Improving Extreme Weather Forecasting in USA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced plans last year to invest $5.7 million into research which will ultimately improve current methods of forecasting hazardous weather. Katharine Sullivan, of NOAA, has stated that the money will go towards grants and research to increase and progress the prediction of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, and heavy rainfall.

The plan was announced at a conference for the Society of Environmental Journalists in Oklahoma in 2015, where Sullivan stated:

“These research investments are designed to accelerate the development and use of advanced observing systems, forecast models, and other decision-support tools that will improve our nation’s resilience to hazardous weather. By engaging with a broad array of academic and other research partners, we aim to improve scientific understanding of these hazardous and extreme weather phenomena to solve the real problems our citizens, businesses, and leaders face every single day. Congressional leadership was instrumental in making these projects a priority.”

NOAA is the largest federal agency for climate, oceans and atmosphere, and is involved with a number of nationwide organisations, including the National Weather Service. The investment will focus of collaborations between nationwide institutions, from sixteen different states – twenty seven groups in total from government, academic and industry backgrounds – and will focus efforts on four different programs.

Flood Forecasting

The “Hydrometeorology Testbed” program will receive $1.2 million of the funding in order to focus on extreme rain and snow, and improve the forecasts in the case of flooding. Current data is not as specific as NOAA would like, so research will focus on improving the integration of data on cloud droplets, and enhancing current flash flood systems.

Tornadoes and Hurricanes

A total of $1.9 million will be put towards ‘Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment in the Southeast US’ (VORTEX-SE). This section of the program will concentrate on the south eastern region of the US, an area known for tornadoes. Improvement of warnings and forecasts is of the utmost importance in this area, and further research will save lives and prevent damage. The program will build on evidence gathered from previous projects in the same area, but will research more specifically on how the region itself has an effect on the path and structure of the tornadoes themselves.

$1.4 million will be going towards ‘Joint Hurricane Testbed’ (JHT), a section of the program which will focus on bringing experts together to review and discuss how to enhance computer systems which currently forecast extreme weather conditions. Top researchers will confer in person and online about various existing and potential models, with a view to rolling out programs to be used on a daily basis in affected areas. This program in particular will receive funding from the US Weather Research Program in order to improve data harnessed from satellites on cyclones.

The final program will receive $1.2 million and is called the ‘Hazardous Weather Testbed’ (HWT), which will focus on refining high-resolution models and methods of data collection, including hail, thunderstorms, high winds, and lightning.