Storm Forecasting and Observation

Storm Forecasting and Observation Program Overview

Dr. Preston and four Northern Vermont University-Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences students participated in the SUNY Oswego Storm Forecasting and Observation Program earlier this summer (May 27-June 15). This program is designed for students to apply concepts from the classroom to the forecasting and observation of thunderstorms. The first two weeks were spent in the field, forecasting severe weather and observing storm structure. This involved launching weather balloons to collect data about the environment, as well as using programs like RadarScope and Baron Mobile Threat Net® to examine radar data and track storms. For the last week of the program, students completed a research project related to their storm observations. Some of the research projects this year used GR2Analyst, IDV, SHARPpy, and BUFKIT for analysis.

Select any image below to enlarge it to full-size.

Observed Weather

During the 2019 Storm Forecasting and Observation Program, students saw three visible tornadoes (and one rain-wrapped), over a dozen wall clouds, dust devils, 0.25-inch hail, mammatus clouds, cloud iridescence, and incredible lightning activity. Students traveled through 10 different states (see trip log below), including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado.

“Down” Days

During the “down” days, students got to visit the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, KS, as well as the Twister Museum in Wakita, OK. They also got to tour the National Weather Center in Norman, OK, which houses the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Bill Bunting, Chief of Forecast Operations at the SPC, talked about the Storm Prediction Center right outside of the SPC’s forecast room.

Daily Logistics

Overall, 13 students participated in the Storm Forecasting and Observation program. This required two separate vans with ham radio communication (like in the movie Twister). On a typical “chase” day, the forecast team would lead a weather briefing around 8:00 am. The vans would then drive 5-6 hours (on average) to the target area. This would get them to their destination by 3:00 pm, which provided enough time to launch a weather balloon before the main period of thunderstorm development at 5:00 pm. Then, the students would observe the severe storm(s) for the next several hours before losing daylight. After sunset, faculty and students would decide where to stay that night to put them in the best position to chase again the next day. With this in mind, it usually meant driving late into the night.

Trip Log Summary

5/27Indianaobserved multiple wall clouds from low-precipitation supercells on the first travel day of the Storm Forecasting and Observation Program
5/28Kansaslaunched a weather balloon; chased tornadic supercells near Nebraska
5/29Northeast Texasobserved a well-defined wall cloud at 20Z; too dangerous to chase tornado near Fort Worth, TX; observed incredible lightning activity
5/30Southwest Texaslaunched weather balloon at 19Z; chased in the southern tip of Texas (near Big Bend National Park). Had to stop chasing due to the poor road network and in order to avoid hail damage to vehicles.
5/31West Texaslaunched weather balloon at 14Z; chased a cell rotating anticyclonically and saw a few wall clouds with it. Great visual of hail core with “greenish” tint; observed incredible lightning activity
6/1Texas Panhandleobserved several dust devels, followed by a rain-wrapped cell near Dumas with rotation and multiple wall clouds; squall line developed with distinctive shelf cloud; observed straight-line winds and pea-sized hail from the inside of a gas station
6/2New Mexicotarget cell had large hail core and good rotation for several hours; all of a sudden, two additional cells popped up behind vans; caught in 0.25-inch hail (pea-sized); one of the storms produced beautiful iridescence around the anvils
6/3Texas Panhandledown day; dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch
6/4Kansasdown day; models overproduced convection, therefore decided not to chase and instead visited the Big Well Museum in Greensburg, KS to learn about the EF5 tornado that devastated the area in May 2007
6/5Oklahomadown day; visited the Twister Museum and saw the Wakita water tower featured in the Twister movie
6/6Oklahomadown day; saw tornado damage (e.g. torn off signs, roofs, and damage to cars) from EF3 tornado that recently devasted the El Reno area
6/7Oklahomadown day; toured the University of Oklahoma campus, and visited the National Weather Center
6/8ColoradoThis was the most exciting day of the Storm Forecasting and Observation trip! The group observed two landspout tornadoes in Kanorado, KS at 20Z. Each lasted 5-10 minutes and occurred one after the other. Two condensation funnels were both visible for a short period as one dissipated and a new one formed. Following this, the group observed three supercells with well-defined hook echoes near Denver. These storms were associated with breathtaking mammatus clouds. At this point, the third tornado of the day briefly formed (occurring for about 10 seconds) in the southern-most supercell. Afterwards, some of the students spotted a brief rain-wrapped tornado in the middle supercell.
6/9-6/10two travel days back to SUNY Oswego campus
6/11-6/15work on research projects

Questions & Answers About the Storm Forecasting and Observation Program

What was the most enjoyable part of the trip?

This whole trip was an unbelievable experience, but if I had to pick what I enjoyed the most it would clearly have to be the storms. Before coming out, I had never seen anything compared to what we saw in the plains. Being able to see an entire supercell and admire its structure and watch as it tries to produce a tornado is something special that I don’t think I’ll ever experience again.

Bobby Saba – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

Why did you choose to storm chase this summer?

I chose to chase this summer because severe weather has been a dream of mine since I was five years old. I remember sitting through a particularly bad thunderstorm and hearing the rain approach my porch.  It was torrential rain with severe lightning and booming thunder. Being able to finally chase this dream has been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had and I am so grateful that I was able to do this. Between the people I’ve met, the memories I’ve made, and the weather I’ve seen, this has been one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever been able to do.

Catie McNeil – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

What have you learned on this trip?

I now know how to analyze data to figure out where severe weather is likely to occur. This is very important to know as an aspiring meteorologist so I will be able to share my knowledge with the public. I have seen a lot of clouds in textbooks and pictures, but seeing mammatus clouds and wall clouds in person are so much different; it is amazing. Although I want to broadcast the weather, I love learning about severe weather. I have only completed one year of college so I am glad that I decided to do this program because there are quite a few people here who really know what they are doing and are doing a great job explaining things to me.

Camryn Kruger – sophomore, Broadcast Concentration

 Why did you choose to storm chase this summer?

It is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I remember one of the small thunderstorms with my dad in Maine just so I could hear thunder. I grew up watching Tornado Hunters and I was absolutely obsessed. Twister is also my favorite movie so storm chasing just felt like something I needed to do.

Maddie Degroot – junior, National Weather Service/Military & Private Industry Concentrations

Student Research

Bobby Saba, Canton, TX Storms
Bobby analyzed two storms that moved through Canton, TX on 29 May 2019.  He was looking to find common radar signatures between storms producing multiple tornadoes.

Camryn Kruger, Cloud Iridescence
Camryn examined the colorful iridescence that occurred around the anvils of supercells in New Mexico on 2 June 2019. Specifically, she looked for signatures of iridescence in radar and satellite fields.

Catie McNeil, High Instability/Low Shear Tornadoes

Catie studied common characteristics that produced tornadoes in high instability (i.e. Convective Available Potential Energy, CAPE), low vertical wind shear environments. Specifically, she compared the environment for the Jarrell, TX tornado (CAPE greater than 8000 J/kg) on 27 May 1997 to the 9 June 2019 tornado near Fort Worth, TX.

Maddie Degroot, Mysterious Mammatus

Maddie examined the stunning mammatus clouds associated with the three supercells near Denver, CO on 8 June 2019. This study showed the difficulty in identifying mammatus clouds using the standard WSR-88D S-Band radar.

Coriolis Effect Demonstration

The American Meteorological Society defines the Coriolis effect as “an apparent force, relative to the earth’s surface, that causes deflection of moving objects to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere due to the earth’s rotation.”

Every couple of weeks, students in Dr. Hanrahan’s Atmospheric Dynamics class present important concepts to their peers during Content Reviews. For one Content Review, Jonathan Hutchinson and Alex DaSilva took the group out to the Weather Deck to help the class better understand the Coriolis effect.

In this Coriolis effect demonstration, Alex is at the center of rotation and Jonathan is throwing a ball toward him. When they rotate counterclockwise (cyclonically) as viewed from above, like in the Northern Hemisphere, the ball appears to be deflected to the right. When they rotate clockwise (anticyclonically) as viewed from above, like in the Southern Hemisphere, the ball appears to be deflected to the left.

This is an important concept for atmospheric sciences students in order for them to understand and predict atmospheric motion. For example, the Coriolis effect is what causes storm systems like hurricanes and nor’easters to spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

2019 Senior Capstone Symposium

During the 2019 Commencement weekend, Nothern Vermont University-Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) held a capstone symposium so that that seniors could show family and friends what they’ve been up to for the past year. These students were the first to take a newly revamped two-semester senior capstone course, which allowed them to synthesize and apply knowledge and skills gained throughout the Atmospheric Sciences curriculum.

Following guidance from the latest American Meteorological Society Information Statement on Bachelor’s Degrees in Atmospheric Sciences, each Senior Capstone student completed a self-identified project, preferably relevant to their career goal and interests. This provided a tangible manifestation of each students’ ability to apply the knowledge they had gained from their academic work.

Students then created conference-style posters to communicate their results. These posters were on display during the final exam week as well as the day before the NVU-Lyndon Commencement at the senior capstone symposium.

Anthony Carpino

Experiential Learning: A Workshop for Undergraduate Atmospheric Science Students

Robert Denton

How Can We Improve Real-Time Weather Warnings?

Jason Doris

Impacts of Climate Change on Winter Storms in Southern New England

Celia Fisher

Meteorological Drivers of Rapid Wildfire Growth in Alaska’s Boreal Forest

Robert Grimm

Arctic Sea Ice Thickness Subseasonal Predictability: Comparing CFSv2 Operational Forecasts with CryoSat-2/SMOS Satellite Data

Curran Hendershot

Common Signatures Among Thundersnow Storms

Jessica Langlois

A More Effective Approach to Severe Weather Coverage on Social Media in the Boston Area

Sarah Levesque

An Analysis of Climate Change Communication through Broadcast Media: Examining Average Minimum Nighttime Temperatures

Evan Levine

Relationship Between Total Lightning Activity and Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Intensity

James Mundy

Lightning Network Integration

Madison Rodgers

The Effect of Warming Sea-Surface Temperatures on Topical Cyclone Intensity

Francis Tarasiewicz

An Improved Wind-Related Power Outage Model

Lexie Walker

Finding a Methodology to Teach Climate Change That Best Engages Students with Different Learning Styles

44th Northeastern Storm Conference a Success

2019 Northeast Storm Conference Lyndon students, almuni, faculty, and staff
2019 Northeast Storm Conference Lyndon students, almuni, faculty, and staff

The 44th Northeastern Storm Conference was held in Saratoga Springs, NY, on March 8-10, 2019. The Northeastern Storm Conference is an excellent opportunity for students, professors, scientists, and other professionals to share and learn about the latest weather and climate research.

This year’s Friday evening speaker was Keith Carson, ’05.

Several students, faculty, and an alumnus presented their research on Saturday.

Saturday’s banquet speaker was Dr. Kevin Kloesel, University Meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma Office of Emergency Preparedness, and director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Dr. Kevin Kloesel delivers the Saturday Night Banquet keynote.

Sunday morning’s speaker was Becky DePodwin, meteorologist at AccuWeather.

ATM students and faculty present at the AGU Fall Meeting

NVU-Lyndon Atmospheric Sciences students and faculty attended the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting this week in Washington, D.C. This year’s centennial event attracted more than 27,000 geoscientists from around the world. In addition to learning about cutting-edge geoscience research from leading experts, the Lyndon ATM group authored five accepted abstracts.

On Monday, Dr. Hanrahan presented a poster on recent curricular changes to the Atmospheric Sciences program. She and her coauthor, Dr. Shafer, discussed the integration of climate change in the core Atmospheric Sciences curriculum and student outreach activities through The Climate Consensus. On the same day, Dr. Siuta presented on work he completed with Dr.Shafer and current student, Francis Tarasiewicz, that evaluates model forecasts of ice and wet snow events in the northeastern U.S.

On Tuesday, students Jessica Langlois and Lauren Cornell presented their results from a summer internship with Dr. Hanrahan, on the impact of Great Lakes’ water temperature increases on simulated downwind precipitation. This work was completed in collaboration with researchers at Dartmouth College and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). On Wednesday, student Celia Fisher presented on meteorological drivers of rapid wildfire growth in Alaska’s Boreal Forest. This work was completed during a summer internship at the National Weather Service in Alaska as part of her her Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship experience.

On Friday, Dr. Preston discussed simulations of chemical transport by Typhoon Mireille, work which was completed in collaboration with researchers at Florida State University and NCAR.

On Tuesday, we hosted a gathering for Atmospheric Sciences students and  
alumni. We enjoyed learning about alumni accomplishments and hearing you reminisce about your time at Lyndon!

ATM students use ‘the cloud’ to run weather models for extreme-weather case studies

Forecasts from Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models provide one of the primary tools meteorologists use to produce weather forecasts. Historically, running NWP models has required vast computing resources to complete weather forecasts in a timely fashion. Until recently, running such NWP simulations quickly at a high enough resolution to capture mesoscale features (such as tight temperature gradients, mountain/valley flows, and mesoscale precipitation banding features within midlatitude cyclones) required the purchase of a supercomputing cluster. However, the rise of cloud computing technologies has removed that barrier. Now, companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft provide the required computing resources at a per use cost to the public and academic communities.

This fall, Dr. Siuta’s junior-level Analysis and Forecasting 1 class won a Google Cloud for Education grant, which allowed them to use Google’s Cloud Platform to run their own NWP model simulations using the state-of-the-art Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. Dr. Siuta had previously co-authored an article on the Viability of Cloud Computing for Real-Time Numerical Weather Prediction in the journal Weather and Forecasting.

Students learned the basic components of a NWP model, weather model limitations, and how adjusting model physics can lead to different forecast outcomes through simulating a high-impact weather event of their choice. Students ran cases covering Superstorm Sandy (October 29-30, 2012), the February 8-10, 2013 nor’easter, the March 7-9, 2018 nor’easter, the March 1-3, 2018 nor’easter, the January 4-6, 2018 nor’easter, and the October 2017 New England wind storm. Unidata’s Integrated Data Viewer was used to visualize the WRF output.

The grant from Google was sufficient to cover the simultaneous use of 336 virtual computing cores, so that students could run each of these cases with model resolutions matching the standards of today’s national model centers — down to the 3-5 km scale over the entire northeastern US.

Key findings by the students are summarized below.

Acknowledgements: We thank the Google Cloud Platform for providing the funds through the GCP Education Grants program for our class.

Case Study 1: October 29-30, 2017 wind storm
WRF model sea-level pressure (left panel) and wind speed (right panel) output for the 29-30 October 2017 wind storm. This case study was chosen by Alex DaSilva and Nick Ferrando-Boucher, who varied the WRF planetary boundary layer scheme to see the effect on the strength of the low-pressure center and magnitude of the wind speeds in Vermont. They found that a non-local-mixing boundary-layer scheme provided a better forecast than a local-mixing only boundary-layer scheme for the wind speeds observed at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon during the event.

Case Study 2: March 7-9, 2018 Nor’easter
A comparison of WRF model forecast snow depth (using 10:1 ratio) to that of observations in southern New England for the 7-9 March 2018 Nor’easter (Quinn). This case study was run by Sarah-Ellen Calise and Lauren Cornell, who varied WRF cloud microphysics schemes to see the impact each scheme had on snowfall forecasts. D01 are forecasts for a 15-km outer nest while D02 are forecasts for a 5-km inner nest. Sarah-Ellen and Lauren found that in areas closer to the coast (e.g., Providence, RI), the microphysics scheme had a substantial impact on the location of the rain/snow line and overall snow amounts in the area.

Case Study 3: Superstorm Sandy (October 27-30, 2012)
Jonathan Hutchinson, Taylor Leitch, and Lillie Farrell varied the planetary boundary layer schemes in the WRF model to see the impact on the development of Superstorm Sandy. Shown here is one of their WRF simulations predicting landfall on October 28 along the coast of New Jersey as Sandy is undergoing a transition from a tropical to extra-tropical system. The group found ~10-mb sea-level pressure difference between their runs at Atlantic City, NJ caused by differences in forecast track. Landfall varied between Sandy Hook and Cape May, NJ depending on the planetary boundary layer scheme that was used.

Case Study 4: February 8-10, 2013 Nor’easter
Students John Drugan, Radek Przygodzki, and Alex Doone ran the February 2013 nor’easter, which resulted in heavy, wet snow and 700,000 people losing power in parts of New England. John, Radek, and Alex varied cloud microphysics scheme and determined that the microphysics choice had a distinct impact on the location of a mesoscale precipitation band forecast to occur near the eastern tip of Long Island. Depending on the scheme, this band shifted to the east or west, leading to the highest forecast storm totals shifter slightly towards (right panel) or away (left panel) from population centers.

Case Study 5: January 4-6, 2018 Nor’easter
Kelsey Emery and Dan Carneiro simulated the January 2018 nor’easter because they were personally affected by the storm, which prevented them making it to the national American Meteorological Society meeting due to disrupted flights. The storm hammered southern New England with 1-2 feet of snow and winds gusting over 50 mph. Shown below are Dan and Kelsey’s WRF simulations of the low tracking off the Massachusetts coast.

Case Study 6: March 1-3, 2018 Nor’easter
A comparison of model forecast soundings produced by varying the boundary layer choice during the March 1-3, 2018 nor’easter. This nor’easter left close to 2 million people without power in the northeastern US due to wet snow and high winds. The far right graphic shows the corresponding observed sounding at Albany, NY taken 0000 UTC 3 March 2018. Rosemary Webb and Sarah Sickles found that varying the boundary layer choice affected the ability of the model to depict the vertical profile of the atmosphere at Albany, NY.

ATM Seminar Series: Overview of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM)

Dr. Geoffrey Stano is part of NASA’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT). He has been involved with the GOES-R Proving Ground since 2009, and in 2016 began serving as the Satellite Liaison for the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). His role has been to support the National Weather Service in preparing for the GLM. This has been done through webinars, training sessions, and the development of training modules for the forecasters. This seminar will provide a short background on the NASA SPoRT program as well as the GLM instrument. The remainder of the presentation will focus on real-world applications of the GLM data as it is being integrated into the National Weather Service.

Dr. Geoffrey Stano

Dr. Stano has focused on operational applications research, specifically with lightning observations, for the past 15 years. This has included work with ground-based lightning mapping arrays to the first of its kind Geostationary Lightning Mapper aboard the new GOES-R series. In addition to his role as a lightning expert and trainer with the NASA SPoRT center, he currently serves as the chair for the American Meteorological Society’s Atmospheric Electricity Scientific and Technological Activities Commission.

ATM Seminar Series: Atmospheric Rivers

Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow areas of moisture transport. They’re responsible for approximately 90% of meridional water vapor transport, and also for many high impact rainfall events. This presentation will provide an overview of the structure, climatology, and impacts of atmospheric river events. Predictability and forecast tools will also be discussed.

Dr. Greg West is a Research Associate in the Weather Forecast Research Team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. Research projects he is involved with center around improving weather forecasts for clean energy production for the province’s primary electric utility, BC Hydro. This primarily includes improvement of probabilistic forecast post-processing via machine learning methods, evaluation of forecasts, and creation of innovative new forecast tools such as situational awareness forecast indices.

ATM Seminar Series: Setting Up a Regional Climate Model over Brazil, Stephanie Spera

Dr. Stephanie Spera’s research seeks to understand landscape-level human-environment feedbacks with regard to social, economic, and environmental drivers and consequences. She is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at Dartmouth College. She analyzes large datasets, develops algorithms, and integrates spatial data to characterize landscapes and landscape-scale dynamics. Broadly, she asks, ‘How do we ensure that we manage our landscapes sustainably?’ She is interested in how and to what extent humans are modifying the landscape; what is driving changes in land cover; how these changes are affecting the environment; and how humans are, in turn, responding to these changes. She uses different methods and tools, like remote-sensing, regional climate models, spatial statistics, and GIS, to help answer these questions. Her most recent work focuses on answering these questions focusing on agricultural land-use change and regional climate dynamics in the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot and agricultural breadbasket.

ATM Seminar Series: Aviation Meteorology

Have you ever wanted to be an aviation meteorologist?

In this seminar, Erin Rinehart talks about her journey to becoming the primary night shift meteorologist at Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas. She attended Baylor University where she earned a B.A. in Earth Science. After college Erin joined the U.S. Air Force as a weather forecaster where she served for eight years. Following military service, she enrolled in the M.S. in Applied Meteorology program at Plymouth State University. After a short time working as an aviation forecaster contracted with American Airlines, she moved to Southwest Airlines. In this talk, Erin also discusses various aviation meteorology products used by both the military and civilian airlines, along with her various shift duties at Southwest Airlines. She also touches on some of the differences between airline aviation forecasts and the media forecasts created for the general public.

Learn more about Northern Vermont University-Lyndon’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and how you, too, can understand the science to become an aviation meteorologist: https://www.northernvermont.edu/academics/degree-programs/sciences/atmospheric-sciences