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November 2006

short takes

An overview of projects throughout the organization

Atmospheric patterns. New research by CGD’s Grant Branstator and Jeff Yin indicates that it may be possible to estimate the probability that an extreme weather event will take place by looking at the larger-scale weather regime that holds sway across a region. For instance, the scientists are finding that when strong winds from a given direction predominate at 850 millibars (about 5,000 feet above sea level) for periods of 10 days or longer, this tends to raise the likelihood that extreme surface winds from the same direction will occur.

The additive effect, as it is called, is an important focus of a new project by Grant and Jeff, supported by a NOAA grant. The two scientists are also looking into the relationship between extreme weather events and large-scale atmospheric patterns, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation. Their study analyzes nine runs of the Community Climate System Model that simulate climate for the period 1870 to 1999. The model runs were filtered so that only the variations with periods of longer than 10 days remained. Grant and Jeff then examined the effects of these low-frequency variations on extreme wind events.

In future work, the scientists intend to study more observations to determine the relationship between low frequency variations and extreme events. One of their research questions is why large-scale atmospheric patterns tend to affect weather extremes in different ways in different regions. Along parts of the U.S. East Coast, for example, storminess decreases as the strength of the large-scale westerly wind increases. This may occur because strong westerlies carry storms away from the coast before they have time to strengthen. In other parts of the world, by contrast, an atmospheric pattern will have a more direct relationship with extreme weather, and storminess will increase with the strength of the westerly wind.

Although recent studies have investigated the relationships between extreme weather events and patterns of atmospheric variability, the studies have been primarily statistical. Grant and Jeff are more interested in the dynamics of atmospheric processes. In addition to revealing clues about the workings of the atmosphere, such research may be of value in probabilistic forecasts. Knowing that a large-scale pattern increases the chances of a destructive wind event from 1% to 10% over a few weeks or months, for example, could help utilities anticipate the possibility of significant power outages.

ral map

Collaborations with Africa. UCAR is steadily increasing its collaborations with researchers and institutions in Africa. Last summer, the organization co-sponsored several meetings in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science to launch the AAAS-UCAR Africa Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to increase collaborations with African institutions, explore research themes critical to Africa, and leverage U.S. research infrastructure for support.

In October, five meteorologists from the West African nations of Burkina Faso and Mali (see map) visited NCAR for three weeks to attend radar training in RAL, as well as software training in Unidata. The visitors (Barnabe Bayel, Michel Fayama, and Guillaume Nakoulma from Burkina Faso; Siaka Baya and Mohamed Koite from Mali) attended the conference as guests of Roelof Bruintjes.

Roelof and colleagues in RAL are working with the visitors to upgrade existing (and often broken) radars in their home countries to run with PC-based operating systems, and to provide training in the use and maintenance of the radars. The goal is to enhance radar infrastructure in West Africa and provide long-term support to reverse a trend of radars falling into disrepair. The work is in conjunction with a feasibility study on rainfall enhancement.

Other African nations, including Senegal, Niger, Morocco, and Libya, have expressed interest to RAL in strengthening their radar infrastructures. In addition, Roelof recently traveled to Ethiopia to discuss a potential flash flood system using radar.

Organizers with the Africa Initiative are planning a workshop in Burkina Faso for early this winter. More information on RAL’s work in West Africa.

More information on the Africa Initiative.

An “intelligent transportation” system. One of the challenges of weather analysis and forecasting is gathering information on the current state of the atmosphere, especially in regions where little data exist. RAL’s Kevin Petty, Bill Mahoney, and Rich Wagoner are examining the feasibility of using motor vehicles to provide information on local weather and road conditions.

The concept, known as Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII), is based on plans by the U.S. Department of Transportation, automobile manufacturers, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and several state departments of transportation to create a more “intelligent transportation” system. Under the proposed plan, cars and trucks in the future will be outfitted with onboard equipment that would gather information about both vehicle performance and weather and road conditions. Such information would be transmitted to nearby vehicles or to an information network. It could have applications ranging from alerting two cars that they are on a collision course to notifying drivers that their cars need maintenance.

The RAL team believes that VII could also be used to provide information about hazardous weather and road conditions. A car could collect direct weather information, such as temperatures along a 20-mile stretch of mountainous road. Or it could provide indirect measures: fast-moving windshield wipers, for example, could indicate a region of heavy rain, and the activation of antilock brakes could indicate ice or snow on the road.

RAL is finalizing a feasibility and concept development report for the Federal Highway Administration. More about VII.

Watershed health. COMET recently received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin work on the second installment in a series of online courses designed specially for broadcast meteorologists about watershed health. Joe Lamos, Dwight Owens, and Dolores Kiessling are collaborating on the new installment, which will examine how land use, transportation, sprawl, and related environmental and health issues affect watershed conditions. By providing broadcast meteorologists with baseline environmental knowledge that can be incorporated into local weather reports, COMET hopes to advance public knowledge on watershed health and “smart growth” principles.

Scheduled for launch next autumn, the curriculum will be available on COMET’s MetEd Web site, as well as through the American Meteorological Society’s Continuing Education Program now required for all certified broadcast meteorologists. The curriculum is part of a program called Eyes on the Environment Initiative. Sponsored by the AMS and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF), the initiative is designed to provide broadcast meteorologists with core environmental knowledge that they can easily convey to viewers.

The first unit in the series, Watersheds: Connecting Weather to the Environment, was released earlier this year.


In this issue...

NCAR scientists predict a warmer, wetter Earth

The end of the world as we know it?

“A New Light on Science”

Keeping science in the news

Short Takes

Random Profile: Chrystina Tasset

Delphi Question: Webhire formatting issues

Just One Look


 

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