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UAlbany Researchers Seek to Improve Thunderstorm Forecasting

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 21, 2013) – University at Albany atmospheric scientists Lance Bosart and Ryan Torn are part of an elite team of researchers working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, to improve the models that forecast thunderstorms.

The Mesoscale Predictability Experiment (MPEX) will be conducted through June 15 and take advantage of the known high frequency of widespread, severe storm outbreaks over the Great Plains region.

Thunderstorm research at UAlbany
UAlbany researchers are hoping to improve forecasting models for thunderstorms, such as supercell events common to the Great Plains region.

From flash flooding to high winds or lightning strikes, thunderstorms hold the potential to devastate communities in mere minutes. While not as large as hurricanes or blizzards, thunderstorms, nonetheless are responsible for several hundred deaths and billions of dollars in property damage each year in the U.S.

“The goal of MPEX is to evaluate whether taking targeted observations of features within the holes of the observation network could influence the development and intensity of thunderstorms and ultimately improve weather forecasts,” said Torn, an assistant professor at UAlbany who examines atmospheric predictability and computer weather models. “We also want to better understand how thunderstorms modify the atmospheric environment they move through.”

The project will include early morning flights with the NSF/NCAR Gulfstream V aircraft to sample the pre-storm atmosphere across Colorado and nearby states. In MPEX, the aircraft will cruise at 40,000 feet for up to six hours, which will enable researchers to thoroughly canvass the entire region where triggers for severe weather lurk. MPEX will also include afternoon launches of weather balloons carrying instrument packages that will profile conditions around thunderstorms as they develop and move east across the Great Plains.

Bosart, a distinguished professor at UAlbany, and Torn will act as operations directors during their month-long stay at NCAR. UAlbany graduate student Corey Guastini will also assist in forecasting. After the data collection is complete, Torn will work with UAlbany students in the fall to examine and analyze the information.

“We’ll be evaluating the cases to determine how well we sampled the important regions and trying to understand how errors in atmospheric models grow and evolve to impact thunderstorm forecasts,” said Torn. “We hope to ascertain if examining the thunderstorms in this manner holds the potential to significantly improve the predictability of the more regional aspects of convective weather, and to improve the probability timeframe for these often devastating events.”

In addition to the University at Albany, the project also includes the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); Colorado State University; Purdue University; the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; and NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

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