Monthly News Summary – June 2000

June 24, 2000 | Abigail Mindock

Students to Study Clouds

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist
June 2000

This column covers April 18 through May, and early June.

Vying for placement on the international space station is CIRRUS, or Cloud Infrared Radiometer for University Earth System Science, with Steven Ackerman as principal investigator. NASA has funded a study that will compete with five others for further development. From a perch high above Earth, scientists hope “to get some idea of how much ice truly exists in the atmosphere, how it is concentrated and the range of ice particle sizes.” Clouds made of ice “help regulate climate and influence patterns of local and regional weather,” but their effects need to be better known.

Besides the scientific importance of the topic, student involvement is a major selling point, as Terry Devitt pointed out in a May 22 news release from UW–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs. CIRRUS will involve students from “beginning to end,” said Steve Ackerman, and will include students from several university departments, including art, law and business as well as Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. UniSci, a Web site delivering university science news, posted the story on May 24. It also appeared in Wisconsin Week Wire for May 24 (the online version of the campus newspaper). NASA will select a project for the space station in February.

For more information, follow these links.



As Iceberg B-15 nudged away part of the Ross Ice Shelf to form B-17 and B-18, the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center’s iceberg imagery continued to pique public and media interest throughout May and into June.

In late April, the University of Chicago released its own iceberg story emphasizing the work of Douglas MacAyeal, a U.Chicago geophysicst and iceberg specialist. Ascribe and University Science released the piece in early May, with a nod to the AMRC providing satellite data. UniSci receives about 67,000 hits a day.

Solcomhouse, a populist earth science Web site, updated its site with news of B-17, B-18 and the other “offspring” of B-15, the first and biggest berg. Because it has continually updated its site with every new iceberg, it provides a good chronology up through the calving of the Ronne Ice Shelf with icebergs A-43A and B and A-44. It also correctly credits the AMRC images.

More Iceberg News

Larry O’Hanlon of interviewed Matthew Lazzara (AMRC) and Douglas MacAyeal (University of Chicago), who are monitoring the Ross Ice Shelf icebergs. Matthew pointed out that satellite data, only available since the 1960s, enables this “fabulous opportunity to really observe and learn.”

Barbie Bischof, research editor for Natural History magazine, approached Matthew to use an image in a future issue. She’d like, she said, to add “more geology/oceanography-type of things into our magazine in an effort to attract people who would like an occasional break from biology.” The American Museum of Natural History publishes the magazine.

Iceberg B-15 was mentioned, with size analogies, in Wisconsin Week’s “Who Knew” column on May 3. Student reporter Eileen Gilligan started off with the Irish Times which said that berg B-15 would “cover the counties of Mayo and Donegal combined.” Other size analogies not in Eileen’s article: the size of Connecticut or Jamaica, twice the size of Delaware, half the size of Sicily, the size of Maryland stretched out, or nearly as large as the entire Chicago metropolitan area.

We continue to learn of other press coverage:

BBC News online covered the initial calving of B-15 and B-16 on March 23. They link to UW-Madison’s Antarctic Projects page.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 29, focused on Douglas MacAyeal’s modeling efforts at the University of Chicago.

Don Cheney at KBCO radio in Denver interviewed Matthew for his show on world-class adventures.

Other radio: U.S. Radio News, Dallas; Talk Back Radio, London; KCBS, San Francisco

Other Internet: Environmental News Network (Lucy Chubb reporting)

Wisconsin newspapers: Watertown Daily Times and Beaver Dam Daily Citizen(Mar. 23), Antigo Journal Express (Mar. 27)

Other newspapers: Atlanta Constitution (Mar. 24); the Hyde Park Herald, Hyde Park, IL; “Earthweek,” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Mar. 24)

As of June 8, the National Ice Center had not announced that B-15 had broken into two pieces, clearly shown on the AMRC iceberg page.

On the Net

For More Information

Click on the satellite image

First sounder images

The first official GOES-11 image was posted on SSEC’s home page on May 11, a week after the satellite was lifted into orbit by an Atlas rocket. Images from the satellite’s sounding instrument also are posted. The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite is the U.S.’s workhorse weather satellite, supporting forecasts of severe weather including hurricanes and flash floods. GOES-11 is the fourth in a series of advanced weather satellites and waits in orbit as a backup to the two active GOES, 8 and 10.


VISITView Home Page


Information Technology

UW-Madison’s Information Technology Newsletter for May features VISITView in an article on Internet2, a high-speed network for researchers and instructors. DoIT’s Joe Rossmeissl covered VISITView, the teletraining tool Tom Whittaker has developed for the National Weather Service’s Virtual Institute for Satellite Integration and Training. This distance-learning tool is “used to teach National Weather Service forecasters new techniques of data analysis and interpretation and to provide for remote collaborations using real-time data.” Scott Bachmeier provides science content and develops analyses.

Steve Ackerman, CIMSS director and AOS professor, also uses Internet2 to deliver more traditional material to students in atmospheric science classes. “Ackerman’s students can display real-time satellite images of cloud cover … and use them to analyze weather trends and prepare forecasts.”


Data analysis, an eclectic Web site devoted primarily to news and education of the space program (including remote sensing), got a jump on hurricane season with a multilevel piece on hurricane tracking and forecasting, stressing satellites. The item ran May 26 as the lead story. Reporter Jim Shultz included CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones group. Chris Velden is quoted, aptly, in the piece on data analysis.

Earth’sClimate System

David McConnell, a professor of geology at the University of Akron (Ohio), uses SSEC’s global montage and other SSEC Internet images in an online course he teaches. He uses the montage to illustrate global circulation. From his course notes, David is creating “a web resource … that will be published by McGraw-Hill at low cost.” David will use a montage and link to the SSEC Web site.

Dane Cty.

AP Weather

SSEC is the only referenced link on the weather page of the Dane County Airport. The link goes straight to the Madison forecast.

Cyclone Hudah

An animated Cyclone Hudah and an enhanced image from CIMSS’ Tropical Cyclones group are used on, an Australian Web site devoted to reporting on weather-related events.


The site also reported in April on Iceberg B-15, from an Australian perspective. They call it “a berg the size of Jamaica.” and link to the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center’s satellite imagery.

In Print

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A UW–Madison ad promoting weather research ran in Midwest Express magazine for May/June, delighting SSEC director Hank Revercomb as he flew back from a meeting. The ad didn’t name anyone but it’s clearly written about research done in this building. With a soggy pair of rubber boots as the eyecatching device, the ad cites “many breakthroughs that have trickled down into the daily forecast, including … the world’s first camera to look at the Earth’s weather from space.” Other ads promote other university programs which benefit the state’s people.


Tom Achtor told Ron Seely all he knew about hailstones, including knowledge gained personally in the May 18 storm which hit Madison and the surrounding area. Ron, science writer for the Wisconsin State Journal, fashioned a fascinating tale of excitement and good scientific information which ran May 19. In the article, Tom explained how hailstones are formed—“sometimes, a strong updraft will suck the ice crystals back up into the cloud. The particle will accumulate more moisture that then freezes in the higher, colder air. The particle grows, layer by layer; that’s why when you cut open a hailstone you find growth rings.” The May 18 storm, though, produced a different kind of hail. Tom said that that hail “grew in a layer of cold air that was much closer to the ground,” so it didn’t melt as fast as hailstones usually do. And it provided a very real threat to people’s bodies and vehicles, including Tom’s. Tom jumped in his truck and drove it into the woods—he and truck are okay.


Real-time AERI


Appleton, WI’s Post-Crescent devoted much of its “Perspective” section to the science and technology of weather forecasting on Sunday, June 4. Perspective editor Rick Van Grouw interviewed several scientists, including Bob Rabin and Wayne Feltz. He caught SSEC employees Wayne, John Short and Brian Osborne near Appleton on a trip to cross-validate data from UW–Madison’s Atmospheric Emitted Radiance Interferometer with the new NASA satellite Terra, passing over central Wisconsin. As Wayne is quoted at the end of that article, “No one remote sensing instrument can measure every meteorological variable. We have to find and use the best combination of technology.”

In “Whither Forecasting?” Bob Rabin admits that weather forecasting is “a mix of art and science.” Bob is a scientist with both the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Norman, OK and SSEC. He explains that forecasters face a formidable task: “The almost infinite range of atmospheric variables defies modern forecasting know-how.” And we still don’t know quite all the physics, including what makes a “mesocyclone” turn into a tornado. In the article, Bob and others explain how we can continue to improve weather forecasts, with the use of better technology, better numerical models, and better training but may never be able to forecast perfectly, given the complex and chaotic nature of the atmosphere.

Ron Seely explained planetary alignment to readers of his weekly Wisconsin State Journal column on May 4. Don’t get taken in by the doomsayers, was his message. The event, alignment of five planets and the moon, took place May 5 and happens about every thirty years. Cramming the heavenly bodies into less than 25 degrees of the sky has scientifically no significance, according to NASA astronomers and SSEC scientist Sanjay Limaye. Despite doomsayers’ predictions—tidal waves, earthquakes, floods—nothing much happened, as Ron, Sanjay and the astronomers all foretold.

CIMSS GOES products

CIMSS scientists, both NOAA and UW–Madison employees, provided more than half the images on a poster illustrating products derived from GOES satellite data. The poster, published by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, was premiered at the AMS conference in January and includes many examples of GOES derived products. Some are Gary Wade’s and Fred Wu’s sea surface temperature image, Tony Schreiner’s cloud-top pressure image, middle and upper level wind measurements from the GOES sounder, Bob Rabin’s precipitable water image (blended from GOES, SSM/I and model data), other products derived from GOES imagery and Dave Stettner’s image of winds from water vapor measurements in and around Hurricane Luis. CIMSS was credited for the image of Hurricane Luis. CIMSS also provided code for sounder temperature and moisture products. Other temperature and moisture products are based on CIMSS algorithms.


The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research has announced SuomiNet, a GPS network named for satellite pioneer Verner Suomi, SSEC’s founding director. Writing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, April 2000, UCAR and other scientists said that SuomiNet exploits the recently-shown ability of ground-based GPS receivers to make thousands of accurate upper and lower atmospheric measurements per day. SuomiNet will be funded by NSF and “will provide raw GPS and surface meteorological data, tropospheric and ionospheric delays, 2D water vapor [and other data] to universities in real time. …”

Improved “satellite data, numerical models, and forecasting expertise have led to a steady decrease in track forecast errors for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.” Meteorologists Colin McAdie and Miles Lawrence reported in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society for May that since 1970, errors in forecasting hurricane tracks have decreased each year by more than one percent each for 24, 48 and 72 hour forecasts. The authors attribute the advance to greatly improved numerical models, specifically to reduced “initial position” error—the ability to pinpoint where the storm is at a given moment in time. They say this is due primarily to an increased “ability to access, view, and manipulate satellite data.” Writing for the American Meteorological Society, Stephanie Kenitzer said, “The paper, entitled ‘Improvements in Tropical Cyclone Track Forecasting in the Atlantic Basin, 1970-1998,’ is available online at the AMS Web site. (Click on (1) Journals and Publications, (2) AMS Journals, (3) AMS Journals Online, (2) Current Issue, (3) “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society,” Volume 81, Number 5, 2000).” The Tropical Cyclones group in SSEC’s CIMSS has provided satellite data and analyses to forecasters since the early 1990s. SSEC first provided satellite data through its McIDAS to the National Hurricane Center in 1985.



For More Information

Scientific Visualization

Vis5D, the scientific visualization system developed by SSEC’s Bill Hibbard and others, was shown on NOVA/Frontline, for April 18. NCAR’s “3-D” version was shown.

Many animations of satellite imagery were shown on ABC News with Peter Jennings, May 10, in an otherwise negative program on hurricane forecasting. ABC noted the 100 mile uncertainty of landfall rather than the thousands of lives saved and notable improvements made over the past decade or so, but they also showed Chris Sisko, recently of CIMSS, at a McIDAS workstation at the National Hurricane Center.

Weather Guys appeared in April and May on Larry Meiller’s WHA call-in show. On May 29, Jim Packard was guest host. Professors Jon Martin and Steve Ackerman talked about hailstones and severe weather and fielded questions on lightning and D-Day weather forecasting.

Steve Ackerman appeared on WISC-TV Madison’s Channel 3 in a news item on how the weather affects allergies. The story ran on May 2. Steve explained how pollen was carried in the air, and why allergy sufferers feel so much better after a rain, which washes pollen out of the air.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation will use the AMRC’s Antarctic composite infrared images in a program called “South of No North.”


Honors and Outreach

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Tropical Cyclones

CIMSS’ Christopher Velden, Timothy Olander, and Steven Wanzong and Raymond Zehr (NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere) received the Banner Miller Award on May 31st at the American Meteorological Society’s 24th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology banquet. The award is given about every two years, or whenever the tropical meteorological community meets formally and is based on research published internationally over the previous four years. The scientists were given the award for two significant papers on hurricane forecasting techniques, published in Monthly Weather Review and Weather and Forecasting. Both techniques have been used by the U.S. Navy and the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center offices to strengthen hurricane forecasts.


Jean Phillips, SSEC’s librarian for The Schwerdtfeger Library, has been elected to a three-year term on the Professional Development and Recognition Committee. This university committee “promotes the concept of professional development and recognition for academic staff; works with the administration to explore and develop programs to enhance the professional skills and abilities of academic staff; makes recommendations regarding the review of and changes to academic staff professional development guidelines; [and] works with the administration, the UW Foundation and the faculty to locate or create funding resources for professional development.” Jean’s term begins in July. Fred Wu, the last SSEC staff member on the PDRC, is in a term that expires this summer.

In the Wings

Watch for promotion of the Campus Open House, set for August 18–20, in newspapers, magazines and elsewhere. SSEC may be mentioned for our “interactive space science & engineering activities.” Many SSEC areas will participate with other organizations housed in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science building. About 8000 visitors are expected over the weekend. Our building will be open for tours and interactive activities on Saturday from noon to 4.