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Promising, new weather-forecasting technology expected in coming years

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
In case of tornadoes, new technology is being developed to better warn those in its path.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Lans Rothfusz, the Deputy Director of NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman was the invited guest of the weekly Tyner Cornbread and Beans event, held last Friday,to discuss the latest advancements in weather-forecasting technologies.

According to Rothfusz, NOAA is the biggest agency of the US Department of Commerce and the National Weather Center in Norman includes also the Storm Prediction Center, the Norman WFO, the Warning Training Division Center and the Radar Operations Center.

“The National Weather Center is really a special place,” Rothfusz told the assembled group.

Lans Rothfusz, the deputy director if the National Severe Storms Laboratory talking on June 10 in Norman. (Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report)

Rothfusz said the Dual-Pol technology (developed in Norman) had considerably increased the precision of weather forecast with the ability to differentiate between particle types such as the rain, snow, hail, sleet, insects and debris often a sign that a tornado has touched the ground. It also provides the amount of rain that can be used to anticipate potential flood.

But the NSSL agency doesn’t attend to rest on its laurel and is already developing the next generation of weather radar under the name “Phased Array Radar” (PAR). The PAR uses an electronic adaptive scanning that focuses the radar only on areas of concern, providing better information and accuracy in a very short time.

“When a traditional radar needs about 5 minutes to scan an area, the PAR use only 40 seconds,” Rothfusz said.

In addition, besides weather surveillance, the PAR is able to recognize in the same time aircraft and non-cooperative target making the PAR a radar two in one. Rothfusz said from 550 single legacy radars the Multifunction PAR will reduce this number to 365 radars, improving coverage and saving money.

“We save taxpayer dollars,” Rothfusz said, adding it will take another 20 years before implementing the new PAR.

Concerning weather models, Rothfusz said the actual technologies used to issue a tornado warning have reached a threshold since 2004. The new goal of the NSSL is to pass from a “warn on detection” to a “warn on forecast”.

“But this is really hard,” Rothfusz said, noting the recent success of warn on forecast 90 minutes before a tornado touch down on May 16 at Elk City has made the National Weather Service confident in the future.

Then, Rothfusz said new models and radars are important for improving weather forecast but the way that warnings are still issued is obsolete dating back to the 1970's.

"It is time to change,” he said.

The new technology to improve warning information is called “Forecasting a Continuum of Environmental Threats” (FACETs). Rothfusz said they are using social science with the help of psychologists and researchers to find the best approach for people to listen to the warnings, crucial in case of tornado and flood.

Finally, Rothfusz said anyone can help the National Weather Service to improve its forecasts by downloading the application mPING for “Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground” to provide local weather information. It will also increase the database of the NSSL that uses in various projects, including to develop new radar and forecasting technologies and techniques.

Rothfusz added a new application called “HotSea Warning Simulation” has been recently released to provide educational support to people who like to understand the meteorology of severe weather events and the decision-making process that goes into NWS warnings.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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