Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Tornadoes, lightning and hurricanes: scientists at Alabama research center study severe weather


Scientists at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., are using information gleaned from NASA satellites, aircraft and field research to better understand dynamics behind tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes and other destructive forces of nature.

Based at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., Tony Kim and Dr. Richard Blakeslee of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville test aircraft sensors used to measure the electric fields produced by thunderstorms as part of NASA’s Altus Cumulus Electrification Study (ACES). In addition to aircraft, NSSTC scientists use information gleaned from NASA satellites and field research to better understand dynamics behind lightning, tornadoes hurricanes and other destructive forces of nature.

The NSSTC is a partnership with the Marshall Center, Alabama universities, industry and federal agencies. It enables scientists, engineers and educators to share research and facilities, focusing on space science, Earth sciences, materials science, biotechnology, propulsion, information technology and optics. (NASA/Marshall/Doug Stoffer)

"A better understanding of severe weather can help people year-round," said Dr. Tim Miller of the Global Hydrology and Climate Center (GHCC) in Huntsville. "The Center is conducting a variety of unique research projects that could someday help forecasters better predict and prepare the public for severe weather."

The GHCC is one of seven research centers at the National Space Science and Technology Center. Center scientists have played leadership roles in better understanding tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes and other natural phenomenon.

Sometimes, researchers have found, one dangerous element of severe weather is a key to understanding another. Using a combination of ground- and space-based weather monitoring equipment, NSSTC scientists have documented dozens of cases in which lightning rates increased dramatically as severe storms developed. This offers an early clue for weather forecasters to take a more detailed look at other storm characteristics with radar -- and perhaps a chance for them to get warnings out earlier, saving more lives.

Other research answers the question of where lightning is more likely to occur. A map created in 2001 by National Space Science and Technology Center scientists offered the first animated glimpse of annual lightning activity worldwide.

Compiled using satellite data, each frame of the animation represents the average lightning activity worldwide on a single day of the year. The map shows that lightning avoids the ocean, but frequently strikes in Florida. It’s likely to strike in the Himalayas and even more so in central Africa. The animated maps also clearly show how lightning-producing storms are caused by the Sun’s daily heating of Earth’s surface and atmosphere. This was the first time scientists mapped the global distribution of lightning, noting variations by latitude, longitude, day of year and time of day.

In another first, to better understand both the causes of an electrical storm’s fury and its effects on our home planet, NSSTC scientists in 2002 used a tool no atmospheric scientist had ever used before to study lightning — a remotely piloted aircraft, commonly called an uninhabited aerial vehicle or "UAV." This marked the first time an uninhabited aerial vehicle was used to conduct lightning research.

This project, called the Altus Cumulus Electrification Study, united researchers from NASA, universities and industry. By chasing down thunderstorms in Florida using the remotely piloted aircraft, the scientists achieved dual goals — gathering weather data safely and testing new aircraft technology.

Such studies have the potential to help forecasters improve weather prediction, especially for storms that may produce severe weather. And, by learning more about these individual storms, scientists hope to better understand weather on a global scale.

Sometimes, the greatest barrier to more detailed forecasts is the amount and quality of data available to forecasters. Researchers at the center are collaborating with other agencies to change that.

A new generation of weather satellites, to be launched around 2011 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will carry advanced sensors capable of producing higher-resolution images than today’s satellites. A sharper, richer picture of the ever-changing atmosphere — available to forecasters in near real-time — will bring a new level of detail and accuracy to short-term forecasts.

But in the meantime, sensors of this caliber are already in orbit aboard NASA’s newest climate research satellites, Terra and Aqua. Supported by scientists at the National Space Science and Technology Center, collaboration between the National Weather Service and NASA is laying the foundation for using new satellite technology right now.

Known as Short-term Prediction Research and Transition, or SPoRT, the program uses data from a sensor called MODIS — or MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectrometer — aboard NASA satellites. MODIS gleans between 16 and 100 times more detail than current weather satellites, giving researchers a head start in incorporating highly detailed data into weather forecasts.

The NSSTC is also home to hurricane researchers who helped lead a series of field research investigations called Convection And Moisture Experiments, or CAMEX. Sponsored by the Earth Science Enterprise at NASA Headquarters in Washington, the most-recent CAMEX mission in 2001 united researchers from 10 universities, five NASA centers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Armed with airplanes, satellite observations, ground-based radar and a fleet of other sophisticated instruments, the researchers met the potentially deadly and destructive storms head-on, gathering data vital to improve hurricane modeling and prediction.

Monitoring storms simultaneously from near sea level to 65,000 feet, the researchers monitored temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, wind speed, lightning and ice crystal sizes.

NSSTC researchers are currently using this information to identify hurricane precipitation and cloud electrical field patterns and to study how they relate to hurricane intensity. They are also studying how the characteristics of a landfalling hurricane are changed once the storm begins to interact with the coastline. Together, lessons learned from these studies have the potential to lead to more accurate interpretations of satellite information and methods for using this information for hurricane intensity forecasting.

The National Space and Technology Center is a partnership among NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama research universities, industry and other federal agencies.

Steve Roy | MSFC
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Gas hydrate research: Advanced knowledge and new technologies
23.03.2018 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Potsdam - Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum GFZ

nachricht New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data
22.03.2018 | University of Southampton

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>