Press Release

New NASA technology helps forecasters in severe weather season

By SpaceRef Editor
April 29, 2004
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NASA is providing new technology and satellite data to

help forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration (NOAA) create the best possible forecasts of

severe springtime weather.

New NASA data gathered from satellites, a lightning ground-

tracking network and unmanned vehicles that fly into storms

are some of the many tools used by NOAA, the federal agency

charged with issuing weather forecasts. This data will help

make the severe weather season safer for everyone.

“It’s an evolutionary process and partnership between NOAA

and NASA,” said Bill Patzert, oceanographer at NASA’s Jet

Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “NOAA is the

ultimate operational meteorological agency in the world, and

NASA is developing state-of-the-art operational and

fundamental research to make it better than ever. Together

we’re looking to the future to provide better and better

service to the American public,” he said.

NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) is responsible for

monitoring and forecasting severe weather events. They issue

watches and warnings for tornadoes, flash floods, non-

precipitation events (such as high wind warnings), severe

thunderstorms, and flooding, as well as daily weather

forecasts. They reach the public with these warnings mainly

through NOAA weather radio and the Internet.

NASA uses data from its Earth-observing satellites and

models to characterize and understand the way atmosphere,

oceans and land interact. “Adding NASA satellite data and

model output to NOAA forecasts could lead to more confident

seven-day severe local storm forecasts, better prediction of

thunderstorm occurrence by three hours, and an increase in

tornado warning lead times by 18 minutes,” said Dr. Marshall

Shepherd, research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space

Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

NASA satellite data that enhances NOAA’s weather model

forecasts include surface wind data from QuikScat and

rainfall data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission

satellite. Launching in June 2004, NASA’s Aura satellite

will provide temperature and moisture information. That data

will provide a clearer atmospheric picture, and it will

improve forecast model prediction capabilities.

Better understanding of jet steam locations, temperature,

humidity fields and other atmospheric states are critical in

assessing the potential for severe weather. Balloon

observations taken twice daily at approximately 180

locations in the United States are the main source of this

type of information. New NASA satellite observations can

fill in the missing data spaces around the United States and

surrounding oceans. The NASA-NOAA Joint Center for Satellite

Data Assimilation was formed in 2002 to accelerate the use

of satellite data within global-scale weather forecast

models operated by NOAA.

NASA’s Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT)

Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala., is

working closely with NWS forecasters in the southern United

States to improve severe weather forecasting. NASA

scientists are using data obtained from the ground-based

Lightning Mapping Array in northern Alabama to better

understand the relationship between lightning flash rates

and tornado-producing thunderstorms.

The SPoRT Center provides lightning data to surrounding NWS

forecast offices in real time for use in severe weather

warning decision-making. “There has been one event where the

NASA lightning data prompted NWS forecasters in the

Huntsville, Alabama office to issue a tornado warning on a

strong convective cell earlier than they would have

otherwise,” said Dr. William Lapenta, SPoRT Center research

meteorologist. A weak tornado occurred after the warning was

issued. Research is also underway to improve flooding

forecasts by incorporating new satellite data from the NASA

Atmospheric InfraRed Sounder instrument into NWS weather

forecast models on a regional scale.

In February, NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.,

flight-tested the Global Positioning System Reflectometer on

an unmanned aerial vehicle to collect data in severe weather

situations. In 2002, NASA, universities and industries

conducted the Altus Cumulus Electrification Study in

Florida, the first time a remotely piloted aircraft was used

to conduct lightning research.


NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to

understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying

Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate,

weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point

of space.

SpaceRef staff editor.