Thunderstorms can bring intense rain, hail, lightning and even tornadoes, but "predicting them a few hours out is one of the great problems of meteorology," says Chian-Yi Liu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
And the consequences can be more serious than a rained-out hike — even major storms can be missed, Liu says, including the one that dumped up to 10 inches of rain on La Crosse, Wis., on Aug. 18, 2007. "Predictions for the day said a moderate chance of thunderstorms," Liu says, "but this one produced an inch or two of rain per hour and caused severe flooding."
Thunderstorms are called "convective storms" because they are powered by differences in air density that cause updrafts and cooling, and can lead to hail, rain, tornadoes and lightning.
In a presentation at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Dec. 16, Liu will show that additional data, taken from a satellite, could greatly improve the accuracy of thunderstorm prediction a few hours out.
Liu works at the Cooperative Institute of Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at UW-Madison, which both processes satellite data and explores how meteorologists can use more effectively.
"Scientists understand the basic causes of thunderstorm formation," Liu says, "but their major source of data is usually surface observations, or measurements taken from balloons that are released into the lower atmosphere, and they usually lack information about the upper atmosphere."
When Liu and his colleagues introduced data on conditions at 15,000-32,000 feet of altitude into the equation, they found a considerable improvement in the crucial three- to six-hour forecast. The data was collected from 400 different events by sensors on NASA's Aqua satellite that measure conditions at different altitudes.
Convective storms allow the atmosphere to dump excess energy, held in the form of heat and humidity, and release it as wind and especially precipitation. Convection storms are most likely when the atmosphere is unstable, Liu says. "Our analysis shows that if there is instability at around 30,000 feet, with other storm-favorable conditions, a convective storm will develop in the following three to five hours. Using the top-down view of a satellite reverses our usual way of thinking about convective storms, and may suggest an explanation for storms that arise when they would not be predicted using conventional methods."
"For a long time, we have looked at convection and instability from a near-surface perspective," says co-author Steve Ackerman, a professor of meteorology and director of CIMSS. "What Chian-Yi has showed is that this is not always the case, you can drive instability from upper troposphere too."
The troposphere is roughly the lower six miles of the atmosphere.
Convection releases energy and feeds on itself, Ackerman says. "If you have unstable conditions in the atmosphere and things get moving, they will continue to move by themselves. Our perspective has been how it could get started from the ground. Chian-Yi has shown that it can start from the top as well."
CIMSS has a good working relationship with National Weather Service, Ackerman says, and has a "proving ground" process that can quickly incorporate research results into forecast methods.
"In my experience, there are not many advances that come along with so much potential to improve forecasts," Ackerman says. "This is an advance in the science, and it takes this perspective: Let's not always look at the atmosphere from the ground. Let's also look at what happens in the upper atmosphere."
Chian-Yi Liu | EurekAlert!
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction