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Weather Experts Hone Their Craft

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist
April 1999

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In the News This year’s Winter Experiment again used the ER-2, NASA’s high-altitude research aircraft, to carry a suite of instruments to the top of the atmosphere. The airplane swept into Madison on March 15. Terry Devitt (UW–Madison’s News and Public Affairs) told the media and scientists and crew met them in a low-key visit Friday. Wisconsin State Journal photographer Joe Jackson took some wonderful pictures. Two appeared in Ron Seely’s article on Saturday. March 20, where experiment manager Chris Moeller noted the experiment’s purpose—to test instruments that will fly on weather satellites in winter conditions and to contribute to climate studies. Bill Smith’s overview in the WINTEX Web site explains experiment objectives. Bill, director of atmospheric research at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, and Steve Ackerman are chief WINTEX scientists.

Madison’s WKOW-TV briefly covered the experiment on its evening news programs on March 19. Sheboygan Press reporter Molly deCleene found the AERIbago (SSEC’s traveling Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer) on the shore of Lake Michigan, stationed for special WINTEX measurements. Her article appeared Tuesday, March 30. Look in the WINTEX photo gallery for ER-2 pictures taken by Joe Oliva, nationally known aeronautics photographer.

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“‘Bermuda Highs’ and ‘zonal jet streams’ are great names for rock bands,” said Larry Meiller on his March 10 WHA Radio call-in show, and proceeded to grill Weather Guys Steve Ackerman and Jon Martin on the terms used by colleague Tom Achtor.

Brian Mattmiller of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs wanted to know what effect La Niņa would have on Wisconsin's weather this spring. Many people, he surmised, would want to know, because last year’s El Niņo seemed to have wreaked such havoc. In a tip that Brian wrote, Tom Achtor, science manager in SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, explained that La Niņa years do typically bring colder-than-normal temperatures to central and eastern North America. He said that ferocious cold of minus-70 degrees or more struck Alaska and Canada, but bitter cold never plunged southward. Achtor said the cold air was bottled up because the jet stream held fast straight across North America, “forging straight east through the Pacific Ocean and North America with almost no fluctuation.” Tom also said that a stronger than normal “‘Bermuda high,’ or an anticyclone that funnels warm, moist air inland from the Atlantic, is also keeping things interesting.” He added that spring may see a “very active severe storm season with more precipitation than normal.”

Brian’s tip appeared on the Environmental News Network on March 4, and sparked a long thread in ENN’s forum starting with rebuttal by AccuWeather meteorologist Elliot Abrams. Tom Achtor answered Elliot’s message, and others wrote, quickly falling into a heated discussion on global warming. Other concerned folks contacted Tom separately through the email address given on ENN’s Web site.

CNN picked up the ENN knockoff before correct attribution to Brian Mattmiller was added. ENN reporter John Roach wrote a separate article based on a conversation with Tom Achtor. Both CNN and ENN linked to SSEC. Wisconsin News Network, a radio syndicate covering the whole state, also picked up the tip.

Reporter Jennifer Viegas read the original tip and delved further into spring weather concerns with CIMSS researcher John Mecikalski. Their story, giving a fuller explanation of forces at work and a possible global warming tie-in, appeared briefly on Discovery Channel Online.

The Weather Guys, Professors Ackerman and Martin, faced their most challenging audience yet on Larry Meiller’s March 10 show. They were peppered not only with questions about weather phenomena, but also were asked about the height of Lake Superior, how ionized radiation leads to cloud formation, and were asked to correlate solar and atmospheric cycles. Once again, Wisconsin Public Radio listeners proved that they are fascinated by the weather.

Outreach and Education

Pushing the Technology

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Tom Whittaker and Bill Hibbard demonstrated advanced software tools at an Internet2 (I2) presentation for interested UW–Madison staff on Tuesday, March 30. They gave two of the three demos made by UW–Madison researchers to show how well the Internet can be used remotely. All three demonstrations made advanced use of the Java programming language. Bill, leader of SSEC’s scientific visualization project, demonstrated VisAD, a software tool that lets researchers work interactively on the same data set, though they are countries apart. Tom demonstrated VISITview, a new distance learning and collaboration software tool, which is used to train National Weather Service forecasters. Tom tried it out on students in Steve Ackerman’s meteorology class, having them identify features on satellite images as they sat in another building. He also connected to a computer at Fort Collins, Colorado, which is not yet connected to I2, to show slow conductivity.

Steve Barnet, SSEC’s network administrator, who viewed the presentations, said that I2 will “change what we do and how we do it. …It’s not just [a matter of] how big the pipe is and how fast the connection.” New I2 connections will move data along at 300 mb/second. Local hard drives now operate at 80 mb/sec. The new high speed connections mean that it’s more efficient to move data over the Internet than to work with it locally. “Whoever can put a terabyte on line fuels the next stage of growth,” said Steve. “[I2] will change the work model, if we’re willing to pay for it.” Internet2 is a collaboration of universities and corporations “seeking faster links to shared computing,” according to UW–Madison’s Division of Information Technology.


AOS 100/101

Steve Ackerman, SSEC scientist and professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, is being awarded a distinguished teaching award, as noted in the Wisconsin State Journal for April 1. Steve teaches several AOS classes including extremely popular introductory meteorology courses using innovative technology, including McIDAS and Vis5D. Wisconsin Week, the campus newspaper (March 31), notes that Steve “gives students both practice in and immediate feedback on their studies.”

In Print

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A meteorology professor’s classroom journey from taping TV weathercasts to using real-time satellite imagery is featured in the UNIDATA Newsletter, Winter/Spring 1999. Anthony Rockwood teaches meteorology at Metropolitan State College of Denver and has tried to use satellite images in his classes since the early 1980s. This year, he’s moving from OS/2 to Unix. The article gives excruciating details in his battle with hardware and software over time. Anthony is now happily using McIDAS-X with GEMPAK, thanks to considerable help from Unidata.

Anthony's move to McIDAS-X was motivated by SSEC’s decision to cease advancing (sunset) the OS/2-based system and put advancement efforts into a Unix-based system (McIDAS-X). Unidata’s Don Murray explains the process. He assures users that Unidata will assist sites that make the move to Unix. He especially urges those who bring in (ingest) data on OS/2-based systems to start using UNIX LDM to continue receiving data.


The move to using data through NOAAport is also outlined in the UNIDATA Newsletter. The Unidata program center is collaborating with SSEC to make the move from NOAA’s Family of Services to NOAAport. These are two different ways of receiving so-called conventional data, both supported by Alden Electronics. SSEC is one of five operating sites to feed NOAAport data to other Unidata sites. SSEC is also responsible for the software that ingests NOAAport signals.

On the Web

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Elwood Downey, a scientific software engineer, is using SSEC’s global montage in his software package, XEphem, “a free interactive astronomy program for UNIX systems with Motif.” Click on “promotional.gif” to show how the montage is used. Elwood runs Clear Sky Institute in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, providing “complete software and support for local and remote operation of automated observatories.”

In the Wings

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Neptune Images

Watch Astronomy magazine for an article on storms on other planets. Reporter Andrew Bredges talked with Larry Sromovsky about his Neptune work. Likewise, Yorkshire Associated Producers in Leeds, England are developing a documentary video about weather systems on other planets. We provided them with Larry’s Neptune movies, from both 1996 and 1998.

Direct comments, questions, and information about other SSEC media appearances to Terri Gregory, SSEC's Public Information Specialist. For information about past media appearances, visit the SSEC In the News page.