Weather Research Promises Better T-Storm Warnings

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Doppler radar is great for tracking thunderstorms, but wouldn't it be even better to have accurate forecasts that predict when and where the storms will occur? That's what a team of researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville have been working on, and Tuesday they said three years of testing show their system has been accurate in its storm forecasts between 65 and 75 percent of the time. The Satellite Convection AnalySis & Tracking System (SATCASTS) has successfully identified hazards generated by thunderstorms, including lightning, hail, high wind, and turbulence. Using data from satellite sensors, the researchers track changes in cloud temperature and water vapor, with updates every 15 minutes. If the top of a cloud cools by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit or more in that time, that means the cloud has grown about 1,000 feet, and there is a growing probability of rain beginning within 30 minutes to an hour. The researchers can provide warnings just 15 minutes to an hour in advance that a local thunderstorm is expected. Based on their success in Huntsville, scientists are working with the FAA to test the system at the New York City air traffic control center. The National Weather Service will use the system at forecast offices in Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida.

In areas where Doppler radar networks do not exist, the system might be used in the future to track frontal storm systems and provide severe weather warnings that are not presently available, said researcher John Mecikalski. "This makes SATCASTS and satellite-based rainfall predictions very relevant in many developing countries, when ground-based radar is absent but high quality satellite data are in place," he said.