updating, high-resolution data collected provides a more detailed view of the atmosphere and its processes for researchers to analyze.

In addition, the Shreveport NWS Office utilized CLAMPS to monitor both fog and fire weather forecasts during CLAMPS deployment in the area. That office also noted interesting and surprising boundary layer behavior when smoke from fires raging in the western part of the United States infiltrated into the area.

NWS Shreveport Science and Operations Officer Brad Bryant said output from CLAMPS was particularly useful for refining fog and fire weather forecasts because both sets of parameters are closely tied to specifics of the boundary layer CLAMPS is tuned to monitor.

Research equipment parked on the green grass. Behind it is a building and tall operational weather radar.
The CLAMPS trailer in Shreveport, Louisiana at the NWS Forecast Office as part of an OU CIMMS and NOAA NSSL experiment. (Photo by Matthew Carney/OU)

CIMMS Researcher and Project Lead Jacob Carlin said the CLAMPS platform collects information more frequently than weather balloons launched daily by NWS forecasters across the nation. Although both methods gather similar information about the atmosphere, weather balloons are typically launched twice a day while CLAMPS gather data every couple of minutes.

More data can result in a more accurate representation of atmospheric processes at any moment. Data from the CLAMPS systems is combined with data from the NEXRAD radar, further enhancing researchers’ view of the atmosphere and what is happening.

This project is an extension of a recently published study that compared the twice-a-day balloon launch data with data from a nearby NEXRAD radar. Carlin’s team is going further, comparing CLAMPS minute data with a nearby NEXRAD radar and weather station.

“We want to understand how well this method performs with CLAMPS, because if it is able to reliably observe boundary layer height and development, then this method can improve forecasts and forecasting tools,” Carlin said.

With this new dataset, the researchers hope to learn more about how well NEXRAD radar can detect the boundary layer, expanding the capability of existing infrastructure at no additional cost.

Funding for this study was provided by the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies’ Director’s Discretionary Research Fund, which supports the piloting of small-scale innovative and experimental projects.

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National Weather Festival goes virtual Oct. 26-31!

Join us online for children’s activities, live sessions, and behind-the-scenes looks at the National Weather Center! Ask research scientists your questions, go behind the scenes with NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory’s mobile research tools, and much more! Content will be uploaded daily from Monday through Saturday to the National Weather Festival website.

Want the scoop from NOAA and its partners? Here’s the schedule by topic:

Severe Weather Research

Wednesday, Oct. 28, 5-6 p.m. CDT

GoTo Webinar: Get to Know the Scientists: How Different Paths Led to Working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory

This virtual National Weather Festival live panel highlights the diverse paths of four scientists who work at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. Each presenter will share their personal story about how they became a scientist. Then they will answer your questions live. Ask them anything about their education, career path, or what they do at NSSL. Submit questions in advance to

Registration is required for this free event

Meet the panel:

  • Elizabeth Smith is originally from West Virginia and loved observing the weather at a young age, but she didn’t dream of being a research meteorologist until high school. Today she works for NOAA’s NSSL where she conducts field research collecting and analyzing boundary-layer observations as a research scientist.
  • Pat Hyland turned his fear into a career. Scared of severe weather as a child, he now develops and tests tools to assist forecasters during severe weather. Pat is originally from Ohio and works for the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the University of Oklahoma. His work supports NOAA’s NSSL.
  • Katie Wilson became interested in meteorology at the age of 15. She traveled from England to the University of Oklahoma to study meteorology. There she met a researcher working to understand forecasting technologies as well as the psychology behind decisions. Katie not only loves her job but she loves the people she works with at OU CIMMS and NOAA’s NSSL.
  • Jacob Segall’s passion for weather began as a kid during a cross-country road trip when his family encountered a supercell thunderstorm in Ohio. Jacob participates in field research projects to complement his work in radar science. Originally from Pennsylvania, he works for OU CIMMS. His work supports NOAA’s NSSL.

Saturday, Oct. 31, 1 p.m. CDT

Observations on the Go: Up Close with NOAA NSSL Research Tools

Take an up-close look at the mobile instruments our researchers take on the road to measure the atmosphere. Learn about their innovative designs and how they use these tools to safely gather data in storms.

Watch on Saturday onlineMobile mesonet in the field

NOAA Affiliates

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 4 p.m. CDT

University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies Virtual Tour

Take a virtual tour of OU CIMMS and current research happening at the cooperative institute! Our work supports entities with several NOAA entities – from severe weather research to forecaster training. While most CIMMS employees are based in Oklahoma, we also have scientists in Kansas City, Tennessee, and Colorado. Get an inside view of how our research is helping improve forecasting tools to help save lives and property.

Watch on Tuesday online

Wednesday, Oct. 28, 4 p.m. CDT

Ask us! OU CIMMS Live Panel

Ever wonder how a forecaster handles stress? How does a radar scan the sky? Ask us your weather questions, from radar to research instrumentation to forecaster training, we have answers.

Register for the event.

Meet the panelists!

  • David Schvartzman connected with OU CIMMS and NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory while earning his Masters degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the OU Advanced Radar Research Center. Today as a researcher at CIMMS supporting NOAA NSSL, his research is focused on advanced radar signal processing techniques, specifically for the Advanced Technology Demonstrator radar. This important research aims to continue to improve the National Weather Service’s radar capabilities while meeting future needs.
  • Alyssa Sockol’s interest in meteorology began in the Windy City of Chicago. She enjoys working in a research-focused environment and supporting the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Data Quality Office combines her weather loves. She helps ensure all of ARM’s weather and climate data are of good quality to provide the most accurate, precise, and reliable data for scientific research. An avid code writer, she also works with students in the ARM DQ Office.
  • Hannah Wells has a very specific favorite weather phenomenon: thunder snow! She’s experienced thunder snow several times. Hannah supports the NOAA National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Division training and creating training for forecasters from all over the nation. When she isn’t working, she enjoys competitive ballroom dancing.
The Advanced Technology Demonstrator radar panel. (Photo by James Murnan/NOAA NSSL)

Operations and Forecasters

Monday, Oct. 26, 4-5 p.m. CDT

NOAA NWS Forecasters Answer Your Questions about Severe and Hazardous Weather

Forecasters at the NOAA NWS Weather Forecast Office in Norman have teamed up with forecasters from the NOAA NWS Storm Prediction Center to answer your questions about severe and hazardous weather for the 2020 National Weather Festival! Questions were gathered from the public during a two-week period in late September through early October 2020. Listen as we answer your questions, such as how tornadoes form, what’s the strangest event we’ve had to work, and much more!

Event information online

Tuesday, Oct. 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m. CDT

NOAA NWS Norman Forecast Office presents Basic Spotter Training

As part of the 2020 National Weather Festival, NWS Norman will be conducting a Storm Spotter Training webinar. The class is free and open to anyone interested in learning more about severe storms! Topics include the importance of storm spotters, what a good storm report is during severe weather, safety while storm spotting, and some storm structure basics when you are looking at a storm.

Registration required

Thursday, Oct. 29, 6:30-8:30 p.m. CDT

NOAA NWS Norman Forecast Office presents Advanced Spotter Training

As part of the 2020 National Weather Festival, NWS Norman will be conducting an Advanced Storm Spotter Training webinar. The class is free and open to anyone interested in learning more about severe storms! The first portion of the course gives a brief refresher on the basics of a good report and storm spotting safety, which is mainly explored in the normal course. The advanced course then dives into the meteorology behind severe storms, as well as discusses storm structure and evolution.

Registration required

Friday, Oct. 30, 4-5 p.m. CDT

Issue Your Own Warning with the NOAA NWS Warning Decision Training Division

The NOAA National Weather Service Warning Decision Training Division (WDTD) develops and delivers training on the elements of the warning process involving a NWS forecast office and its partners. Our primary goal is to increase expertise among NOAA/NWS personnel and their core partners so they can better serve the public during warning operations. During this activity, WDTD instructors will demonstrate the process of issuing a warning using the same technology NWS forecasters use in operations. There will also be time for a Q&A.

Registration required

Saturday, Oct. 31, 3-4 p.m. CDT

NOAA NWS Norman Forecast Office Weather Balloon Launch

Weather balloons play an important role in understanding the atmosphere. These balloons help us diagnose short term weather events, as well as provide our weather models with data that is used to improve our forecasts. For the 2020 National Weather Festival, join Jennifer Thompson at the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Norman, Oklahoma, where she walks through the processes of performing a weather balloon launch!

Watch on Saturday

The NOAA NWS Warning Decision Training Division trains every NWS Forecaster. (Photo by Emily Summars-Jeffries, OU CIMMS/NOAA NSSL).
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NSSL mourns innovator and idealist Doug Forsyth

The weather community lost a caring innovator and leader this month when retired NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory employee Doug Forsyth passed away.

Forsyth left his fingerprints on many people and projects, most notably the creation of the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma. As a leader at NSSL from 1985 to 2012, he was involved in Doppler radar research and development. He was also the visionary and director behind the formation of the National Weather Museum and Science Center, also in Norman.

Forsyth worked tirelessly as the program manager on behalf of NOAA during the planning, design, and construction of the NWC. He had the honor of planting the American flag on top of the completed building with co-worker Bob Staples, something Forsyth described as a once in a lifetime experience. From the building’s completion in 2006 to his retirement from NSSL, he had a tremendous sense of satisfaction when he was in his office on the fourth floor of the NWC, surrounded by prestigious weather organizations.

Doug Forsyth on top of the National Weather Center while it was under construction. The photo is a selfie.
Doug Forsyth at the National Weather Center during its construction.

“I perceived him as one of the first true ‘servant leaders’ I have ever known,” said Jack Kain, director of the NOAA NSSL. “He didn’t seem to like being the person leading from out front, but to me, he was a huge part of the heart and soul of NSSL.” 

“Doug was hard working and persistent, but self-effacing. He was never interested in self-promotion. It was like he had nothing to hide,” Kain added. “With Doug, there never seemed to be ulterior motives. You always knew what was driving him and it was almost always something for the greater good, not just for Doug.”

Forsyth joined the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in 1985 following a career in the United States Air Force. He wore many hats during his time — special projects manager, division director, deputy director, and acting director before retiring in 2012 as the Chief of the Radar Research and Development Division.

His team explored the potential of Phased Array Radar, or PAR, and its rapid-scanning abilities. Forsyth loved his job and the freedom allowed to do, in his words, “what you think needs to be done.”

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before,” Forsyth said during a 2012 interview.  “It’s a better radar.  NSSL is state of the art – pushing the envelope of new horizons of knowledge – it is fun to be a part of something that benefits the nation.”

Kain said Forsyth accomplished great things for NSSL’s radar program, a sentiment echoed by many, including NSSL Deputy Director Kurt Hondl.

“Doug was always willing to jump in and get involved in the research, including running the radar or looking at the data, even if he may have had more important things to do,” Hondl said. Hondl served as the MPAR program manager after Forsyth and recalls many times Forsyth returned to work the radar.

Doug Forsyth surrounded by five other people in a group photo.
Doug Forsyth retired from NOAA NSSL in 2012 and celebrated with peers during a ceremony at the National Weather Center.
From left to right: Allen Zahari, Kurt Hondl, Doug Forsyth, Pam Heinselman, Mike Jain, and Sebastian Torres.

Forsyth invested not only in Doppler radar but in people, and his leadership inspired several people to continue to work at NSSL. 

“Doug understood that people are the foundation of an organization,” said David Stensrud, former NSSL researcher and head of the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.

“He was always looking for opportunities to help people grow in their professional careers and to build collaborations across NSSL divisions, with the NWS, and universities,” Stensrud added. “Doug also was an effective leader and over the years he taught me a lot about servant leadership and ways to build community. He was a wonderful colleague and friend, a man of strong faith, and is greatly missed.”

Forsyth’s passion to serve never stopped. His plans for retirement quickly changed from lake-side relaxing to building the National Weather Museum and Science Center in Norman.

Doug Forsyth holding a weather instrument during an outreach event. He is showing it to some one standing in front of him.
Doug Forsyth shared his passion for weather with the public whenever he could. After retirement, he started the National Weather Museum and Science Center in Norman.

The museum was one of Forsyth’s many dreams as a way to share his passion for weather and its importance with the community. The museum highlights the science behind the weather, tools used by forecasters, and Oklahoma’s severe weather history, and hosts several unique hands-on displays. 

Forsyth started his journey with severe weather in the United States Air Force. He earned his degree in meteorology from Penn State while in the Air Force, working on data models and flight simulators at the Air Force Global Weather Central in Nebraska. He then traveled to Hawaii, the Pentagon, and Massachusetts — becoming an expert in radar, algorithm development, and automation.

Landing in Oklahoma, Forsyth was the first Air Force representative for JDOP, the Joint Doppler Operation Project. The project aimed to prove the advantages of Doppler radar to the National Weather Service. He was part of the NEXRAD Interim Operational Test Facility in 1982, which was the beginning of the now NEXRAD Radar Operations Center, before joining NSSL three years later.

“He accomplished great things for NSSL’s radar program,” Kain said. “It was through his sheer will that the National Weather Center building came to fruition, and he was passionate about preserving the history of what he had seen by creating the National Weather Museum and Science Center. He was an inspiring man and we owe a lot to him.”

In addition to his many accomplishments, Forsyth was an avid racquetball competitor and was a dedicated amateur radio operator. Forsyth shared his passion for amateur radio with others in the NWC and they are the reason the NWC houses a two-position amateur radio station and an antenna on top of the building.

Forsyth has many lasting legacies, and those who interacted with him will always remember him saying, “Have a fine day.” A celebration of life is tentatively planned for spring 2021.

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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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Leader of early Doppler radar development passes away

An original founder of the National Severe Storms Laboratory and an instrumental leader of early Doppler radar development recently passed away. Kenneth “Ken” Wilk helped establish NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and its reputation as the leading federal laboratory focused on weather radar. 

He received his Bachelor of Science in physics and chemistry from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor of Science in meteorology from Penn State University. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a weather forecaster supporting fighter-bomber squadrons and then worked for the Illinois Water Survey in Champaign, Illinois, on thunderstorm research.

Wilk led the Weather Radar Laboratory in Norman from its inception in 1962, a component of the National Severe Storms Project, prior to the establishment of the NSSL. He was the manager of the NSSL’s Operations Groups in the 1960s, directing numerous projects to improve radar and radar displays. The Operations Group’s mission was to improve storm warnings with the then-operational, non-Doppler radars at the U.S. Weather Bureau Forecast Offices. The Operations Group was a forerunner of today’s Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma, which oversees NEXRAD Doppler radar maintenance and installations around the world.

Ken Wilk and Dave Zittel discussing Doppler weather radar equipment with two Congressional leaders
Former NSSL researchers, Ken Wilk (third from the left) and Dave Zittel (at the far right) present information to Congressional leaders and other influential members of the science community during a visit to NSSL to evaluate and recommend continued and more substantial support for Doppler weather radar research.

In 1977, he was involved with the Joint Doppler Operational Project (JDOP) to prove Doppler radar could improve the nation’s ability to warn for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This project and its researchers outlined specifications of a new generation of weather radar for national network use. As a result of the project, the NWS, U.S. Air Force’s Weather Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration decided to include Doppler capability in their future operational radar network, called NEXRAD.

The NSSL determined Doppler weather radar could detect not only thunderstorms but also dangerous gust-fronts, wind shear, and in-storm turbulence. The NEXRAD network was installed nationwide in the early 1990s and is still in use today.

Wilk’s research and management of the Interim Operational Test Facility in Norman was instrumental in ensuring the successful development of NEXRAD Doppler radars and the first operational deployments of the new radars, beginning in 1991.

Wilk was always thinking of new ideas. He excelled at writing proposals, test plans and final reports documenting results of NSSL’s tests to satisfy grant requirements, and collaborated on many technical reports.

Wilk retired in 1988 after many years of Federal service. His keen interest in thunderstorms and methods of their detection was a motivation to others throughout his later years.  

Wilk’s family will celebrate his life at a private mountainside ceremony.

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Creator of instrumental radar techniques passes away

A member of the meteorology community, Leslie “Les” Lemon, passed away in late May.

Lemon was an eminent radar meteorologist during his career and saw it as his mission to aid forecasters on the interpretation of what they saw before the formalization of forecaster training.

Lemon had an extensive resume. He worked for CIMMS, the NOAA Commissioned Corps, NOAA NSSL, NWS Warning Decision Training Division, and several private companies throughout his more than 40-year career.

Former CIMMS Research Associate and longtime radar expert Les Lemon and current CIMMS Researcher Dale Morris instructing a forecaster in the NWS WDTD lab in 2013. (Photo provided)

Lemon was monitoring the surveillance radar on May 24, 1973, when a tornado devastated Union City, Okla. He worked with Don Burgess and Rodger Brown, former NSSL researchers, to determine where to scan the storm to collect the data they needed. This event had a significant impact on tornado forecasting. For the first time, researchers were able to see signs of tornado formation on radar and document the entire life cycle of the tornado on film. Researchers compared the two and discovered a pattern known as the Tornado Vortex Signature.

Lemon was awarded the 1976 NOAA Special Achievement Award for his work on the Tornado Vortex Signature.

The University of Oklahoma graduate is best known for “the Lemon Technique” a method for radar operators to detect the characteristic of a developing tornado. The technique is a way for radar operators to determine the severity of a storm and is continually used by experts today.

“I want to be in a weather office and I’ve been blessed to have been there and the passion, it’s the passion that led me to do everything I’ve done. And it’s amazing to me to think back at the opportunities I’ve been given, the things I have done in my life,” Lemon said, upon receiving the 2010 National Weather Association Special Lifetime Achievement Award.

He enjoyed sharing his storm experiences — he would recount to colleagues his presence at the destructive Ruskin Heights tornado on May 20, 1957, which catapulted his career choice to meteorology.

In his honor, the family is suggesting contributions to Lifesong for Orphans and condolences may be made online.


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Research continues to improve forecasting tools

Weather forecasters use a suite of sophisticated computer models to help them predict the weather every day. To make better forecasts, you need better models. That’s where researchers play an important role. 

Every spring for more than 20 years, researchers and forecasters have come together in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed to evaluate and improve weather models designed to predict severe storms, with the goal of providing new tools for forecasters. The NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed is a facility housed in the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The physical space allows researchers, forecasters, emergency managers, broadcasters, and behavioral scientists to gather and study future forecasting tools and techniques. 

This year the research continues with one major difference. Instead of gathering side-by-side, participants in the Spring Forecasting Experiment will be working from home in a virtual experiment from April 27 to May 29.

“We want to know how forecasters can use different tools and how we can convey information to the public, all while documenting the performance of different forecasting models,” said Adam Clark, NSSL research scientist.

Clark is one of the experiment’s co-principal investigators, along with Israel Jirak, Science and Operations Officer with the NOAA National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center. In addition to NSSL and SPC, this year’s virtual spring forecasting experiment includes NOAA participants from the Global Systems Laboratory, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Environmental Modeling Center, Weather Prediction Center and Aviation Weather Center, as well as a variety of governmental and academic partners including the University of Oklahoma, Iowa State University and the National Centers for Atmospheric Research, and international partners from as far as Australia, Brazil, and the UK Met Office. 

Screenshot of experiment participants displayed in Google Hangouts on the left side of the screen with an experimental forecasting product on the right hand side of the screen.
The Spring Forecasting Experiment went virtual this year as participants gathered from around the world to test and review experimental forecasting tools and modeling systems, as shown here. (Photo provided)

In addition to the analysis of regional high-resolution forecast models during the experiment, some participants will explore the Warn-on-Forecast system. The WoFS is a short-term forecast model that could be used to fill the gap in the watch-to-warning time scale. A watch is issued several hours in advance of potential storms, alerting the public of possible hazardous weather. A warning may be issued immediately before a storm and alerts the public they need to seek shelter immediately.

“Until a warning is issued, there is not much middle ground between a watch and warning,” said Clark. “There are several scientific and behavioral science questions as part of the experiment because the systems we’re testing are different, with different ways to visualize threats.”

Your not so typical day

Experiment participants — located throughout the world — begin each day with evaluations of the output of a variety of forecast models, followed by virtual small group discussions and analysis.

A woman sitting in a chair in her home office looking at two computer screens in front of her.
Burkely Gallo facilitating and participating in the Spring Forecasting Experiment from her home office.  The virtual experiment is from April 27 to May 29. (Photo provided)

“We might ask them, ‘did anything stand out to them, what was most interesting’ — we get a lot of value from those organic discussions and perspectives,” said Burkely Gallo, a lead facilitator for the experiment at the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, whose work supports the Storm Prediction Center.  “We didn’t want to lose the ability to have those conversations.”

A subset of participants then delves into issuing experimental severe weather outlooks and forecasts using Warn-on-Forecast output.

“We’ll get a lot of data out of this experiment because we were able to preserve what helps us answer our research questions,” said Gallo.

Even virtually, the experiment will continue to provide different perspectives from the severe weather enterprise blended together, resulting in better forecasts to save lives and property.

models Being used and tested

  • Global System Laboratory’s High-Resolution Rapid Refresh Ensemble
  • FV3
  • Warn-on-Forecast System
An introduction to the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiment provided to participants.  Even virtually, the experiment will continue to provide different perspectives from the severe weather enterprise blended together, resulting in better forecasts to save lives and property. (Photo provided)
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