Super Rapid Scan Experiment combines satellite, radar and lightning observations

GOES-14 image from August 16, 2012

As storms moved across Oklahoma yesterday, the GOES-14 satellite, Multi-function Phased Array Radar (MPAR) and the Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array (OK-LMA) coordinated data collection for the first time as part of the Super Rapid Scan Experiment.

The goal to of the project is evaluate the potential of these combined observations for forecasting and warning of severe storms.

The GOES-14 satellite has been taken out of storage (currently in orbit over the equator at 105 degrees west) to collect 1-minute satellite imagery over target areas when storms are expected. When thunderstorms move through Oklahoma, MPAR will also scan these storms at a rate of1-minute or less.  The LMA’s will map the location and development of of lightning channel segments over the same areas.

The first of the next generation of geostationary satellites (GOES-R), scheduled to be launched in late 2015, will be able to routinely scan at 1-minute frequency with increased spectral and spatial resolution.  It will also carry an optical lightning detection system (Geostationary Lightning Mapper) to measure total lightning (in-cloud and cloud-to ground) with high temporal and spatial resolution. The LMA measurements during these tests will be used to help assess the impact of the satellite-based lightning data when it becomes available with GOES-R.

The experiment runs from August 16, 2012 through about October 31, 2012 and is a coordinated effort between NSSL and the NESDIS Office of Satellite and Product Operations, and the NESDIS Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) Advanced Satellite Products Branch in Madison, WI, and the GOES-R program office.

Real-time satellite imagery is being made available on the Web and on workstations (N-AWIPS) at the SPC:

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Oklahoma lightning mapping array now expanded

The Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array can map up to twelve thousand points per second, and so can reveal where a flash originates and how it develops in a storm. An example of a flash is shown in this figure. The top two panels show altitude as a function of time. The second of these is a more expanded view, from 20:00.6 – 20:02.2 UT (a period of 1 minute 36 seconds). Color coding indicates elapsed time, with purple being earliest and red being latest. The bottom left panel shows the view one would have from above the storm. The panel just above it shows the view from the south. The lower-right panel shows the view, rotated on its side, one would see from the west. The tics in these three panels are labeled in kilometers from the center of the lightning mapping array, so the east and north dimensions are each 120 km.

NSSL’s Field Observing Facilities Support (FOFS) team just finished installing seven new lightning mapping stations in the Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array (OKLMA).  The new sites in southwest Oklahoma, in addition to 11 existing stations in central Oklahoma, are all now operational, just in time for the Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) project that began in May.

The OK-LMA provides three-dimensional mapping of lightning channel segments over west central Oklahoma and two-dimensional mapping of all lightning over most of Oklahoma. Up to thousands of points can be mapped for an individual lightning flash, to reveal its location and the development of its structure.

NSSL scientists hope to learn more about how storms produce intra-cloud and cloud-to-ground flashes and how each type is related to tornadoes and other severe weather.

The OKLMA data will complement DC3 atmospheric chemistry measurements to help estimate how much NOx, an ozone-precursor, is produced by lightning.  Real-time lightning observations also will be used by scientists to help keep research aircraft away from lightning hazards to on-board equipment and flight instruments.

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Scientists launch study of thunderstorm impacts on upper atmosphere

More than 100 researchers from NOAA and 29 other organizations are collaborating on a field project this spring to discover how thunderstorms act like elevators, taking pollution and water-rich air from the surface and lofting it straight up into the upper troposphere.

The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) experiment will explore the role of the displaced air in forming upper-atmosphere ozone, a greenhouse gas. Measurements made using three research aircraft, mobile radars, lightning mapping arrays, and other tools will help scientists understand more about the electrical and chemical structure of thunderstorms, including the concentration of ozone.

Ozone is created when sunlight triggers interactions between pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and other gases.  These interactions are well understood at the Earth’s surface, but they have not been measured at the top of the troposphere, where the effects of ozone are the strongest.

Pollution isn’t the only source of nitrogen oxides, however.

“We are pretty sure lightning is the largest natural source of nitric oxide,” said NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory scientist Don MacGorman.  “It is important to know the naturally occurring contribution.”

While past field projects have focused on the thunderstorm details with only some chemistry information or on the chemistry with limited data on the storms, DC3 is the first to take a comprehensive look at the chemistry and thunderstorm details, including the air movement, cloud physics, and electrical activity.  Investigators expect the data to create the best picture yet of chemical transport, production and processing by thunderstorms.

The DC3 project runs from May 15 – June 30, and is funded by the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

DC3 investigators will collect data in northern Alabama, northeastern Colorado, and central Oklahoma. All three sites have existing weather instrumentation on the ground, including dual-Doppler research radars and lightning mapping arrays enabling the scientists to study different types of atmospheric environments and storm types.
Teams from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory and The University of Oklahoma will launch balloon-borne instruments to make measurements of the storms and of the storm environment. These measurements will be combined with observations from aircraft and with information about the location, size, and frequency of lightning from lightning mapping arrays. Such measurements, MacGorman said, will improve understanding of how storms produce lightning and help with the use of lightning mapping data to improve storm forecasts and warnings.

NSSL and OU will also operate mobile Doppler radars to help researchers observe the internal airflow patterns of storms, which are important for determining how much air is transported up through the storm. Radars with dual polarization technology will provide additional information on particle shapes, for example where large raindrops occur.

NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s (ESRL) Owen Cooper and Jerome Brioude will use weather forecasting models to understand where the air lofted into the troposphere by a thunderstorm travels. A day later, one of the research airplanes will target that region, so the scientists can look at how the air mass composition changed: how much ozone formed, for example, and whether chemical reactions created particulate matter , too.

“Usually, things just simmer along slowly in the upper troposphere,” said ESRL’s Tom Ryerson. “These storms have the potential to crank up reaction rates to more of a boil.”

Three research aircraft will be based at Salina (Kan.) Municipal Airport, a location more central to the study areas. Each day, they will fly to the area with the most promising forecast for thunderstorms suitable for study.

The NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V research aircraft will do the bulk of the high-altitude measurements. Simultaneously, a NASA DC-8 will fly as low as 1,000 feet above the ground, measuring air flowing into the clouds at their base as well as the chemistry of surrounding air. The third research aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 20E operated by DLR, the German space agency, will join DC3 for three weeks and fly especially close to storm cores at high altitudes.

The scientists leading the project are from the National Centers for Atmospheric Research, the Pennsylvania State University, Colorado State University and NOAA.

NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory:
NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory:

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A Weather-Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation

Joplin, Missouri. Photo by Patty Ingalls

This summer NOAA’s National Weather Service called for a National Conversation on Building a Weather-Ready Nation. The conversation continued in earnest in December, 2011 in Norman, Okla., with a national summit “Weather-Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation.” National experts from across the country met on the University of Oklahoma campus Dec. 13-15 to help America better prepare for and survive extreme weather. Their recommendations will be released in early 2012 in time for severe weather season.

“Becoming a Weather-Ready Nation is a shared responsibility from the federal government to the individual citizen and everyone in between,” said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service. “NOAA’s National Weather Service is committed to delivering the highest quality of forecast and warning services and fostering innovation. Building a Weather-Ready Nation will take the commitment of everyone we’re engaging with through these national conversations.”

The national summit in Norman, organized by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, is the first in a series of Weather-Ready Nation conversations NOAA will participate in across the country in the coming year to learn from the experience and insights of important weather partners – broadcast meteorologists, emergency managers, academics, private weather forecasters, communication experts, and decision-makers. Participants will assess why the nation is becoming more vulnerable to severe weather and identify ways to improve the public’s awareness, preparedness and response to future extreme events.

The NOAA’s National Weather Service launched the Weather-Ready Nation initiative in August, following a volatile spring of several large-scale tornado outbreaks. Despite exceptional warnings from NWS, which issued warnings with double the average lead time in many instances, the tornadoes left hundreds dead and thousands injured. And this spring may not have been just a fluke event. All indications point to a rise in our vulnerability to these types of extreme weather events. This year broke the record for highest number of extreme weather events in a given year, with twelve separate events each causing a billion dollars or more in damages.

“Avoidable death and damage due to extreme weather is too high. This week is an important part of our national conversation to better understand how and why people make the decisions they do, and what more needs to be done to save lives and livelihoods,” Hayes said.

The National Conversation to Build a Weather-Ready Nation will continue throughout 2012 with a number of symposia, events, town halls, workshops, and speeches. Click here for more information. To join the conversation, check out the NWS Facebook page.  Or find out more on the Weather-Ready Nation web page at

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NSSL establishes research partnership with the U.K.

NSSL has established a three-year joint research effort with the United Kingdom’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) to focus on hazardous and severe weather forecasts and warnings, and the design, development and use of weather radar systems.

NSSL and NCAS share a common vision of developing measurement and modeling tools and educational programs that support improved understanding of the interactions of the atmosphere.

The new Memorandum of Agreement defines a framework for collaborative research that includes yearly meetings to exchange information about research plans and priorities, discuss opportunities for cooperation, and review progress on projects.

The U.K. Natural Environment Research Council primarily supports NCAS at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

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NSSL helps Phoenix power company brace for sand storms

An NSSL algorithm developed in collaboration with Arizona’s Salt River Project (SRP) alerts the power company of the potential for a dust storm called a haboob.  A haboob is a wall of dust that is pushed out along the ground from a thunderstorm downdraft at high speeds.

The Haboob Algorithm runs on NSSL’s Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor system at SRP, and automatically monitors the radar for thunderstorms reaching thresholds that could result in outflows producing strong surface winds and blowing dust.   When thresholds are reached, SRP operational personnel receive an alert to prepare for the impact of wind loading on SRP power poles and substations.

The SRP was alerted two hours in advance of the haboob that struck Phoenix, Ariz. on July 5.  This storm travelled at least 150 miles with wind gusts more than 60 mph and a leading edge almost 100 miles long.  An estimated 10,000 people lost power.

On Monday, July 18 the Haboob Algorithm gave the power company 45 minutes advance notice to prepare for the impact of the storm in Phoenix.

The Salt River Project has a reputation for innovative use of radar and weather information in their daily operations towards highly efficient electrical energy production and transmission.

SRP is two entities: the Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, a political subdivision of the state of Arizona; and the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association, a private corporation.

The District provides electricity to about 920,000 retail customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and the Association delivers nearly 1 million acre-feet of water annually to a service area in central Arizona.

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Valuable severe weather dataset collected by students

The NSSL/CIMMS Severe Hazards Analysis and Verification Experiment (SHAVE) are collecting hail, wind damage and flash flooding reports through phone surveys from now through mid-August.  This is the sixth year of the project, logging more than 29,000 hail reports, 5500 wind reports and 9300 flash flood reports since the project began.

SHAVE reports, when combined with the voluntary reports collected by the NWS, creates a unique and comprehensive database of severe and non-severe weather events and enhances climatological information about severe storm threats in the U.S.  Some NWS forecast offices use SHAVE data to assist in verifying their warnings.

Largely student led and run, the SHAVE team makes phone calls along the path of a target storm.  People who answer the calls are questioned about hail size, wind damage and flash flooding that occurred over the past 60 minutes.  The phone data is blended with radar information on Google Maps to create a database on the storm for research.

NSSL/CIMMS researchers are using the SHAVE datasets as verification for multi-radar, multi-sensor detection algorithms and techniques, dual polarized radar, and a system that automatically detects supercell thunderstorms.

Because SHAVE leans heavily on students, it gives them rich opportunities for professional development and leadership.  It has also led to year-round undergraduate research assistantships and research projects for over half of the participants.  Between 2006-2011, 26 students have worked for SHAVE.

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New system automatically detects supercell thunderstorms

NWS forecasters will be evaluating a new weather-adaptive three-dimensional variational data assimilation (3DVAR) system from NSSL/CIMMS that automatically detects and analyzes supercell thunderstorms during the 2011 Experimental Warning Program in the Hazardous Weather Testbed.  The program runs from May 9-June 10, 2011.

Early identification of supercell thunderstorms is critical to the public severe weather warning process since 90% of supercell thunderstorms produce tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds.

The 3DVAR system uses data from the national WSR-88D radar network and NCEP’s North American Mesoscale model product to automatically locate regions of thunderstorm activity.  It is able to identify deep rotating updrafts that indicate a supercell thunderstorm at 1 km resolution every five minutes in these regions.

The 3DVAR analyses contain full three-dimensional wind field and precipitation fields, and can provide estimates of storm dynamics such as the strength of the updraft. In addition, by combining observations from multiple radars, the 3DVAR system provides a single information source that can reduce the observational data flow that challenges forecasters every day.

During the 5-week project, 3DVAR products will be available to participating NWS forecasters in near real-time to determine if these high-resolution analyses can improve their awareness of the hazardous weather threat.

The system performed well during the spring of 2010, detecting and analyzing significant severe weather events including tornado outbreaks in Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.  More recently, the significant tornadoes in Greensburg, Pa. and Mapleton, IA in early April were also well identified and analyzed.

Initial development and testing of the 3DVAR was done at the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma.  Preliminary display of the product can be found at:

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First annual Warn-on-Forecast workshop

The first annual workshop for the Warn-on-Forecast project was held on 23 February 2011 in Norman, Oklahoma, on the University of Oklahoma campus. Warn-on-Forecast is a NOAA research project to create forecasts of severe weather so specific, forecasters will be able to issue a warning based on that forecast before the weather even forms.

The workshop brought together over 60 participants from across the United States to listen to progress reports from all the groups participating in the project.

Focus topics for discussion included a social science research action plan and the benefits of VORTEX2 research to the Warn-on-Forecast project.

These reports indicated that the project is moving forward with research that will lead to improvements in lead time for severe weather warnings.  The project also has the potential to benefit a number of different weather information user communities, including surface transportation, aviation, and renewable energy.

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Observations test theories

HDPI preparing for launch
The HD Particle Imager is being attached to a balloon in preparation for launch.

NSSL’s fleet of mobile research facilities (excluding mobile radars) have been under Dave’s watchful eye and direction for decades.  Beginning with the mobile lab he helped build at NSSL out of an old Suburban truck in 1979, the armada now includes mobile ballooning facilities, field coordination vehicles, mobile mesonet vehicles and mobile radars.  Dave saw the value in going out to find the storms rather than waiting for them to come to NSSL.  Countless other scientists and research projects have benefited from the ability to measure temperature pressure, dew point, wind speed and direction, the electric field, and even return stroke velocities in a storm. “I get a great deal of satisfaction supporting other research,” he says.

Dave loves to be out “in the field,” and those who shared his passion for remote observations also appreciated his commitment to safety.  He made sure every vehicle was up to date on maintenance and was equipped to accomplish missions in stormy situations.  Dave’s attention to detail even included a tire gauge and flashlight in every glove compartment.

Dave endured a major setback in July, 2001 when a fire destroyed most of NSSL’s equipment storage facility, known as “the balloon barn.” A SMART-Radar, a brand new lightning mapping array system waiting to be installed, a new mobile laboratory, nine mobile mesonets, the shop, the entire collection of tools, three atmospheric sounding systems and a large inventory of balloons and radiosondes were lost.

NSSL’s Conrad Ziegler said, “Under Dave’s able leadership and with support from NSSL and NOAA OAR fire recovery funds, and the University of Oklahoma, the Field Observing Facilities Support (FOFS) team updated the mobile mesonet design, totally re-fabricated the mobile mesonet array, and had nine mobile mesonet platforms ready for the International H2O Project (IHOP) operations by the target date of May 15, 2002.  In my opinion, the recovery of the FOFS mobile facilities (combined with and on top of the normal challenges of “simply” preparing an existing mobile facility for a field experiment) was a tour-de-force example of Dave’s incredibly effective leadership and his total commitment to support collaborative scientific research with the FOFS mobile facilities.”  Dave and his FOFS team had fully recovered all NSSL’s losses from the fire in two years.

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