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Instability foreshadows tornadoes

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist
October 2000

Also In
the News...

UW Communications

In Print


In the Wings

This column covers news received in September.

In the News Three tornado reports were made, two in South Dakota and one in Nebraska, several hours after atmospheric instability was found using the sounding instrument on the U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-11. The storm continued to move south across this area with hail as large as 2 inches and damaging winds being reported for the next 12 hours according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. NOAA researchers Tim Schmit and Gary Wade, stationed at SSEC, found that the GOES Sounder depicted an axis of large atmospheric instability (red on image) over Nebraska on July 24. The unstable region preceded a long-lived super cell. While the National Weather’s Eta numerical model forecast of Lifted Index (LI) also showed a region of instability, the GOES Sounder derived LI product showed more instability over a larger area. The Lifted Index product is the atmospheric stability parameter which estimates the tendency of a parcel of air to continue to rise if it were “lifted” to the middle of the atmosphere. Some similarity of the Eta forecast and that observed from the Sounder can be expected since moisture (over land and water) is being retrieved from both GOES-8 and -10 for the Eta data analysis.

Lifted Index product image
The red area shows atmospheric instability. Click on this image for a time sequence of GOES-11 water vapor imagery which shows subsequent storm (super cell) development. Severe weather reports (white squares) confirm the storm track.

GOES Fire Products Requested

Scientists at a June 28 conference discussing the Large-scale Biosphere-Atmosphere (LBA) experiment in Amazonia expressed interest in fire products developed at CIMSS. J. Newcomer of the LBA Data and Information System requested that the GOES Automated Biomass Burning Algorithm (ABBA) fire products be integrated into NASA’s LBA Beija-Flor data system. LBA scientists would like the GOES ABBA products from 1995 through 1999 to be incorporated in Beija-Flor beginning with the 1995 and 1997 fire seasons. Integration of the GOES ABBA fire product in Beija-Flor enables international scientists to utilize the database with other data sets to better understand the impact of land use change on climatological, ecological, biogeochemical, and hydrological functioning of Amazonia and the interactions between Amazonia and the Earth system. The products are developed in CIMSS by Elaine Prins (NOAA) and Joleen Feltz (SSEC).

On September 21, 2000, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii cited the CIMSS hurricane analyses in their justification for cancellation of a tropical cyclone formation alert: “ …and the UW-CIMSS analysis indicate(s) northwesterly flow east of TY 26W with weak to moderate vertical wind shear over the area. … Based on the marginal environment and weakening convection, the potential for development of a significant tropical cyclone is downgraded to poor.”

UW Communications

For More Information MODIS

UW Photos

Jeff Miller, photojournalist with University Communications, captured the top of the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building. The picture is reproduced in stunning black and white in the print version of Wisconsin Week, the official campus newspaper, for September 27. This photo is one of the first to include SSEC's new antenna, housed in the radome, which receives data from the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectrometer on NASA’s new Terra earth-observing satellite.



Tropical Cyclones

Wisconsin Week Milestones for September 13 features honors for CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones group. The American Meteorological Society awarded Tim Olander, Chris Velden and Steve Wanzong and a NOAA colleague the Banner Miller award for “two significant papers on hurricane forecasting techniques.” Their papers were published in Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting. The described techniques are used by the U.S. Navy and the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center offices to strengthen hurricane forecasts.

In Print

For More Information Icebergs

Discover magazine (October 2000) devotes two pages to “Birth of an Antarctic Super-berg,” mostly stressing possible future movement. The first and largest of several icebergs that have broken from the Ross Ice Shelf was discovered by weather forecasters in Antarctica in March. Since then, Matthew Lazzara of SSEC’s Antarctic Meteorological Research Center has monitored iceberg developments in satellite imagery. The AMRC supports the various National Science Foundation grantees in the U.S. Antarctic Program with weather and remote sensing data from offices at McMurdo Station and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Matthew and the AMRC are working with University of Chicago glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal whose iceberg motion predictions are featured in the article and on the AMRC Web site.


Matthew has made it possible to see the Ross icebergs move. Bergs B-15 through 19 are shown in a Java animation that covers July 3 through September 18.

Honors and Outreach

Jun Li, Hal Woolf, Hong Zhang and Thomas Achtor took first prize in the Poster Session of the International ATOVS Study Conference-XI, held in Budapest, Hungary, September 21-27. The poster is titled, “Further Development of the International ATOVS Processing Package (IAPP).” ATOVS stands for Advanced TIROS Operational Vertical Sounder. TIROS is NOAA’s Television InfraRed Observation Satellite.

Tim Schmit, one of the group of NOAA employees collaborating with SSEC researchers in the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, received the prestigious Silver Medal awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA is an agency within the department. Tim received the medal in September in Washington, D.C., in the category of scientific and engineering achievement, jointly with Jamie Daniels and Antonio Irving. The three NOAA scientists developed products with data from the latest generation of geostationary satellites. According to the Honor Awards Program, “These new products represent a ten-fold increase in information about winds, atmospheric stability and moisture that have demonstrated improvements in precipitation and severe weather forecasts.” Tim has steadily worked toward improving the utility and timeliness of GOES data products, not only as a NOAA employee since 1996, but as a UW–Madison employee since 1987. And, as Elaine Prins, NOAA team leader at SSEC stated, “This award reflects the hard work of people in many organizations, including those within [NOAA’s] Office of Research and Applications and at the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS).”

Open House Surveys

Survey results are in from all Campus Open House visitors and hosts. The results are approximate—organizers say it was difficult to specify total visitors because of “multiple program visits,” but estimate the total at between 10 and 15 thousand people. Almost 90% of the 120 visitors who completed surveys said that their visit gave them a more positive impression of UW–Madison and they would attend another Campus Open House. About 45% visited from outside Madison. Almost 80% had visited before. About 25% were alumni, 15% were employees, about 12% were prospective UW–Madison students and 5% are current students. Families made up 20% of the visitors, and 20% were senior citizens.

In spite of the huge amount of work involved in hosting this event, 90% of hosts said we should do it again. Of those, 64% would do it every year! 3% would host such an event twice a year. 30% would host an open house every other year. Most hosts thought the Campus Open House was “well organized and [had] good communication.” Other positive comments included:

  • Publicity was good
  • Dividing the campus into themes was effective
  • Visitors and participants had fun
  • Events were innovative and creative
  • Event materials will have multiple uses
  • T-shirts and signs worked well

University event hosts hope for:

  • Better advertising
  • Increased attendance
  • Fewer events, better focused
  • Better map and brochure
  • Better signage
  • Increased planning support

Survey results are posted on SSEC’s third floor bulletin board outside room 351. The Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences Building received about 300 visitors.

In the Wings

For More Information Tropical Cyclones

CIMSS’ hurricane research is featured in UW–Madison’s promotional video, in the person of Tropical Cyclones team leader Chris Velden. Chris shares the spotlight with two cancer research specialists and a professor of music who has played with Bruce Springsteen. The video is shown primarily during televised sports intermissions, like football half time, and may play as early as mid-October or as late as the (dare we say it?) Rose Bowl.

Pine Lake

Lee Grenci from Weatherwise magazine expects to use GOES Gallery information in his regular column, to focus on the Pine Lake tornado (July 14). Weatherwise comes out bimonthly; the next issue is November/December. Lee, who teaches at Pennsylvania State University, told Scott Bachmeier, “Your web page is a foundation in my synoptic course here at Penn State. Not sure you folks realize how much of a positive effect you have on young aspiring meteorologists.” Scott’s Gallery feature showed the groups of storms which produced the tornado and deadly hail.

The Weather Channel’s Cable in the Classroom series for kids may include imagery from the Tropical Cyclones Web site. According to Samantha Young of Pietrobon and Company, who are producing the series, the informative, interesting programs start October 15.

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

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