Nowhere is it more dangerous to fly in a hurricane than right near the roiling surface of the ocean. These days, hurricane hunting aircraft wisely steer clear of this boundary layer, but as a result observations at the bottom of the atmosphere where we experience storms are scarce. Enter the one kind of plane that’s fearless about filling this observation gap: the drone.

NOAA’s hurricane hunter aircraft in recent storms has been experimenting with launching small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) into raging storms–and these devices show promise for informing advisories as well as improving numerical modeling.

Lead author Joe Cione of NOAA's hurricane research division holds a Coyote sUAS. The drones are being launched into hurricanes from the P-3 hurricane hunter aircraft in the background.
Lead author of a new paper in BAMS, Joe Cione of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, holds a Coyote sUAS. The drones are being launched into hurricanes from the WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft in the background.

 

The observations were made by a new type of sUAS, described in a recently published paper in BAMS, called the Coyote that flew below 1 km in hurricanes. Sampling winds, temperature, and humidity in this so-called planetary boundary layer (PBL), the expendable Coyotes flew as low as 136 m in wind speeds as high as 87 m s-1 (196 mph) and for as long as 40 minutes before crashing (as intended) into the ocean.

In the BAMS article, Joe Cione at al. describe the value of and uses for the low-level hurricane observations:

Such high-resolution measurements of winds and thermodynamic properties in strong hurricanes are rare below 2-km altitude and can provide insight into processes that influence hurricane intensity and intensity change. For example, these observations—collected in real time—can be used to quantify air-sea fluxes of latent and sensible heat, and momentum, which have uncertain values but are a key to hurricane maximum intensity and intensification rate.

Highs-lows

Coyote was first deployed successfully in Hurricane Edouard (2014) from NOAA’s WP-3 Orion hurricane hunter aircraft. Recent Coyote sUAS deployments in Hurricanes Maria (2017) and Michael (2018) include the first direct measurements of turbulence properties at low levels (below 150 m) in a hurricane eyewall. In some instances the data, relayed in near real-time, were noted in National Hurricane Center advisories.

Turbulence processes in the PBL are also important for hurricane structure and intensification. Data collected by the Coyote can be used to evaluate hurricane forecasting tools, such as NOAA’s Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) system. sUAS platforms offer a unique opportunity to collect additional measurements within hurricanes that are needed to improve physical PBL parameterization.

Coyote launch sequence: (a) Release in a sonobuoy canister from a NOAA P-3. (b) A parachute slows descent. (c) The canister falls away and the Coyote wings and stabilizers deploy. The main wings and vertical stabilizers have no control surfaces; rather, elevons (i.e., combined elevator and aileron) are on the rear wings, controlled by the GPS-guided Piccolo autopilot system with internal accelerometers and gyros. (d) After the Coyote is in an operational configuration, the parachute releases. (e) The Coyote levels out after starting the electric pusher motor, which leaves minimally disturbed air for sampling at the nose. The cruising airspeed is 28 m s-1. (f) The Coyote attains level flight and begins operations. When deployed, the Coyote’s wingspan is 1.5 m and its length is 0.9 m. The 6-kg sUAS can carry up to 1.8 kg. Images were captured from a video courtesy of Raytheon Corporation. Coyote launch sequence: (a) Release in a sonobuoy canister from a NOAA P-3. (b) A parachute slows descent. (c) The canister falls away and the Coyote wings and stabilizers deploy. The main wings and vertical stabilizers have no control surfaces; rather, elevons (i.e., combined elevator and aileron) are on the rear wings, controlled by the GPS-guided Piccolo autopilot system with internal accelerometers and gyros. (d) After the Coyote is in an operational configuration, the parachute releases. (e) The Coyote levels out after starting the electric pusher motor, which leaves minimally disturbed air for sampling at the nose. The cruising airspeed is 28 m s-1. (f) The Coyote attains level flight and begins operations. When deployed, the Coyote’s wingspan is 1.5 m and its length is 0.9 m. The 6-kg sUAS can carry up to 1.8 kg.
Images were captured from a video courtesy of Raytheon Corporation.

 

The authors write that during some flights instrument challenges occurred. For example:

thermodynamic data were unusable for roughly half of the missions. Because the aircraft are not recovered following each flight, the causes of these issues are unknown. New, improved instrument packages will include a multi-hole turbulence probe, improved thermodynamic and infrared sensors, and a laser or radar altimeter system to provide information on ocean waves and to more accurately measure the aircraft altitude.

Future uses of the sUAS could include targeting hurricane regions for observations where direct measurements are rare and models produce large uncertainty. Meanwhile, the article concludes, efforts are underway to increase sUAS payload capacity, battery life, and transmission range so that the NOAA P-3 need not loiter nearby.

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Mountain climber Dmitry Golovchenko captured tremendous video of the February 27 collapse of a “rime mushroom” atop Patagonia’s Cerro Torre. These are bulbs of massively accumulated rime—built up in the freezing of moisture in winds pounding at the peak over time. The mushrooms increase the difficulty of this infamous climb of more than 3,000 meters, but never more so than when their precariousness increases in summer—just when conditions might otherwise seem calm enough for climbing. Here is the video via an Instagram from patagoniavertical, the site of Rolando Garibotti, who co-authored a BAMS article on these infamous mushroom features:

 


View this post on Instagram

CERRO TORRE – Escarcha escrachadora / Crushing rime. . Esto sucedió el 27 de febrero a las 11:25am. Si hubiese habido cordadas en la Via dei Ragni, las consecuencias hubiesen sido gravísimas. El video y las fotos las tomó @golovchenko.dmitry, el conocido alpinista ruso. . Los factores que influencian la rotura de los hongos de escarcha son desconocidos, pero parece probable que se comporten como un manto de nieve, y que la combinación de gravedad, calor y humedad, puedan llevar a este tipo de ocurrencias. Esta temporada hay mucha escarcha, que con el calor veraniego, y lluvia en altura, pueden haber sido el disparador. No sabiendo cuales son los factores que afectan las capas profundas de los hongos, es difícil hipotetizar un protocolo, pero parece razonable evitar periodos con la isoterma zero por encima del pie de vía (2300m), o periodos posteriores a lluvia en altura. . Del link en nuestro perfil se puede bajar un artículo sobre la formación de la escarcha en la montaña, publicado en el boletín del American Meteorological Society, escrito por Dave Whiteman, con ayuda de quien escribe. . . . This happened on February 27th, at 11:25am. Had there been any parties on the Ragni Route, the consequences would have been serious. The video and images were shot by @golovchenko.dmitry, the well-known Russian alpinist. . The factors that influence rime mushrooms to result in break off are not known, but it seems plausible that they behave in part like a snowpack, and that the combination of gravity, heat and moisture can result in events like this one. This summer there is ample rime, which combined with heat, and rain at higher altitudes could have lead to this. Not knowing what factors affect the deeper layers of rime mushrooms, it is difficult to hypothesize a protocol to minimize exposure, but avoiding periods with the freezing-line above the base of the route (2300m) would be a wise first step. . Link in our profile to an article about rime formation in the mountains published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, written by Dave Whiteman, with help from yours truly. . #rime #cerrotorre #patagonia #chalten

A post shared by Patagonia Vertical – guidebook (@patagoniavertical) on


In their BAMS article, David Whiteman and Garibotti introduced rime mushrooms, well known to alpinists, but not previously to many meteorologists:

Rime mushrooms, commonly called ice mushrooms, build up on the upwind side of mountain summits and ridges and on windward rock faces. These large, persistent, rounded or bulbous accretions of hard rime range from pronounced mounds to towering projections with overhanging sides….[They] form when clouds and strong winds engulf the terrain. Supercooled cloud droplets are blown onto subfreezing surfaces and freeze rapidly, making an opaque “hard” rime with air trapped between granular deposits. The mushrooms are most frequent and best developed on isolated summits and exposed ridges in stormy coastal areas.

They showed the distribution of these mountain features around the world.

mushroomsThanks to Dr. Whiteman’s Univ. of Utah colleague Jim Steenburgh for bringing the video to our attention via social media. Jim’s own newly published BAMS article features the often well-rimed sea-effect snows of Japan and their similarities to lake-effect snows in the United States. The article explains how the heavy snowy accumulations of crunchy graupel (loose, rimed, large icy particles) in lowlands of the Japanese coast can be quite avalanche prone, too.

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British adult orange cat and little kittenIn recent years minimum sea level pressure (MSLP) measured in a hurricane’s eye has become “a much better predictor of hurricane damage” than the maximum sustained wind speed (Vmax) upon which the revered Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale is based.

New research by seasonal hurricane forecaster Phil Klotzbach et al. finds that MSLP is also more accurately measurable than Vmax, “making it an ideal quantity for evaluating a hurricane’s potential damage.”

Given that the Saffir-Simpson scale was developed to characterize the risk of hurricanes to the public, we propose classifying hurricanes in the future using MSLP as opposed to Vmax. While no scale will ever perfectly account for the totality of storm risk to life and property (e.g., inland flooding), any improvements to better explain and warn the potential hurricane impacts to an increasingly vulnerable coastal and inland population is, in our view, a worthwhile endeavor.

Klotzbach et al. argue that Vmax is “nearly impossible to measure directly” as the maximum wind mentioned in advisories issued by the National Hurricane Center is the highest 1 minute sustained surface wind occurring “in an unobstructed exposure; (i.e., not blocked by buildings or trees),” which is essentially at sea, not over land. Even with today’s technology, the sparsely observed maximum wind speed is often just an estimate–even land observations are limited by anemometer failure at speeds over 50 kt.

In contrast, MSLP is easy to locate at the storm’s center and is routinely measured by the hurricane hunters in every aircraft reconnaissance mission.

Earlier versions of the Saffir-Simpson scale, created in the early 1970s by engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist and Hurricane Center director Bob Simpson, incorporated MSLP as a proxy for wind, and they also included ranges by category of storm surge height. But these led to public confusion when actual storm surges and low pressure readings didn’t match up with the categorized winds, and they were removed in 2012.

 Vmax …provides less information on the overall storm risk to life and property than does MSLP. MSLP, on the other hand, is a useful metric in that it is strongly correlated with both Vmax and storm size, which is directly related to storm surge as well as a larger wind and rain footprint. The risk to human life is also more directly correlated to MSLP than to Vmax, given the better relationship of MSLP with storm size. MSLP was a more skillful predictor of fatalities caused by CONUS landfalling hurricanes from 1988-2018 than was Vmax. Consequently, we recommend that more emphasis be placed on MSLP when assessing the potential risks from future landfalling hurricanes.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with current Vmax criteria, proposed MSLP criteria and original MSLP criteria from Simpson (1974). Also provided in parentheses are the percentage of Atlantic storms from 1979-2018 whose lifetime maximum intensity exceeded the weakest intensity criteria for each category threshold.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with current Vmax criteria, proposed MSLP criteria and original MSLP criteria from Simpson (1974). Also provided in parentheses are the percentage of Atlantic storms from 1979-2018 whose lifetime maximum intensity exceeded the weakest intensity criteria for each category threshold.

 

The difference between using MSLP and Vmax when predicting damage potential has become more noticeable in recent years. This is “likely due to larger-sized hurricanes such as Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012) which did much more damage than would be typically associated with hurricanes making landfall at Category 2 and Category 1 intensity, respectively.” Both storms had much larger storm surges than their category rankings suggested, as did Hurricane Katrina, which was Category 3 at landfall based on Vmax, but had a MSLP equivalent to a Category 5. Its storm surge was measured at a record 28 feet and the resulting damage was catastrophic, consistent with a Cat 5 hurricane.

Using MSLP to re-categorize some historic hurricanes at landfall, the study finds the following:

  • Hurricane Katrina (2005) would go from a Cat 3 to Cat 5;
  • Superstorm Sandy, which was post-tropical but considered “just” a Cat 1 when it made landfall in 2012, would rank as a Cat 4.
  • Hurricane Ike (2008) would be elevated from a Cat 2 to a Cat 3.
  • Hurricane Michael (2018) would have been Cat 5 at landfall rather than a high-end Cat 4 stated in advisories.

The new BAMS paper is available as an Early Online Release. It will be adapted for print and published in the February issue.

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Even though Earth’s atmosphere is laced by more than a billion brilliant discharges of electricity every year, lightning itself never seems ordinary. But there’s a broad range of lightning, and sometimes, at the extreme, it’s possible to recognize a difference between the ordinary and amazing, even among lightning flashes. The challenge is finding and observing such extremes.

New research by Walt Lyons and colleagues, published in BAMS, reports such a perspective-altering observation of long lightning flashes. To appreciate the observation, consider first the “ordinary” lightning flash. The charge center of the cloud itself is typically 6–10 km above ground. And from there the lightning doesn’t necessarily go straight down: it may extend horizontally, even 100 km or more. Typical lightning might be best measured in kilometers or a few tens of kilometers.

A world record flash in 2007 meandered across Oklahoma for “approximately 300 km.” But that may be a mere cross-counties commute compared to newly discovered interstate “megaflashes” that are almost twice as long. One such megaflash, as the BAMS paper names them, sparked across the sky for ~550 km from northeast Texas across Oklahoma to southeast Kansas in October 2017. And this megaflash, too, may not be the longest ̶ it just happened to occur within the Oklahoma lightning mapping array (OK LMA), allowing for its full study.

Time integrated GLM radiances over 7.18s beginning at 0513:27.433 UTC on 22 October 2017. Two distinct electrical regimes are evident. The first is the cluster of smaller flashes in the leading line of convective cells stretching from eastern Oklahoma and then southwest into north Texas. The second regime is an extensive horizontal flash propagating from near the Red River in Texas across central Oklahoma into southeastern Kansas.
Time-integrated satellite (GLM) radiances over 7.18s beginning at 0513:27.433 UTC on 22 October 2017. Two distinct electrical regimes are evident. The first is the cluster of smaller flashes in the leading line of convective cells stretching southwest from eastern Oklahoma into north Texas. The second is the horizontal megaflash propagating from near the Red River in Texas across central Oklahoma into southeastern Kansas.

 

Also, just like the official record flash, which produced 13 cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning strikes, including two triggering sprites that shot high into the atmosphere, this horizontal megaflash also triggered a plethora of CG bolts, in-cloud discharges, and upward illuminations during its 7.18 second lifespan.

The new Geostationary Lightning Mapper sensor on the GOES-16/17 satellite has become the latest tool suited to investigating long-path lightning. The BAMS paper says the sensor is showing that a megaflash “appears able to propagate almost indefinitely as long as adequate contiguous charge reservoirs exist” in the clouds. Such conditions seem to be present in mesoscale convective systems—large conglomerates of thunderstorms that extend rainy stratiform clouds across many hundreds of km. The paper adds,

Megaflashes also pose a safety hazard, as they can be thought of as the stratiform region’s version of the ‘bolt-from-the blue,’ sometimes occurring long after the local lightning threat appears to have ended. But some key questions remain – what is the population of megaflashes and how long can they actually become?

The authors conclude:

Is it possible that a future megaflash can attain a length of 1000 km? We would not bet against that. Let the search begin.

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Nothing quite like watching lift-off…here’s the video sequence from Arianespace showing the flight of the rocket carrying South Korea’s GEMS satellite instrument into space earlier this week.

GEMS–the Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer–is a centerpiece of the Asian contribution to a triad of geostationary satellite missions watching air quality in some of the most pollution-prone urban centers of the world. The other similar missions to be launched are Sentinel-4 over Europe and TEMPO over North America.

GEMScoverage

The image above superimposes the field of view for each of the satellites over an image of nitrogen dioxide concentrations averaged over the 10 years 2005-2014 from the Ozone Mapping Instrument aboard NASA’s Aura satellite. Aura is part of the “afternoon-train” or A-train of international satellites focused on anthropogenic aerosols. But these satellites pass over any given spot on Earth the same time each day.

With GEMS, such information is now going to be 24/7 for Asia. As a geostationary eye on air quality, the new South Korean satellite watches meteorology and atmospheric chemistry continuously. In addition to GEMS, which uses spectrometers to track ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, aerosols, ultraviolet index, and other health-related factors in the atmosphere, the satellite includes meteorological and ocean color sensors. This gives a synergy to Earth observing at faster sampling rates and higher resolution over the region, advancing investigations of air pollution for a large portion of the world’s population.

The push for geostationary satellite monitoring of air quality that led to the launch of GEMS has been long in the making. In an article 8 years ago in BAMS, W.A. Lahoz explained that geostationary satellites give

an improved likelihood of cloud-free observations …with continuous observations of a particular location during at least part of the day. This “stare” capability …makes it very effective for the retrieval of the lowermost troposphere information for capturing the diurnal cycle in pollutants and emissions, and the import/export of pollutants or proxies for pollutants.

You can read more about the new capabilities in the BAMS article on GEMS by Jhoon Kim (Yonsei Univ.) and colleagues. The article, appropriately, posted online within an hour of the launch of the satellite.

BAMS cover outline 2This is actually a twin launch: The GEMS article is among the first of the new-look BAMS in AMS Journals Online. You’ll find highly readable typefaces with a simple layout easier for scrolling on screen. You’ll also note that we’re starting to publish articles as soon as they’re ready for launch, rather than waiting for them to collect into issues in print.

Also about to launch into the mail is a whole new approach BAMS is taking to print as well. The magazine is much more dense with important and exciting new information. The printed features (mirrored as well in the digital edition for AMS members) are short, highly accessible versions of the peer-reviewed research articles. We’re expanding our focus on new and important articles to relay the authors’ thoughts—in their own words—about their work and the challenges they’re solving in their next articles as well. This blog and AMS social media will reflect such thought-provoking new BAMS content in all sorts of ways—for reading, listening, and watching.

So GEMS is our partner in launch: a new era of air quality monitoring for Asia is paired with a new era of communications for AMS. As they say in the media..stay tuned, more to follow!

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“In summary, it’s going to be bad.”

That’s how Jeff Evans with the NWS in Houston/Galveston began Wednesday’s presentation, “What if Hurricane Michael Struck Houston? An Examination of Inland Wind Damage,” at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston.

He was boots on the ground after Hurricane Michael slammed the panhandle as a Category 5 with 160 mph winds on October 10, 2018, assisting the Tallahassee NWS office with surveying the widespread wind damage that extended well away from the coast. Because Michael was intensifying at landfall as well as accelerating, its extreme winds spread deep inland, across the panhandle and well into southwest and southern Georgia.

The Donalsonville, Georgia, airport northeast of Marianna, Florida, and about 90 miles inland, recorded a wind gust to 115 mph, while Marianna had a gust to 103 mph in Michael. Both as well as Blountstown, Georgia, suffered significant damage to structures as well as trees.

Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.
Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.

Evans overlaid maps of Michael’s track, wind swath, and areal power outages on Houston to show the extent of its damage potential. The entire Houston metro area with 7.1 million people would suffer; 6.9 million would lose power. And damage to homes and devastation to the landscape would mimic the widespread destruction he observed in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia where entire forests were virtually flattened.

Evans said that as an NWS meteorologist responsible for warning the Houston area if such a scenario threatened he would have a lot of trouble following the standard hurricane mantra, “Run from the water, hide from the wind.”

Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.
Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.

“Telling people inland to stay put in such extreme wind conditions is not something I would want to do,” he says.

But, he adds, telling them to get out could prove just as deadly in the mass exodus.

“When you start talking about storms, such as Rita, with 130 mph winds or higher, it’s a spontaneous evacuation.” More than 50 people died just from the evacuation of Houston ahead of that storm, he says

It’s been 37 years since a storm brought a significant wind threat to the Houston area. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was the last. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a widespread catastrophic flood event. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was primarily a surge storm.

“The population in and around Houston has doubled during that time,” Evans says. A 2015 American Community Survey showed more than 130,000 people in just Harris county who live in mobile homes, with thousands more in the surrounding counties.

He conducted the research to raise awareness of a “Michael-like” storm and the immense challenges it would represent.

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An exceptionally high resolution simulation of a supercell thunderstorm fascinated conferees Tuesday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston. Leigh Orf of the University of Wyoming presdented imagery and animations of the simulation that ran on the Blue Waters Supercomputer. With a 10 m grid spanning 11,200 X 11,200 X 2,000 (251 billion) grid volumes, the 270 TB subdomain contains the entire life cycle of the tornado, including 10 minutes prior to tornado formation.

Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticiy, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation.
Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticity, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation. The 2D surface field traces the maximum surface cyclonic vertical vorticity, providing a representation of the tornado’s path. The view is following the tornado’s path. (b) As in (a), but later in the simulation when the tornado exhibits a multiple vortex structure. (c) Volume rendered cloud mixing ratio, with parameters chosen to present a quasi-photorealistic view of the cloud field. The 2D surface field traces the minimum pressure found in the tornado’s path. (d)  As in (a) and (b), but a different, wider view and utilizing different opacity and color map choices. The vortex to the left, which merges with the tornado later in the simulation, is weaker than the nascent tornado as evidenced by the vortex’s more transparent and darker visual presentation and path.

 

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[UPDATED] You’ve heard it before: The convergence of thousands of meteorologists at AMS Annual Meetings brings unusual weather to the host city. Spring-like warmth this weekend in this year’s host city of Boston is continuing this trend.

As of 2 pm ET Sunday, the temperature at Logan International Airport has climbed to at least 73 degrees, breaking the monthly record high of 72 for the city set on January 26, 1950. It smashed the daily record high 61 first established in 1913.

On Saturday, southwest winds gusting to nearly 50 mph drove the day’s high to 70 degrees, topping the daily record set in 1975 by 8 degrees.

The marquee at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center announces AMS100. The temperature was a record 69 degrees at the time.
The marquee at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center announces AMS100. The temperature was a record 69 degrees at the time.

 

Sunday’s temperature could go even higher—nearby Norwood was 74 at 2 pm—before a a north-south cold front halfway across Massachusetts and Connecticut plows through Boston mid afternoon, bringing an end to the record-setting January thaw. Behind the front blustery northwest winds 40 mph or more will quickly tumble temperatures into the 40s by evening and closer to normal levels overnight and Monday.

We’ve written about the Annual Meeting weather coincidences previously on the AMS blog, dispelling the pervasive myth that our meteorological convergence brings bad and even dangerous weather to the Annual Meeting host city.

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Saturday’s Student Conference at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting kicking off in Boston featured a series of Conversations with Professionals to gain insight into a variety of career choices, the work these professionals in our field currently do, and how they got where they are today. This year’s series, in which short introductions are followed by a Q and A session with students, included two meteorologists who fly into hurricanes with the Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Wing and another who helps c0-operate the Doppler on Wheels radar for tornado field research.

Below is a sampling of questions students asked Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert and Maj. Jeremy DeHart with the AF Hurricane Hunters as well as Karen Kosiba of the Center for Severe Weather Research. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds in the Air Force?

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “Meteorology degrees, with active duty [13 years], go to a weather tech school to learn how to deal with military weather, and then pretty much start with your track—go to a main [Air Force] hub weather regional center to learn how to do big, broad forecasting, then … to a different place and forecast for an airfield so your supporting aircraft at the field. But there are different paths you can take: Science, modeling, Army support, Air Force support, many different ways that you can go.

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “Yeah, I agree. A lot of people think Air Force, military, and are like ‘Oh, I want to do research … it’s not really my cup of tea.’ but there are so many different tracks you can take, and you’re not going to get the breadth of experience you will in the Air Force doing the jobs we did while on active duty. I have a masters degree and they sent me to California for two years [while on active duty], and I was a full-time student and was paid full-time to go to school. And they’ll do that for your Ph.D., go teach at the Air Force Academy … so don’t be scared off by [military] operations.

Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday's Conversations with Professionals series.
Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday’s Conversations with Professionals series.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): How do you adjust when a hurricane is rapidly intensifying?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) You’re always adjusting, because it’s never what you exactly expected. We maintain a pressure altitude of 10,000 feet flying into and through the eye of a hurricane. By the time you’re in the eye, in the stronger storms you’re down to 8,000 feet. In Hurricane Wilma, which set a low pressure record, they were flying at 5,000 feet because they didn’t expect it to be that strong, and by the time they got [in the eye] it had bottomed out and the plane flying a 5,000-foot pressure … was down to about a thousand feet and had to pull up.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We don’t do that anymore. We now go in higher. … When we’re briefing we’re changing things. And even in the execution of the mission we constantly have to adjust. … Constantly changing our pattern if there’s a really intense area [of convection] that doesn’t look [on radar] like it’s safe to go through.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): What do you do in the off-season?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “We go to a lot of airshows.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We give talks at conferences, promote what we do, find out what kinds of new instruments we want to put on our airplane, things like that.”

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “A lot of people don’t realize we have a winter storm requirement as well. … We’ll fly a synoptic pattern and just pepper a big storm with [dropwindsondes]. We’ll fly higher, like 30,000 feet or so, and just carpetbomb the whole thing with instruments.”

Q (Tornado Research): What made you target research versus academia on your career path?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “Sometimes when you’re deep in academia you don’t think there’s anything outside academia. I was getting ready to graduate and I had done tons of field research but also applied for jobs in academia, in government … and I got many of those jobs. So I picked what I liked. But even if you don’t know what you’re doing you visualize that you’ll try a little of everything. … When I first started working with the Doppler on Wheels I thought I was going to be a technician … but I started to enjoy some different things and it just ended up this way. Just because you get a bachelor’s, a master’s, a Ph.D., an associate degree—whatever you’re getting your degree in—doesn’t mean you can’t do different jobs.”

Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students' questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.
Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students’ questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.

Q (Tornado Research): Can you elaborate a little on graduate school and how you learned how to write grants?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “For those of you in graduate school, or going to graduate school, you usually work with a professor, and they’re trying to get grants, too. My professor said ‘Hey, you want to write a grant proposal?’ and I was like ‘Sure, let’s write a grant proposal.’  And you don’t really know much about how to write them in graduate school. You can just wing it, or you can have a good mentor, like I did. You know, [as an aside] you think your mentor should be someone exactly like you, and even though you can have someone who likes the same stuff as you, it can be advantageous to find a person who can help you meet your career goals. Someone who understands what you want to do and who you want to be.”

Q (Tornado Research): Do you have any advice for recent graduates who are interested in project-based research rather than forecasting? It seems like a lot of people just take the first thing out there, often university helper.

A: (Karen Kosiba) It’s true. But I think there are more opportunities out there than just waking up and taking those first opportunities. In my case not only did I shop for a mentor but also an advisor who could help me out in the field. Big universities often have big field projects, and they don’t always advertise them as well as they should. It can be tricky to get out and get that experience. But places like NCAR have programs getting [their] people out to do field projects. And the University of Wyoming, NSSL, will have projects going in and out. They’re out there and sometimes you have to do a bit of work to find them. Even if one professor doesn’t have anything, they might know someone who just got funded for a project. And once you’re in them take some responsibilities on … and become an active crew member and contributor to the project.

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By Mary M. Glackin, AMS President-Elect, and Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder and CEO, AccuWeather

In his acclaimed book, The Signal and the Noise, noted statistician Nate Silver examines forecasts of many categories and finds that most forecast types demonstrate little or no skill, and most predictive fields have made insignificant progress in accuracy over the past several decades.  The one exception, Silver concludes, is weather forecasting, which he singles out as a “success story.” We quite agree.

The benefit of improved weather forecasting on human activity over the last 60 years cannot be overstated. As we approach in January the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of meteorological science, it seems a fitting time to celebrate all that we have accomplished for the protection of life and property and the substantial benefits to people and business and contemplate the challenges ahead and the path forward to conquer them.

With technology and human knowledge increasingly transforming both weather forecasting and our relationship with it, our success will rest squarely on our ability to embrace transformational change and to recognize and welcome opportunities for collaboration between key facets of the weather enterprise – academic, government and the private weather industry.

The publicly funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a critical role in supporting the entire infrastructure of weather forecasting, which government organizations, such as the National Weather Service, the U.S. military, and privately held organizations rely on. This infrastructure includes observational systems, maintenance and support of numerical weather prediction models, and providing life-saving weather warnings.  Warnings, arguably, are the biggest payoff of weather forecasting with lives and property on the line.

The NWS analyzes and predicts severe weather events and issues advisories and warnings to the general public for their safety and protection. Warning services provided by NWS have improved over the decades. By design, NWS weather warnings cover a broad territory, intended for the widest possible public audience in a region.

While all government weather warnings reaching the public are produced by the NWS, increasingly in today’s digital age they are tailored and delivered almost entirely by private weather providers through news broadcasts and free, advertising-supported mobile phone apps and other digital sources of convenience.  The greatest challenge the weather enterprise faces is ensuring these life-saving weather warnings reach the greatest number of people potentially impacted by hazardous weather with enough advance notice to take proactive steps to remain safe and out of harm’s way. When seconds count in a weather-related emergency, this partnership example significantly extends the reach of the government for greater public safety.

What some may not realize is that when severe weather threatens, companies, such as AccuWeather, pair a deep understanding of client operations with their team of meteorologists to provide vital services, such as custom site and operation specific weather warnings, to clients tailored to their risk thresholds.

recent Washington Post article mistakenly conflated warning services provided by NOAA with custom warning services provided to private clients.

In fact, with example after example, there is no doubt private companies, such as AccuWeather, which has received many AMS accolades for its warnings and expertise, can and do provide valuable warnings and services to private clients. It was unfortunate that a comment said on the fly was taken out of context. Both AccuWeather and AMS view the incident in this light and are continuing to build on their shared history of partnership. AccuWeather works closely with NOAA and NWS to make sure communities and businesses have the best information and warnings they need to stay safe. This partnership has never been stronger.

In fact, there has been a long history of cooperation between the public and private weather sectors.  National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), including the NWS, readily source data and intellectual property from private companies to support their mission of saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing the national economy.  This trend is likely to continue in the world of shrinking government budgets and resource allocation.  In turn, private companies leverage technologies, such as the many forecast models provided by NMHS, as the foundation to their own products and services.

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, many challenges impacting the future of the weather enterprise loom large, such as cost and financial pressures, the hyperbolic increasing rate of the capture, storing, processing and analyzing of data, emerging challenges of health and climate change and new accelerating technologies and platforms in the digital age, some of which we cannot yet even conceive.

These sectors of the weather enterprise have their own advantages and efficiencies and together we can most certainly succeed in furthering meteorological advancement if we capitalize on each other’s strengths and work cooperatively and decisively to achieve our larger mission of safety and protection.

All partners in the weather enterprise –government, commercial and academia —  in addition to the support and stewardship of important professional organizations, such as the AMS, the National Weather Association and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association – are essential to meteorological progress, and the sum of our value to the public and business can be far greater than the individual parts.

In the last six decades, each component of the weather enterprise has learned to better understand and appreciate one another and to communicate more effectively and to respect the important contributions of each in the true spirt of cooperation. The greatest example of this is the AMS-championed Fair Weather Report, a study funded by the federal government to generate more harmony across the entire weather enterprise.

Since we began our careers, we have had the privilege of seeing amazing progress in our ability to provide more specific, more accurate, and more useful weather forecasts and warnings, which extend further ahead and have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.

With even more and better collaborations between the various facets of the weather enterprise, there is no question the public and our nation stand to benefit from greater safety and better planning. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring about more exciting innovations and enhancements to advance public safety.

Editor’s note: Mary M. Glackin is President-elect, American Meteorological Society. She was formerly the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a Senior Vice President of Science and Forecast Operations at The Weather Company (IBM). Dr. Joel N. Myers is Founder and CEO of AccuWeather

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