National LambdaRail

NLR Blog

Thursday, July 17, 2008

PSC staff and resources make possible an unprecedented experiment in “ensemble” forecasting of severe storms

For the full story, visit

[The experiment team utilized the NLR PacketNet service for their research.]

The night of May 4, 2007 won’t fade soon from the memory of people in Greensburg, Kansas. An extremely powerful tornado took only a few minutes to flatten almost every above-ground structure in this southwest Kansas town, claiming 10 lives. Catastrophic as it was, the loss would have been worse but for a very strongly worded warning from the National Weather Service office in Dodge City, about a half-hour in advance of the funnel’s arrival, that residents credit with allowing most people to find safe shelter.

What if the warning had come a half-day in advance? Thunderstorms are difficult to predict, and “supercells,” the high-energy vortex systems that spin-off tornados, are notoriously difficult. Nevertheless, if it were possible six or eight hours or more in advance to say when, where and with how much force a severe storm would strike, millions of dollars annually — if not billions — and countless lives would be saved.

PHOTO: Voth and Blood

Ming Xue, director of CAPS, Steven Weiss, science and operations officer of the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman

Scientists at the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) at the University of Oklahoma, Norman know that it is possible to dramatically improve severe-storm forecasting, and their ground-breaking work over the past 15 years — often in partnership with PSC — has convinced many skeptics. They took a further large step this spring, collaborating with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), PSC and others in an unprecedented experiment.