Session 5.1 Keynote: The University of Alabama Huntsville THOR Center instrumentation: Research and operational collaboration

Tuesday, 7 August 2007: 10:30 AM
Hall A (Cairns Convention Center)
Walter A. Petersen, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL AL; and K. R. Knupp, D. J. Cecil, and J. R. Mecikalski

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The University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH) oversees the Tornado and Hazardous weather Observations Research Center (THOR). THOR also operates as part of a larger Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT; collaboration with the National Severe Storms Laboratory and Storm Prediction Center), and in local collaboration with the NASA-MSFC Short term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT). The primary instrument complement of THOR includes two dual-polarimetric radars (the fixed ARMOR C-band, and the MAX mobile X-band radars), two Parsivel disdrometers, a mobile integrated profiling system (915 MHz plus SODAR; and profiling radiometer, collectively called MIPS), a 10-station VHF lightning mapping array (LMA; operated by NASA-MSFC) and numerous rain gauges and surface meteorological sensors. The aforementioned infrastructure is used extensively for studies of severe storms, summer and winter precipitation regimes (including satellite ground validation), cloud microphysics and kinematics, thunderstorm electrification, hurricane landfall, and planetary boundary layer dynamics. Importantly, several THOR platforms, (i.e., ARMOR, MIPS, and LMA) serve in a technology transition or “testbed” role via transfer of experimental products and knowledge to local government (National Weather Service [NWS], U.S. Army) and private sector operational meteorologists (e.g., WHNT television broadcast meteorologists). Collectively, THOR radar, ancillary instrumentation and archived datasets are used in a combined fashion to provide researchers and operational meteorologists maximum information content on the state of the atmosphere at any given time.

For example, UAH researchers and graduate students are able to collect and use real-time and archived dual-polarimetric radar, wind profiler and lightning datasets for studies of evolving convective phenomena ranging from convective initiation studies to study of mature cumulonimbus development- especially as related to associated hazards such as lightning, 3-D winds, hail, flash flooding (e.g., polarimetric QPE) and tornadic activity. Similarly, during the winter-season dual-polarimetric radar variables combined with real-time profiling radiometer temperature data provide a means for monitoring the location of mixed phase precipitation transitions in the Tennessee River Valley. Concomitantly, and in either season, operational meteorologists at the NWS Forecast Office in Huntsville and WHNT-TV are able to use the same combined datasets in real-time for improved warning decision support, post-event performance analysis, and forecast verification. Indeed, it is worth noting that in December, 2004, WHNT-TV was the first television broadcast network in the U.S. to use polarimetric radar data, on-air, (in this case, ARMOR ZDRs) to warn the public of impending hail damage. Similar successes have also been achieved by the NWS Forecast Office in Huntsville for the issuance of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings relying on a combination of NEXRAD, ARMOR and LMA datasets.

The collaboration involving UAH THOR Center research and education together with operational partners (NWS, U.S. Army, WHNT-TV) in northern Alabama has resulted in 1) the collection of robust, detailed atmospheric data sets well suited to atmospheric research; 2) improved awareness of operational remote sensing customer needs for UAH researchers and graduate students; 3) a new source of decision support tools for operational partners; 4) a conduit for providing improved understanding of meteorological research problems and the promise of new technology to operational customers; and 5) through the unique involvement of local broadcast meteorologists at WHNT-TV, a means to directly educate the public on new and cutting edge meteorological technologies as applied to their daily activities via use of those tools in the local daily television weather broadcast.

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